The LPGA wants its players to be household names. Help is on the way.

The LPGA Tour’s annual tournament in Singapore wraps up March 3, the day after Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour heads to the country’s National Stadium — about nine miles from the golf course.

 

LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan realizes this little logistical tidbit all too well.

 

 

 

“There is nothing wrong with a good Taylor Swift effect,” the commissioner said with a laugh. “Taylor, come join us. Our doors are wide open for you.”

 

Marcoux Samaan, in her third full year as commissioner, has seen what Swift’s relationship with Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce did for the NFL and its female fan base. The NFL had its highest regular season viewership among women since it began tracking that number in 2000, according to Front Office Sports.

 

 

 

While Kelce and Swift’s golfing talent might be limited — Kelce has participated in a few made-for-TV golf events, and the pop superstar’s tour choreography for her song “Blank Space” includes a neon golf club — Marcoux Samaan knows they’re global stars, and the uptick in NFL interest is a product of viewers being drawn to people they feel connected with.

 

And in an era of rising interest in women’s sports, the main objective for the LPGA Tour in 2024 is to create more stars out of its athletes..

 

“It’s really important in any sport, but more so in individual sports, that our athletes are household names,” Marcoux Samaan said. “We believe this is our time.”

 

 

 

The tour, whose revenue over the past four years has increased more than 65 percent, has engaged Hana Kuma — a creative agency and media company co-founded by tennis star Naomi Osaka — to help with content creation and brand development for eight of its golfers. Every golfer on the LPGA Tour had a chance to apply for the program, and after a multistep application process, the eight — who will be showcased later this year — will be selected via a mutual decision between the LPGA Tour, the golfers and their teams. Hana Kuma is also planning a one-day crash course in branding and social media for every golfer on tour in May.

 

Osaka said in a statement that she has received “love and support” from fellow female athletes throughout her career and that she hopes to help “empower and champion the LPGA players, providing the tools and resources necessary for them to invest in themselves and build a future beyond their sport.”

 

The LPGA Tour’s next attempt to showcase its stars will arrive Monday with the latest edition of “The Match,” the made-for-television exhibition that in the past has included everyone from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to Tom Brady, Peyton Manning — and Kelce. This year’s event will include LPGA pros for the first time. Former men’s world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and multi-time PGA Tour winner Max Homa are scheduled to tee it up with 11-time LPGA Tour winner Lexi Thompson and superstar-in-waiting Rose Zhang in a 12-hole skins game under the lights in West Palm Beach, Fla. Each hole is worth a set amount for charity.

 

 

“If we can give the women a great platform to showcase their skills,” McIlroy said in a pre-event media availability, “I think it can only be good for the game of golf as a whole.”

 

 

 

Kevin Hopkins, the vice president of golf at Excel Sports Management — which is organizing the event — said in an interview that the biggest sports stories of the past 10 days both involved female stars: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, who set the NCAA women’s career scoring mark, and the WNBA’s Sabrina Ionescu, who battled Curry in a shootout during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend. With Deloitte predicting revenue generated by women’s elite sports will surpass $1 billion for the first time this year, Hopkins said there has never been a better time to be in the business of women’s sports and that showcasing two of the best players on the LPGA Tour made perfect sense.

 

“I just feel like women’s sports are in the middle of an unbelievable movement right now,” Hopkins said. “Generational talent is leading the way, and there are a ton of new fans following as well.”

 

 

 

But Stuart Duguid, Hana Kuma’s co-founder and Osaka’s longtime manager, said during one of the initial exploratory calls with the LPGA Tour, the parties collectively agreed that the name recognition of LPGA athletes wasn’t strong. There are just two golfers on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid female athletes from 2023 (American Nelly Korda at No. 11 and Canada’s Brooke Henderson at No. 19). Thanks in part to the four Grand Slam events having the same promotional, investment and television deals for both men and women, tennis players make up nine of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20 on the Forbes list.

 

The positive, Duguid said, is the blank canvas that exists for content, storytelling and growth in the LPGA. The top 20 players in the women’s world rankings include golfers from 10 countries.

 

“There’s never been a better time for female athletes participating at the highest level,” Duguid said. “While this is the existing peak for women’s sport, that peak can get so much higher.”

 

Golfers on the LPGA Tour will compete in a 35-event schedule in 2024 with a record-breaking total purse of $118 million — a 69 percent increase from 2021. There will also be key opportunities to get in front of large audiences. This summer, the tour will head back to the Old Course at St Andrews — known as the home of golf — for the Women’s British Open. It’s a Solheim Cup year again, with the team event against Europe coming to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. And there is the Olympics in Paris, where Marcoux Samaan is hopeful the competition will drive even more interest.

 

 

 

Korda, the top-earning female golfer in the world according to Forbes and the former world No. 1, captured gold in the Tokyo Games. She finished at 17 under for four rounds. Xander Schauffele, the men’s gold medalist, finished at 18 under on the same course.

 

“It’s critical we’re in these kinds of events and our athletes have the opportunity to shine on the world stage,” Marcoux Samaan said, “because they won’t disappoint.”

 

 

Gideon Canice

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