On Episode 36 of the On The Green Podcast, I was joined by special guest Mike Nichols. Mike serves as the Chief Business Officer of the LPGA Qualifying Tours while also overseeing the Epson Tour, where female golfers earn their Tour cards for upcoming seasons. After getting to know a bit about Mike’s history and how he got involved in the golf world, we dove into the growth of the Epson Tour and the LPGA and the positive effects they both have had on the game of golf.
Meet Mike Nichols
Mike grew up in a small town in North Jersey called Basking Ridge. A talented golfer, he went on to play Division III golf at Middlebury College in Vermont. While in college, he studied economics with the hopes of one day working on Wall Street. However, after graduating college, his father told him, “Do something you love because you will be doing it for the next 40 years.”
It was then that Mike decided he would pursue a career in something he was passionate about—golf! While interning at the USGA Museum and Library in Liberty County, New Jersey, a friend told him he should get his master’s degree in sports administration. Following that advice, Mike enrolled in the Sports Administration program at St. Thomas University in Miami. After graduating, he accepted his first job working on what was then the Senior PGA TOUR at the Royal Caribbean Classic. During that experience, Mike fell in love with running golf tournaments and the events business. After another stop on the Tour in Grand Rapids, MI, he was hired by the LPGA Tour to become part of their Tournament Business Affairs Department.
During the summer of 2012, Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, assigned Mike to be in charge of the LPGA’s developmental Tour, the Symetra Tour, which would later become the Epson Tour—the official qualifying tour of the LPGA.
During the start of his first year, Mike quickly realized his biggest challenge would be convincing every tournament to cover the purse with sponsorships. At the time, there were 15 events, and all of them were losing money. So, Mike had the idea that every event would cover the purse or it would not be put on the schedule. He had his skeptics but his plan worked, and as the quality of the events and courses started to increase, the sponsors soon followed. From there, as Mike said, “It went from a sales business to a referral business.”
The Epson Tour
The Epson Tour is the qualifying tour for the LPGA and features three qualifying stages for the LPGA TOUR. Following the end of the Epson Tour season, the top 10 players will automatically graduate to the LPGA Tour. Hall of Fame member, Lorena Ochoa, came through the Epson Tour, as did Kelly Norda and countless other Tour stalwarts.
Epson signed a five-year sponsorship deal in January and looks to elevate the Tour and the players. As a result, the Tour has introduced three ideas to help improve the financial situations for the athletes: to raise the purses, lower the entry fees, and give recent Q-School graduates some seed money to get off on the right foot after college. The minimum purse has also doubled from $100,000 in 2013 to $200,000, and the largest purse in Epson Tour history will occur this year at $335,000!
The Growth of the Epson Tour
With better sponsorships and more prestigious country clubs getting involved, the Tour has grown significantly in the last decade. One major benefit attributed to the Tour’s growth is its ability to offer higher payouts to players. As Mike explained, “When I started on this Tour in 2013, our number one money winner on the Epson Tour won $47,000 over the 15 weeks. This year in French Lick, they will be playing for a purse of $335,000. That means the winner of this one tournament will win $50,000, more than 2013’s season-ending money’s leader!”
The Epson Tour began earlier this month and will conclude with the Epson Tour Championship in October of 2022. If you’re interested in learning more about the Epson Tour and its official schedule of events, please visit lpga.com.
For more of my conversation with Mike, tune into Episode 36 of On The Green Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen! And be sure to stay tuned for the release of my other monthly episodes!