Nelly Korda brings home the gold after her historic win in the Tokyo Olympics, the first US female golfer to do so since Margaret Abbott in 1900 in Paris. Her under-par shot cut it pretty close against her Japanese and Kiwi opponents. The United States will be paying Korda USD$37,500 for the gold medal victory, apart from other stipends and benefits. (1) (2)
But that may as well be a drop in the bucket compared to her estimated USD$2.5 million net worth. Her prize money from Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in February amounted to USD$300,000. Her past victories in Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan in 2018 and 2019 were much higher at USD$330,000. (3)
By no means is Korda’s wealth a one-off affair. And a trend has shown a sharp increase in winnings earned by female golfers over the years.
Purse getting bigger
The LPGA purse shows tremendous growth in earnings, with an average of 47% among male players and 61% among female players in their respective majors.
However, one interesting point about this data is that the total winnings in the Women’s PGA Championship have nearly doubled, from USD$2.25 million in 2013 to USD$4.3 million in 2020. By comparison, while still having the larger payout, the men’s PGA Championship’s total winnings only increased by 37.5%—specifically, from USD$8 million in 2013, to USD$11 million.
The purse also shows that the Women’s PGA Championship winnings are expected to grow by 8.43% annually, the highest among men and women majors. Across the women’s tournaments, the growth rate is almost 6%, compared to a little over 4% in men’s tournaments.
Closing the gap
Why the increase and why now?
This upward trend comes amid a huge issue that’s years in the making—the gender pay gap. Over the years, male golfers have been making six times as female golfers; it goes up to ten times if sponsorship deals are included in the calculation. (4)
Collin Morikawa holds the top spot in overall earnings among the male PGA players at nearly USD$7 million from 19 events. Among the females, it’s Nelly Korda with USD$1.8 million (number of tours not stated). Overall, the gender pay gap in golf is somewhere around 80%, one of the highest in sports. (4) (5)
The frustration women golfers feel when their swings don’t go as planned pales in comparison to when they don’t make enough to prepare for the next tour. Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson’s finish in the 2020 Ladies European Tour earned her only EUR€50,000 (USD$58,814). With most majors being canceled due to the pandemic, she told reporters that she’d be forced to find a job to remain afloat in these trying times.
More LPGA stars have come forward with calls to eliminate the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done, as the purse depends heavily on TV ratings. Adding more sponsors to run their ads on the tournaments will increase the prize money, but as it stands, nearly all sports broadcasted on TV are men’s sports. (4)
While golf is now taking concrete steps to bridge the gap, it won’t come quickly. Assuming the growth rate of the purses mentioned earlier remains fixed, the earnings of men’s and women’s tournaments will only equalize after 20 years. No one wants to wait that long, so more parties will have to step up in raising enough prize money.
One idea is to make golf gender blind—and it’s not impossible. In 2010, Kelly Kulick became the first woman to win a Professional Bowlers Association tour, defeating her male opponent by a relatively large margin. Given that both bowling and golf require a good arm, the idea isn’t as farfetched as it seems.
The recent victories of female pros in big-ticket events such as the Olympics can also help raise awareness. For instance, India’s Aditi Ashok came close to a podium finish, but she came a long way from her 41st place finish in Rio. The attention they’re gaining can lead to the advocacy of bridging the gender gap gaining traction.
While handicaps between male and female pros exist, there’s no reason for two separate tours to have different purses. Both are of the same sport and thus should have the same earnings.
Nevertheless, the increase in the women’s LPGA purse shows that things are going in the right direction. If tour sponsors and other parties realize and accept this trend, bridging the years-overdue gender pay gap in golf can happen much sooner.
- “U.S. Golfer Nelly Korda Wins Olympic Gold, Completing U.S. Golden Sweep”, Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/tokyo-olympics-live-updates/2021/08/07/1025732766/u-s-golfer-nelly-korda-wins-olympic-gold-completing-u-s-golden-sweep
- “It’s Not Just the Medal. It’s the Payout”, Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/06/sports/olympics/olympics-medals-bonuses.html
- “Nelly Korda Net Worth: Height, Age, Bio, Boyfriend & Career”, Source: https://exactnetworth.com/nelly-korda-net-worth/
- “How Big is Golf’s Gender Pay Gap?” Source: https://golfsupport.com/blog/golfs-gender-pay-gap/
- “PGA Tour Money Leaders – 2021”, Source: https://www.espn.com/golf/moneylist