2022 U.S. Women’s Open features record purse, but it still isn’t equal to the men

South Korean golfer A Lim Kim won the 2020 US Womens Open
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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Dottie Pepper recalls being paired with Meg Mallon for the final round of the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open with what she viewed as an impressive $110,000 first-place prize on the line.

Things have changed, but Lydia Ko says not enough.

Mallon would win that tournament and earn the record-breaking payday.

“It was the first time a winning check was six figures,” Pepper said. “That was a big deal.”

Pepper has a hard time believing that a little more than three decades later, the top female golfers in the world will be competing for a record $10 million purse, including a winner’s share of $1.8 million at the U.S. Women’s Open that begins Thursday at Pine Needles, after the USGA secured a major sponsorship from ProMedica.

2022 U.S. Women’s Open: Preview, how to watch, course details

Ko, the No. 3-ranked women’s golfer in the world, said players should be grateful for steps toward equal pay but added “there’s still a ways to go.”

There is.

Even with the prize purse increasing $4.5 million from a year ago, the women still lag behind the men.

The men’s 2021 U.S. Open purse was $12.5 million, with $2.25 million going to champion Jon Rahm. The prize money for this year’s tournament is expected to increase substantially when it is announced next month. The Masters’ purse went from $11.5 million to $15 million this year and the men’s PGA Championship increased from $12 million to $15 million.

It is a gender pay discrepancy that is reflective in many professional sports.

In basketball, the average NBA player made $5.3 million per season, according to Basketball Reference, while WNBA stars Diana Taurasi, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart earned a league-maximum $228,094. That’s a mere drop in the bucket for Golden State’s Stephen Curry, whose annual salary is $45.7 million.

Women’s basketball players including Brittney Griner, who the U.S government says is being wrongfully detained in Russia, take their games overseas during the offseason to supplement their incomes.

Professional female athletes’ paychecks are smaller across various sports, according to a study by Adelphi University published in 2021:

— The average salary of a Major League Baseball player was $4 million, compared with $6,000 for those with Women’s Professional Fastpitch.

— Major League Soccer players earned an average of $410,730, compared with $35,000 for their female counterparts in the National Women’s Soccer League.

— Male tennis players made on average $335,946 last year while the women earned $283,635.

— Male golfers averaged $1.25 million versus $48,993 for their female counterparts.

Of Forbes’ top 50 highest-paid athletes in 2022, tennis player Naomi Osaka was the only woman to make the list at $59.2 million — the vast majority of that coming from endorsement deals.

But strides are being made.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Soccer Federation reached a milestone agreement to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally, making the American national governing body the first in the sport to promise both sexes equal salaries. That came after fans chanted “Equal pay!” following the women’s team’s 2019 World Cup win and the team filed a discrimination lawsuit.

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In tennis, there have been equal payouts for men and women at all four Grand Slam events — Wimbledon, the French Open, U.S. Open and Australian Open — since 2007, the result of Billie Jean King’s threat of a boycott back in 1973. However, men earn more than women at other, smaller tennis tournaments.

“I think women have not been paid as much because male executives, overwhelmingly white, saw less value in women’s sports,” said Richard Lapchick, the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. “Also sport is a reflection of society where women are underpaid compared to men.

“Now attendance at women’s games and viewers on TV are increasing dramatically. That coupled with a better climate for social justice in the last two years is finally ramping up the discussions for equal pay. On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, I hope sports can help lead the way for equal pay for women everywhere.”

Female golfers are working hard to bridge the pay gap.

Australian Minjee Lee said gaining the confidence and backing of a major sponsor like ProMedica is “a huge step in the right direction” for women’s golf. And female pro athletes in general.

“I think it’s only going to get better and better,” Lee added.

When Annika Sorenstam won this event in 1996 at Pine Needles, she took home $212,500 and became the first female golfer to surpass $1 million in career earnings.

On Sunday, the champion will earn nearly twice that for winning one tournament.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Sorenstam said. “That is a massive change. It’s a massive boost. It gives the women a lot more credibility and respect. … I hope other tournaments will follow suit, and let’s keep working this direction for other women.”

With ProMedica’s backing, the U.S. Women’s Open purse is set to increase annually to $12 million in the next five years.

“Seeing the sponsors that we have out here on the LPGA Tour, seeing the purse increases, the TV coverage, that’s what we want,” said American Lexi Thompson, the world’s No. 6-ranked golfer. “We want to grow the game and leave it in a better place.”

Karen Stupples started playing on the LPGA Tour in an era when women struggled to make a living.

Her first career tournament paycheck was for $1,306 in 1999 when she finished tied for 58th at the Phillips Invitational.

“I just can’t wrap my head around what a difference this could possibly make for somebody,” said Stupples, now a commentator for NBC covering this week’s U.S. Open. “I can’t even properly speak about it. I mean, my goodness, what a move this is.”

Jin Young Ko, the world’s No. 1 female player, said it’s a lot of money at stake — and she plans to donate some of it back if she wins.

“I want to help children that want to be LPGA players,” Ko said. “I want to help them. If I win, I will do that.”

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.