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Caitlin Clark’s championship match against South Carolina was watched by a record 18.7 million viewers. It peaked at 24 million at one point. Clark lost the match. But she added a few million names to her already-growing fan club. It’s the most-watched game in the WNBA’s history. Fred Ridley, the Augusta Chairman, was one of them.

Ridley was mighty impressed, despite not following the WNBA extensively. It’s ‘unicorns like Clark that capture the imagination of a collective. Ridley knows. He wasn’t the chairman then, but when a certain 21-year-old won the Masters by a record 12-shot margin, it changed the history of golf. So, the 71-year-old hoped that a needle-mover on the LPGA Tour might be needed. But it seems that might have already arrived and passed unnoticed.

Nelly Korda’s historic run was not enough

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Does the LPGA Tour have ‘unicorns like Clark? Nelly Korda, who arguably became the face of the LPGA Tour in the last couple of years, has been on a dominant streak that has not been seen in more than a decade.

Korda is making history and matching historical records. Four straight victories have placed her at the doorstep of matching Nancy Lopez’s untouched record of five straight wins for an American female golfer in 1972.

The 12-time LGPA Tour winner will head to the season’s first major, hoping to match Annika Sorenstam’s blistering run in 2005. Sorenstam, notably, also completed her streak at the Chevron Championship, known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship then.

Clearly, there is too much at stake for the 25-year-old. And for the LPGA Tour as well. The chatter on X (formerly Twitter) won’t exactly give you that picture, though. Beyond a few disgruntled viewers who lambasted broadcasters for prioritizing PGA Tour Champions over Korda’s historic run, it was all quiet on the virtual front. 

Will an amateur change the scene? 

There is something about an amateur, the Augusta chairman said, that pros don’t quite show. Indeed, there is something special about a college kid running a show all by herself. The LPGA Tour has a Rose Zhang. Even before coming to the elite stage, the Stanford product set an NCAA scoring average record of 69.24. 

The Two-time NCAA individual champion, also a first in history, sniffed victory at her pro debut, the Mizuho Classic Open. Zhang was also in contention at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. A late bogey ruined her chances, but it was thrilling to watch a college graduate have a go at one of the most prestigious stages of golf.

It was her first major after turning pro. In her next event, she bagged a T9 at the US Women’s Open. Next, another T9 at the Amundi Evian Championship. In short, Zhang took the world by storm. But only for those who closely followed the Tour. Beyond that, the moment failed to capture the imagination that Ridley suggested.

There is no fault of Zhang’s own, however. LPGA majors have historically received less coverage than majors on the other side. Also worth noting is that, unlike tennis, the major purses aren’t the same across the LPGA and PGA Tour divides.

 

The LPGA Tour has walked miles but is still short of the finishing line

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The U.S. Women’s Open increased the purse size by $1 million this year. It now stands at $12 million, more than double what it was in 2021 ($5.5). The increased prize pool is part of a growing trend in golf, arguably catalyzed by LIV Golf’s $20 million pursers for each of the 14 events. The PGA Tour increased its purses in response, somewhat compelling the men’s major to amp up their game as well. 

USA Today via Reuters

That, in turn, provided further impetus for the LPGA’s majors as well. But that’s just the latest iteration of the story. Since the late 2010s, LPGA Majors have landed big-money sponsors to raise their purses. What it proves is that interest is growing. At the same time, Nelly Korda’s experience also shows that the LPGA Tour needs to be bolder in demanding what it deserves. 

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The only problem with latching onto a Caitlin Clark or a Tiger Woods is that while they move the needle, it’s extremely hard to replace them. Before Zhang, before Korda, Lydia Ko turned all heads in the LGPA Tour. She is still the youngest golfer—among both men and women—to climb to the top of the world ranking. The Kiwi International, one point shy of a Hall of Fame entry, had another precedent in history. 

Michelle Wie West’s career never reached the crescendo it was always destined to reach. The LPGA phenom also took an early retirement. Therefore, a Caitlin Clark is always a welcome surprise. But for Clark-esque figures to rise, Korda, Ko, Lexi Thompson, and their colleagues need to be given a level playing field.

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