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LPGA kicks off season of record purses but disparity remains

(Reuters) - The LPGA Tour season kicks off on Thursday, launching a year which will see the world’s best women golfers compete for $75 million in prize money -- a record but still a pittance compared to what their male counterparts will play for on the PGA Tour.

The LPGA purses -- an average of more than $2 million per event over the 33 official-money tournaments -- are nothing to scoff at, even if they are not comparable to the men.

Total prize money on the PGA Tour will be more than $400 million, including bonus money for the season-long FedEx Cup points race.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has long been sanguine about the disparity, which he says reflects the higher television ratings for men’s golf in the United States.

And LPGA player Pernilla Lindberg says the women’s circuit nevertheless can only focus on their own product.

“We can only focus on what we’re doing and we’re increasing our purses but as we’re increasing them, the guys are still running away from us,” Lindberg, a member of the LPGA Player Board, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

“We’re doing our part trying to catch up but they’re moving further ahead which in one way is sad but I’m happy with the purses we (have) and we’re for sure going in the right direction.

“It is such a good time to be part of the women’s game. It’s going to be my 11th year on the LPGA Tour and I feel each and every year it’s getting better.”

Swede Lindberg is part of an elite 26-woman field at the Tournament of Champions at the Four Seasons Club in Orlando this week.

The field is restricted to winners over the last two years, and Lindberg qualified with her victory in the ANA Inspiration major early in 2018.

Her form took a dip last year as she made only 12 cuts in 24 starts and earned barely $100,000, hardly enough to cover expenses.

She will need to improve sharply this season in order to be one of the two Swedes who likely will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

“These next five or six months are going to determine everything,” said Lindberg, who has slipped to 160th in the Rolex world rankings.

“A few of us are up for those two spots. I feel I’m in a good position. For sure it’s a bit goal this year and something that motivates me.”

Lindberg thought her ANA Inspiration victory would lead to ever bigger things, but found out that golf does not always work that way.

“Last year there was a lot of searching,” she said. “When I didn’t feel good over the ball I got frustrated and started searching for different things all the time.

“I thought I had things figured out but fell into some old tendencies with my swing again.

“Now I know what to stick to and work on the range.”

Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Chadband