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The Epson Tour Will Change Women's Golf, $50 at a Time

Reduced entry fees and bonus money for those who play their way to the LPGA Tour will have a big-time positive impact on the women's game, Rachel Rohanna tells Morning Read's Kelly Okun.
Rachel Rohanna finished in the Top 10 on the Symetra Tour in 2021.

Rachel Rohanna finished in the Symetra Tour top 10 in 2021 to earn full LPGA status.

Women’s golf has celebrated some major victories these last few weeks, starting with Epson’s new partnership with the LPGA Tour.

In case you missed it, Epson is now the sponsor of the LPGA’s developmental tour, formerly known as the Symetra Tour. Its 2022 schedule will set records for total prize money at $4.41 million. 

The five-year deal also cuts entry fees from $500 to $450 per event, gives Epson Tour graduates $10,000 to jumpstart their LPGA season and extends them ambassadorship opportunities to grow women’s golf on a larger stage. 

That $50 difference in entry fees might not sound like a big deal, but it is. Consider Rachel Rohanna, a 2021 Epson Tour graduate. Her rookie season on the LPGA Tour was in 2016; since then, she has given birth to a daughter, continued working on her family’s farm and earned her LPGA Tour card again by finishing 10th on the 2021 Epson Tour money list.

Rohanna believes the new sponsorship and financial benefits will make an enormous difference for her second time around. She and other tour pros can now focus more on their games instead of finances.

I first met Rachel a few years ago when we were both competing in a (formerly) Symetra event. We’ve since kept in touch, and she was the first person to come to mind when the Epson deal was announced. I asked if she was interested in sharing how the changes would impact the tour and players, and she readily agreed. This is a slightly edited version of our interview:

Morning Read/Sports Illustrated: How did you feel when you first heard about Epson becoming the new sponsor for the “Road to the LPGA”?

Rachel Rohanna: When Mike Nichols [the LPGA's qualifying tour boss] called me and told me about Epson and their cool ideas for supporting not only the current tour players but also the graduates, I couldn’t believe it. I was driving and got chills when talking to Mike because it’s so difficult to start on the LPGA with the expenses skyrocketing.

Epson really stepped up to the plate and asked us what they need to do, how they can start improving the tour and raising awareness and, on top of that, how they can give these graduates the best possibility of staying on the LPGA Tour and not have them worry about the financial side of things. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done that in any other sport.

MR/SI: You also played the full LPGA Tour season in 2016. How will this time be different?

Rohanna: I’m not a rookie on the LPGA Tour this season, so I have a bit of a different perspective. Back in 2016, it was intimidating because you get that vibe that others know you’re a rookie and then there’s the non-golf side: where do I stay? Do I try to get housing or go for a cheaper hotel here? It’s such a hard juggling act to be focused on trying to play well, being nervous and then worrying about the finances. We really can’t thank Epson enough for the $10,000.

MR/SI: How much of a relief is it to have these expenses taken care of in the beginning of the season when you have so much going on?

Rohanna: It’s huge. I always feel like the beginning of the season on both tours is more expensive because it’s still winter and you’re going south with the rest of the country trying to get out of the cold weather, so expenses are higher. On the LPGA, the event in Boca Raton, Fla, was not cheap, not to mention the rest of the stops in Florida. Then you know you’re going to be having three or four California events and one in Hawaii coming up, so it is extremely intimidating on the financial side to look at that schedule and think, “OK, I got it. Of course my game is going to show up. Don’t worry about it, let’s go book a Marriott.”

You have to figure out what you have to spend your money on and where you can try to cut corners. I am learning there are many things that are difficult to cut corners with, and you have to weigh the cost against other factors that could affect your game. Now, with Epson’s contributions, I don’t have to finish in the top 10 to make my expenses back like I did last time; I can now finish in the top 10 and be good for a while. I used to say the whole season was a marathon, but I learned that wasn’t true and you really have to sprint to the finish line and give your golf game 110 percent. It’s been nice to have that cushion of money to help us get through at least the first eight events.

Support is crucial on both tours. In 2015 when I first earned my LPGA card, I made it through the first couple of Epson events and then arrived in Sarasota. Thankfully, I won the event, but what I didn’t tell people was that I only had enough money left to make it to the next event on the schedule. Earning money is so important for getting through the season so you even have a chance of making it to the LPGA; now, we have an even better chance of staying there.

MR/SI: Let’s talk about entry fees. Taking $50 off each event can save the players $1,000 each year. To some, that may seem inconsequential, but to them, it’s extra money to get them to an LPGA Monday Qualifier or cover their entry fee for two more potentially season-changing events.

Rohanna: My eyes started watering when they told me that. I had dinner with Mike and some Epson representatives, and they said they knew cutting down the entry fees wasn’t much, but at least it was a start and that they’d keep working to recruit sponsors. I told them they have no idea how much saving that $50 per event helps. Just the fact that Epson is listening to what the players are saying and to have Mike doing the absolute best he can to alleviate some of the players’ burdens means a lot.

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If people knew the expenses we paid to play, and it’s not a secret, they’d realize that it was $500 to play in an Epson Tour event, $200 to play in an LPGA event and free for Korn Ferry Tour events thanks to their number of sponsors. I’ve seen so many talented players have to leave the tour because they couldn’t afford the entry fees, so the fact that Epson heard us and made it happen is unbelievable.

For Epson to bring them down to $450, we can now go get a decent meal each week or wash our cars or put it towards something that’s going to benefit our career. They said it as an off-topic thing like we wouldn’t care to hear too much about that, but they had no idea of the impact it would have. To see it finally come to fruition is amazing.

MR/SI: What does it mean to be an Epson ambassador, and what are your duties in 2022?

The 10 professionals who played their way from the Symetra Tour to the 2022 LPGA Tour.

Rachel Rohanna (right) and the nine other pros who earned their LPGA Tour cards for 2022.

Rohanna: When you start your LPGA season as an Epson graduate, all eyes are on you and the veteran players are waiting to see how you will perform. Nelly Korda really stepped up — she graduated and now she’s the No. 1 player in the world. I would really love for our graduating class to change the perception of our start on the LPGA by getting the Epson Tour logo out there on our golf bags and shirts as brand ambassadors. When the Korn Ferry players graduate to the PGA Tour, they are welcomed as the next big stars.

I would love to get to the point where they’re taking 25 graduates from the Epson Tour and are labeled as the next great generation. It is really special and an honor to have that responsibility to try to raise the bar for the Epson Tour, and to be a part of that initiative is really cool. I truly believe the top 10 graduates from 2021 are a good group and can really get out there and start changing that perception.

As much as Epson is helping us, in turn, we don’t always talk about how we’re going to help them. Looking back to Symetra, they always gave us great reviews about how much their business had grown while sponsoring the tour. I think Epson will also reap those benefits, especially since we’ll be great ambassadors, both for the Epson Tour and for Epson as a whole, and they’ll get a ton of positive feedback. The pro-ams, played before the actual event begins, will be huge. Sponsoring us is going to be a great investment on their end and as much as they help us, we’ll be helping them, too.

MR/SI: Other than the major financial contributions, how else is Epson supporting their players?

Rohanna: We were at a dinner meeting with them, and Epson asked how they could help us at home, like if we needed printers. I said, “Yes!” because we’re basically a small business. I also volunteered to take them up on the projector and scanner. Epson wants us to succeed and for us to be a good business and brand in addition to being a good golfer. They have gone above and beyond.

MR/SI: Looking back at what Epson has accomplished in the last few weeks and how ProMedica has significantly increased the U.S. Women’s Open purse, it looks like women’s golf is finally heading in the right direction. Do you think this trend will continue?

Rohanna: Yes, 100 percent. We just had two player meetings about the future of our tour and the future of women’s golf and even compared numbers between our tours and the men’s. It lights a fire under us to do the best we can to raise awareness for women’s sports, specifically women’s golf.

In my opinion, though, we also need to be focusing on the youth because they’re the future of our sport. We do a good job with it, but I want to see us push it farther and get young girls and boys involved. We want the kids and even the moms watching the LPGA. Every time we do a junior clinic, the moms are there to take their kids, and by the end of it, they’re blown away with how approachable the players are and how good they are with the kids.

It’s a whole new target audience we’re hitting since before it was mostly male viewers. To have the players be such advocates for the game is really cool, and I hope the people realize how approachable we are and how well we’re representing the tour so they’ll follow us on the course and on TV, too.

Rachel Rohanna hits a tee shot in a Symetra Tour event.

Rachel Rohanna.

MR/SI: If you were in Epson’s shoes, where would you focus next?

Rohanna: One of the things we talk about quite a bit is social media and how it’s the next big thing. If you’re promoting yourself, your sponsors and the tour on personal social media accounts, it’s just going to raise visibility for everything. We see all the numbers up there, between the impressions and comments and likes, and we have grown significantly over the last three years. As a tour run by the players, it is our duty to be the ones promoting ourselves on tour, but it’s hard.

The LPGA and Epson Tours are doing an awesome job sending us photos after the event so we can post on our platforms. And they’re not just getting Nelly and Jessica and Yuka Saso — they’re also getting players like me, people no one knows about. To get that viewership up on Golf Channel for the LPGA would be huge, and the Epson Tour is doing a great job of keeping social media up to date on events so you can tune in to see who will win the tournaments; leveraging more social media and live-streaming is a great direction for them.

I think we’re on the edge of a huge breakthrough from 2016 to now. It feels like we’re on a completely different stage, especially after two seasons with COVID-19. You’d think we’d be behind the times, but women’s golf is way ahead.