Epson Tour has 20-event schedule and record for most purses over $300K
HONOLULU (AP) — The Epson Tour remains the primary path to the LPGA Tour, now with larger purses and a new wrinkle on how to get into those tournaments.
The Epson Tour released its 2024 schedule on Tuesday, most noteworthy the five tournaments with $300,000 purses or more — the largest at $400,000 for the Carlisle Arizona Women's Golf Classic — and the Tour Championship moving from Florida to California.
New to the circuit is switching from money to points to determine the top 10 players who receive LPGA cards the following year. That now is in line with the Race to CME Globe on the LPGA Tour, and the Tour Championship will get a 30% boost in points.
The wrinkle is the end of Monday qualifying, relying instead on the Epson Tour's relationship with the Women's All Pro Tour sponsored by Annika Sorenstam. The winner and runner-up at those 10 events get into future Epson Tour events.
Among the goals was to allow the players to compete for more money while spending less. Epson Tour players typically drive to tournaments when they can.
The season starts March 8 with three straight weeks in Florida, capped by the new Atlantic Beach Classic and its $300,000 purse. Next are four tournaments in the West, two in Arizona. The Arizona Women's Golf Classic moves to the second course at TPC Scottsdale.
The Midwest swing in June includes two in Michigan and a new tournament in Indiana (Otter Creek Championship with a $300,000 purse).
“It's been a focus of mine to create not necessarily a drivable tour, but one that athletes can keep expenses as low as possible,” said Jody Brothers, the chief business and operations officer of the Epson Tour. “The worst thing is the athlete who can play at the next level but didn't have the finances."
The average purse is $250,000, and every tournament offers at least $200,000.
The Epson Tour Championship moves from the LPGA International at its Daytona Beach, Florida, headquarters to Indian Wells in the California desert, closer to Epson's headquarters in North America. That will be Oct. 3-6.
The Epson Tour officially became the feeder tour in 1999 and has produced such players as Karrie Webb, Lorena Ochoa and Inbee Park, all of whom are in the LPGA Hall of Fame. Current players include Nelly Korda and double major winner Lilia Vu.
THE CLUB PRO
Michael Block is in The American Express this week as the PGA section winner, a longstanding tradition. Block is best known for his hole-in-one in the final round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill last year that led to a tie for 15th and return to the PGA Championship this year.
Ken Weyand is not in the field for the Hero Dubai Desert Classic on the European tour, and for that most people should be thankful.
Weyand earned the wrong kind of attention last week when he accepted a sponsor invitation to the Dubai Invitational, which had a 60-man field for the pro-am format. He is the golf director at The Grove XXIII, the exclusive club in South Florida belonging to Michael Jordan.
How he got into the field is unclear, though Abdullah Al Naboodah is believed to be a member at The Grove and his family sponsored the Dubai Invitational.
Weyand opened with an 87, and because it was a 60-man field, there was no cut. By the end of the week, he followed with scores of 82, 82 and 86. That put him at 53 over par, 72 shots behind the winner, Tommy Fleetwood.
The new PGA Tour schedule of limited fields in elevated events has created plenty of changes in schedules depending on a player’s status.
It also means writing letters to tournament directors in search of a sponsor’s exemption.
“Been a long time,” said former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who has not written for an exemption since 2008. “Right when I turned pro, I got five spots that summer. So I kind of remembered how to do it. My letter this time was a lot better than the last time.”
Simpson revealed the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am already has offered him a spot. That has an 80-man field and a $20 million purse as a signature event.
But he did not write to Tiger Woods for the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
“It’s my son’s birthday that week,” Simpson said. “I’ve told him before I hate missing it because I do love Riv and supporting him, but I’m not going.”
One thing is certain: Those four exemptions at the signature events will get close scrutiny, especially tournaments that players who might need a spot have a long history of supporting.
Meanwhile, Justin Thomas is No. 28 in the world and would need to stay in the top 30 for two more weeks to avoid needing an exemption to Pebble Beach. He makes his 2024 debut this week at The American Express.
THE FINE PRINT
Grayson Murray is assured of being in all the $20 million signature events the rest of the year from his Sony Open victory.
But his win is likely to knock someone out.
While PGA Tour winners get into signature events for the rest of the year, that category falls behind two other categories -- the top 10 not otherwise eligible in the current FedEx Cup standings, and the leading five from the “swing” series of events that lead up to the signature tournament.
Murray earned 500 points for his win, and with only two tournaments left before Pebble Beach, he is all but assured of staying in the top five. That means whoever finishes sixth would not get in.
The 10 from the current FedEx Cup does not apply to the signature events at Pebble Beach and Riviera; those are based on the final standings from last year.
Similarly, if Justin Thomas is among the top five in the swing series, that would take precedence over him being exempt from being in the top 30 in the world.
Dom Furore has been chosen for the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in photojournalism.
Furore started with Golf Digest in 1986 and among his early roles was to do a swing sequence with 16-year-old Tiger Woods in California. Woods came to trust him so much that he asked Furore to photograph his wedding in 2004 and his family photo.
Furore has covered majors, other tournaments and golf courses for Golf Digest and its former publication Golf World. That took him fishing with Jack Nicklaus in Russia, accompanying Woods' mother to her homeland in Thailand and going to Vietnam to photograph the family of Woods’ namesake, Col. Tiger Phong.
He will be recognized during the Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner on April 10 during the Masters.
Patrick Cantlay continues to run in high-end financial circles. Cantlay has signed a partnership with Apollo, a New York-based asset management firm, in which he will wear the logo on the front of his hat. He previously had a hat deal with Goldman Sachs. ... Kevin Chappell, who tried the LIV qualifying event, is playing the Dubai Desert Classic as one of five PGA Tour players who finished among the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. ... Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, along with “Play Yellow” co-founders Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, have crossed $100 million in money raised through golf to help change kids’ health. ... Porsche remains on the European tour schedule as a sponsor but with a new tournament. Instead of its name on the European Open, the German automaker is title sponsor of the Singapore Classic on March 21-24.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Hideki Matsuyama is out of the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since the week before the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion.
“I was running around telling people I'm a millionaire — in Japanese yen.” — Chan Kim on his first good finish on the Japan Golf Tour. He tied for 14th in the 2015 Mizuno Open and earned 1,442,222 yen. That converted to $12,008.
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