Catriona Matthew says LPGA merger will take LET to ‘new levels’

Catriona Matthew, Europe’s Solheim Cup captain, has given her seal of approval to a merger between the Ladies European Tour and Ladies Professional Golf Association, saying it will help elevate the former to “new levels”.

Carly Booth, who won the Czech Open in August, has welcomed the LET's link up with the LPGA. Picture: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

LET players voted in favour of the joint venture partnership with the US-based circuit, which had been widely expected after it was put back on the table for a second time in the wake of Europe’s Solheim Cup victory at Gleneagles in September, on Tuesday during an annual membership meeting in Spain.

The merger is aimed at breathing new life into the LET after the circuit had become threadbare in recent seasons, with players being left without playing opportunities for big chunks of the year and some even forced to quit the sport.

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“I think it’s an exciting time for the LET and to be able to share the resources which the LPGA have can only be a hugely positive thing for the LET,” said Matthew, one of the circuit’s most experienced campaigners.

Edinburgh-based American golfer Beth Allen. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Speaking in Spain, where she is playing in this week’s LET event, the North Berwick woman added: “Mike Whan [LPGA commissioner] has a great track record within the world of women’s golf and I am sure he will help to elevate the LET to new levels.”

While the exact details are still sketchy, the merger has also been given the thumbs up by two-time LET winner Kylie Henry, who said she had felt “unemployed” at times in recent seasons due to the schedule being light on events.

“The meeting went very well,” Henry, also speaking from Spain, told The Scotsman. “Mike Whan came to the meeting and he is a very impressive speaker, that’s for sure. I think to have a guy like that in your corner gives us good confidence going forward. The schedule is already looking quite a lot better going into next season. It was a lot of positive stuff, which is great because the last few years have been tough. It is nice to have a positive outlook going forward for the tour.”

The Glaswegian, who is married to Challenge Tour card holder Scott, added: “It’s been really tough. I’ve had full status the full time I’ve been on tour. In 2017, I played 12 events, that was everything you could play, and then 13 events last season. This season has felt better and after next week in Kenya it will be 18 events.

LPGA commissioner Mike What and LET Board chair Marta Figueras-Dotti shake on the merger between the circuits after a meeting in Spain

“That is obviously a good deal better but quite a few of those have been quite small purses. I think six of them. So to hear what was being said in the meeting last night was good, positive stuff. It was a real boost and it’s also a great motivator.”

Using their combined resources, the first aim of the venture will be to “fast track” an expanded LET schedule, with this year’s schedule comprising of 20 events – 13 less than the LPGA. The merger will also create an “optional pathway” to the LPGA for the LET’s top performers.

“The idea is that the LET becomes a place where you can make a living and, if you are content playing in Europe, you don’t necessarily have to go to the LPGA to make a living,” continued Henry. “But to have that option for the top performers is great because that is something that has been very closed off. As our schedule suffered the last few years, we had very limited chances of getting world ranking points.

“The majority of the players on our tour have fallen way down the world rankings. That meant that if you went to the LPGA Q School, you had to go to the first stage. You didn’t get to bypass that if you weren’t in the top 400 in the world.

“Last year and year before were really tough. It felt at times that you are unemployed. You were only really working 12 or 13 weeks of the year, which is really hard to deal with. As a result of that, quite a few of my friends on tour had to stop playing. Even though their golf was still good enough to be out here competing, they had to finish their careers early because you have to be making money.”

Concurring, three-time LET winner Carly Booth told BBC Sport: “We have so much potential on this tour and people need to see how good we are. People are starting to invest in us, I’m feeling positive about what is next.”

Two of the big events on the 2020 LET schedule will be in Scotland as Royal Troon stages the AIG Women’s British Open for the first time while the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open returns to The Renaissance Club.