LPGA Season Set to Start; Tour Adds New Points' Race and $1 Million Bonus

After a lengthy hiatus, the LPGA Tour will tee off on its new 2014 season January 23 in the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. In the last event of 2013 in late November, China's Shanshan Feng won the CME Titleholders by a stroke over Gerina Piller to take what was then the circuit's biggest prize, $700,000.

The big news for the 2014 LPGA Tour is the addition of a season-long points' race that culminates in the same year-end tournament, to be renamed the CME Group Tour Championship. The points' race will be called the "Race to the CME Globe" and is similar in structure to the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup; the winner of that season-long contest earns a $10 million bonus.

The difference is that, instead of culminating in a four-tournament series like the PGA Tour - The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship and Tour Championship, the Race to the CME Globe will be a winner-take-all event, with the champion receiving a $1 million bonus - the largest in women's golf - in the season-ending event at Tiburon Golf Club.

Adding to the flavor is that the points will be reset before the tournament in Naples, Fla. The goal, said LPGA commissioner, Mike Whan, "is to create a Sunday that can be climactic like we haven't seen before on the LPGA Tour."

Count No. 1-ranked Inbee Park of South Korea as among the players excited about this new twist to the LPGA Tour's schedule. "I was so honored to win the LPGA money title in 2013, and now I have something even bigger to play for as I look to make it two in a row," said Park, who won six titles - including three majors - and nearly $2.5 million last year. "Nothing is guaranteed with this new system, so this race is going to make everyone on our tour work a little bit harder because the payoff is so big."

The yearlong competition begins in the Bahamas at Ocean Club Golf Course next week. Players will accumulate points at each official event during the regular season. Each tournament will have the same point values except for the five major championships, which will carry 25 percent more points. The winners will get 500 points (625 at majors). Only LPGA tour members are eligible for the race.

The top 72 players in the standings at the conclusion of the penultimate Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico will earn a place in the $2 million CME Group Tour Championship. Any player with at least one official tour win will also qualify.

Whan called the points' race "a significant difference-maker, not only the exposure of lifting the globe but the financial benefits that come with it." He added that he expects "there will be a heightened level of interest knowing that an additional $1 million is at stake."

The bonus itself represents more money than all but the eight top LPGA Tour earners in 2013. "To say this figure is significant is a massive understatement," veteran Karen Stupples told New York Times reporter Karen Crouse in an email. "For the first time it will give LPGA players a chance to feel what it's like playing for the kind of money the PGA guys play for."

Whan added that he's hoping the $1 million will maintain fan interest throughout the long year, especially when the tour shifts into its fall season, when several events are played in Europe and the Far East. "It's easy for some fans to get disconnected when the tour goes to Asia," he said during a teleconference with reporters.

"This will be less easy when you're tracking the players' standing. It creates a lot more scenarios and media stories than we currently have created."

Whan is responsible for a huge turnaround of the LPGA Tour's fortunes since he replaced controversial Carolyn Bivens as commissioner in January 2010. In addition to adding more tournament and expanding worldwide - taking them from a low of 23 in 2011 to 32 in 2014, Whan has stabilized the tournament sponsors while expanding most of the events from 54 to 72 holes and increasing the average purses to $1.73 million.

Stupples has been impressed with Whan's work. "We have just come out of a tough phase when we were struggling to get companies to sponsor tournaments, let alone a season-long race," Stupples told Crouse. "I feel it speaks volumes as to how far we have come in the last few years."

For the LPGA Tour's full 2014 schedule, visit www.lpga.com.