Despite record U.S. Women's Open purse, parity with men unlikely any time soon

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C., June 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Golf Association (USGA) CEO Mike Whan takes pride that his organisation is offering a record $10 million purse at this week's U.S. Women's Open but says the prospect of prize money parity with the men's Open is not likely any time soon.

The USGA has nearly doubled the purse for the Women's Open in one fell swoop from last year without taking anything from the budget of money-losing areas the administrative body is responsible for, Whan told Reuters on Thursday.

He said it had done so by bringing onboard a presenting sponsor, the non-profit health care company ProMedica.

"When I did this (deal) I didn't want anybody else to have to fund this change," said Whan, 57, who became the top dog at the USGA last year after 11 years as LPGA commissioner.

"This difference (in prize money from last year) is by adding ProMedica to the party. We didn't lose or make any more or less money by (increasing) the purse. I went out and found a partner to help us get there."

On the men's side, last year's Open at Torrey Pines paid $12.5 million, while the purse for this month's championship at Brookline has not been announced.

By comparison, the purse at the U.S. Open tennis has been equal since 1973, though golf is different in that the men's and women's championships are not played simultaneously at the same venue.

"I don't want to take equality off the table," Whan said "The reality is in golf it's hard for us to put (men and women) on the same stage, same time and televise it one time where everybody gets the same eyeballs.

"(Women) deliver about one-fifth the TV viewership of the men. It's true. It doesn't mean I like it or it's something I don't want to improve.

"I want (our Women's Open purse) to be $12 million in the next three or four years. This championship was $4.5 million not too long ago. If we can triple that I think that's the kind of leader the game deserves."

While the most elite women eye this week's $1.8 million first prize, perhaps more important for the rank and file is the $8,000 that will be paid to the professionals who miss the cut.

Though a relative pittance by comparison, the amount could provide a temporary lifeline for the many professional women who struggle even to cover their expenses on the LPGA Tour.

"This is about setting a benchmark," Whan said.

"For 75 years the U.S. Women's Open has been a standard by which other championships aspire to in the women's game and pushed others forward. I wanted to continue that standard.

"I think that's our job, to push the envelope."

Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond

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