Two top-tier LPGA players are being fined $25,000 for skipping this year’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. The LPGA’s 1 by 4 stipulation requires players in the top 80 of the CME score list to compete in a domestic event once every four years.
Minjee Lee and Jin Young Ko have both been absent from the TOC field in recent years and will need to compete in 2023 to avoid a penalty. Tommy Tangtiphaiboontana, vice president of tour operations for the LPGA, said both players have the right to appeal, and the decision will go to the commissioner. Ko had fallen into the action but withdrew.
This year’s season-opening Olympics is set on an island in the 2023 schedule, with a full month off before the second event of the season in Thailand. For players like Ko and Lee, it is much easier to take more time to rest and prepare for the upcoming season closer to home before the Asian swing begins.
Coe, of course, suffered a season-ending wrist injury and no doubt needed a lengthy break during the off-season. Lee’s 2022 season extended into December as she competed at the Australian Open to cap off her year. It’s a 24,000-mile round trip for me to come from Perth, Australia, to Orlando for one event, and it’s an expensive trip in more ways than one.
The 1 by 4 rule dates back just over 20 years and originally only applied to domestic events, as those made up the bulk of the schedule. With names like Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, and Se Ri Pak dominating the headlines, it was important for tournament directors to be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in their fields. Tangtiphaiboontana said the rule was put in place to protect title sponsors.
As the tour became more international, former commissioner Mike Wan extended the rule to apply to international events as well, before returning to a domestic-only level in 2016. The reason the rule does not apply to international events, Tangtiphaiboontana said, is that the tour doesn’t provide the same level of service abroad. There is no childcare, for example, and no doctor. Players who may have dietary concerns, security concerns, or travel restrictions are not forced to leave.
Ko and Lee have the option to apply the one-time exemption of 1 in 4 to the TOC.
Over time, there is a long-term relief. Once a player has competed in 230 official LPGA tournaments as a member, she will be exempt from the 1 by 4 rule for the rest of her career, starting with the following season.
If she receives a $25,000 fine and does not compete in the event in the next two years (if she qualifies), the fine will increase to $35,000.
Players must win to be eligible for TOC. When Tangtiphaiboontana was asked why the rule applied to this event in particular, a tournament which is primarily a reward for excellence, Tangtiphaiboontana said to protect the sponsor.
Lee and Kou aren’t the only players to skip this year, though other top players have competed in recent editions. Court will miss world number one Lydia Ko, who was on her honeymoon. Koo happens to have a home at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, where the tournament is being hosted.
Ji Chun wouldn’t be there. In fact, seven of the top 10 players in the Rolex rankings won’t be in Orlando this week. Atthaya Thitikul, Louise Suggs’ rookie of the year, did not score. Nor is No. 9 seed Heo Joo Kim.
Lexi Thompson, currently ranked 6, did not qualify for the event because she has not won an LPGA title since 2019.
Although this year’s schedule makes it very difficult for internationals to return to the TOC, it has been very difficult to sell him even when there is another event in Florida, given how short the period often feels for the top players and the travel time. For Asia. And the Australian players in particular, who would prefer to start their season in Asia.
Square 30 will be competing for a $1.5 million purse this week alongside a host of celebrities. Big cash raises, similar to what was done in the CME Group Tour tournament, would certainly do more to attract players from the other side of the world.
Second seed Nelly Korda currently leads the TOC, which takes place from January 19-22, along with seventh seed Brooke Henderson and defending champion Danielle Kang. Korda won the 2021 Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona.
The PGA Tour has a policy that players who do not compete in 25 events in a season must add an event they have not played in the previous four seasons to their schedule the following year. However, players involved in the GIP are not required to do so since they have already committed to up to 17 certain events plus three unspecified events.