Cristie Kerr says purses lagging

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Cristie Kerr is excited about the new schedule, but not so excited about the purses.

NAPLES, Fla. -- American LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr was quite happy to hear the tour had announced its 2014 schedule in November. That was done by commissioner Mike Whan on Friday morning here at Tiburon Golf Club, site of the season-ending CME Group Titleholders.

"I still can't believe it's released already," said Kerr, who is more used to having to wait until December or even January for the official LPGA calendar to be finalized. "That's fabulous."

But Kerr is hopeful the increase in LPGA events in 2014 -- there are 32 tournaments and one new team event -- is a sign that purses also will be increased in the next few years.

I think the focus the next four to five years has got to be making the average purse of the LPGA almost $2 million [per event]. And we have to have consistency in the purses, too.
Cristie Kerr

"Then our tour will be in really good shape," said Kerr, who at 6-under 138 is in a group tied for third, five shots behind leader Sandra Gal.

"I think if you're on the tour and you make a cut, you need to be making more than $2,200. I know we're not the same [as the PGA Tour] -- apples to oranges. Their tour is just so different than ours in the amount of everything.

"But I think the focus the next four to five years has got to be making the average purse of the LPGA almost $2 million [per event]. And we have to have consistency in the purses, too. We need, in my opinion, $1.75 to $2.2 [million] for average tournaments, and the majors over $3 million. That's where we want to be. We have to look at every part of our tour to be able to get there."

This is the time of year for such reflection and thoughts of the future. The LPGA had its annual awards dinner Friday night, and then the final two rounds of the 2013 season will be played Saturday and Sunday.

In 2013, nine of the 23 non-major tournaments had purses of $1.7 million to $2 million; the others were between $1 million and $1.5 million. For the five majors, the purses ranged from $2 million to $3.25 million. The average purse in 2014 for all tournaments is slated to be $1.76 million, compared with $1.74 million in 2013.

The first-place check here at this 70-player, no-cut event is a large one by LPGA standards: $700,000. But that's because this event skews the prize money dramatically in favor of the winner. The second-place check drops to $139,343, and third place is $101,083.

Kerr doesn't much like that distribution, either, believing it should be more the standard balance.

So how does Gal, who could be taking home that $700,000 if she keeps playing as she has the first two rounds, feel about it?

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If leader Sandra Gal holds on to win Sunday, she would get a large check by LPGA standards -- $700,000.

"It's always easier to say I don't care about the money, I just want to play well," Gal said. "Everyone always says that, but do they really mean it, right?

"I'm still going to say that, and I'm going to try to mean it. Because I'm not out here to play for money, really. I'm out here with my heart. Obviously, it's a huge [check]. But when you win a tournament, you're happy about fighting and overcoming some fear or just playing confident. You're not motivated by, 'Oh, I'm going to have some money in my bank account.' "

Maybe not, but it would still be quite a substantial deposit for Gal -- double what she has won so far in 2013 ($341,733). A 28-year-old native of Germany, Gal has one LPGA victory (the 2011 Kia Classic) and has won more than $2 million in her career.

A Florida graduate known for her art work and her sense of glamour, Gal is a former ballerina. She has had three top-10 finishes in 2013, but her lowest moment this year was not making the European team for the Solheim Cup.

"I was very disappointed not being on the Solheim Cup team," Gal said. "But my good play after that had nothing to do with the fact that I wasn't [chosen]. It was coming probably three weeks before the Solheim Cup, which was too late. So I understood the captain's decision that I wasn't picked. My good playing now is just a result of the work before."

As for who's positioned to give Gal competition for the big winner's check here, sitting in second place is South Korea's Sun Young Yoo at 8-under 136. Then tied with Kerr in third are fellow American Gerina Piller and Thailand's Pornanong Phatlum.

What of the top-three ranked players in the world, all of whom came into this event looking to make a final statement for 2013? Top-ranked Inbee Park of South Korea is still in the hunt if Gal backs up some. Park is tied for ninth at 4-under 140.

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LPGA player of the year Inbee Park is seven shots back, but if she gets her game in gear, anything could happen.

"It was a disappointing round today, with the putting and the iron shots, the distance controls," Park said. "But I'm not going to let this ruin my day. I have a more important thing coming today."

She was referring to the speech she was to give at Friday night's dinner, as she already has wrapped up the Rolex player of the year award. Besides, Park knows that if she really gets her game in gear over the weekend and others don't play well, she could still get this trophy.

That seems highly unlikely, though, for No. 2 ranked Suzann Pettersen of Norway and No. 3 Stacy Lewis of the United States. Short of a miracle weekend, neither will be adding to their victory total for the year. They are both tied for 33rd at even-par 144, 11 shots back.

And what of the kid, new pro Lydia Ko? The 16-year-old from New Zealand is holding her own, matching her first-round 71 with another one Friday, leaving her in a tie for 23rd at 2-under 142.

"I thought I played much better today than yesterday, but the score was the same," Ko said. "We're only halfway there. I think I'm playing all right."

Gal is playing even better than that, and if she can keep it going, she will be the tour's 16th different winner in 2013.

"It depends on the weather," Gal said. "If it stays [windy] you've got to be patient. If the wind calms down, you will have to play more aggressive."

Either way, Gal is in the driver's seat as the LPGA enters its last weekend of 2013.

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