Membership without Privileges

By: Dave Andrews

In the middle of the 2008 season, the LPGA and the Duramed Futures Tour announced that the 10 top money earners on the official developmental tour would receive LPGA membership for 2009. In the five seasons prior to 2008, the top five finishers on the tour's season money list gained LPGA membership with full playing privileges.

The change in policy was greeted enthusiastically by players on the Futures Tour and their fans. Many had been arguing for years that more than five players should receive playing status by virtue of their steady and high-level performance over the course of a season.

This is what the two tours said on August 20th, 2008, in their official statement:

Ten Duramed Futures Tour Players to Earn LPGA Membership

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Aug. 20, 2008 -The Duramed Futures Tour along with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) announced today that it will award LPGA membership to five additional players this season. The Tour's top 10 players on the regular season-ending money list will be awarded 2009 LPGA membership at the conclusion of the ILOVENY Championship in Albany, N.Y. That event will be played Sept. 5-7.

"This gives five more players the opportunity for coveted membership on the LPGA," said Zayra F. Calderon, CEO of the Duramed Futures Tour. "It rewards our top 10 players for their superior performance during a long, challenging season and it recognizes the Duramed Futures Tour as the pipeline to the LPGA."

Prior to this change, only players who finished in places one through five on the Duramed Futures Tour as of the conclusion of the last official money event on the Duramed Futures Tour were eligible for LPGA Tour membership.

This year will mark the inaugural presentation of 10 cards to the top money winners, showcasing the Duramed Futures Tour as another way players can advance to the LPGA Tour.

Initially the announcement seemed pretty straightforward. From all appearances it looked as though 10 players on the Futures Tour could now earn their way onto the LPGA Tour each season. However, the tours left out one detail in the press release and, as they say, the devil is in the details. The tours failed to explain that the 6th through 10th finishers on the money list would have distinctly different priority status than the top five finishers. The reality is that the five players who finished 6th through 10th last season will be lucky to get into three or four LPGA events this season.

Here is how it breaks down: The top five money winners in 2008 on the Duramed Futures Tour have been officially ranked 109th to 113th on the LPGA priority list for this year's season. That assures them entry in all LPGA events with the "full fields" of 144 players. Those five players are Vicky Hurst, Mindy Kim, Sarah-Jane Smith, M.J. Hur and Jin Young Pak.

However, four of the five other players who earned LPGA cards are ranked 232nd to 235th on the priority list. One of those players, Leah Wigger, improved her status to 147th by virtue of her finish in the LPGA Q School in December. The other four, Song Yi Choi, Jessica Shepley, Sophia Sheridan and Kim Welch, will find themselves far down on the alternates list at most LPGA events this season with little chance of competing. They will be able to "Monday-qualify" for a couple of slots in some of those events, but the odds of getting into tournaments that way are very long.

That leaves those four players who earned their "coveted membership on the LPGA" with a dilemma: no place to place for most of the season unless they return to the Futures Tour. That is exactly what Shepley will be doing this year. She intends to play a full slate of Futures events, just as she has for the past four seasons. Her new LPGA membership may seem attractive but, in reality, it's not worth much. Once again, she'll have to battle it out on the developmental tour in 2009, hoping to finish in the top five on the money list to earn an LPGA card that has real value.

Maybe this year the LPGA will reexamine its new policy and put some more substance into those five new "coveted" membership cards it's handing out. The LPGA now owns the Duramed Futures Tour, having purchased it in 2007. There's nothing stopping it from rewarding more of the up-and-coming women pros a full shot at the big tour.