Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Scotland-based American Beth Allen tops LET 

money list but can’t find a single sponsor

Beth Allen celebrates her first victory, at last year's ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters.
Beth Allen celebrates her first victory, at last year's ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters.
 ( Tristan Jones, LET )
Beth Allen was prepared to find a sponsor to help pay the $500 entry fee to the LPGA Kia Classic’s Monday qualifier on March 21. As a San Diego native, Allen dreams of playing in her hometown event. Then she tied for fourth at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and earned the cash to cover it.
It might not matter, however, as Allen, a non-member, didn't even make the limited qualifying field. The fact that paying for a Monday qualifier stretched Allen’s wallet in the first place is jarring.
Consider this: Allen is ranked 20th among American female pro golfers in the world. And she has no sponsors.
Let that roll around in your head.
Allen, 34, might seem unfamiliar to many golf fans because, since 2009, she has played full time in Europe while based in Scotland.
 Last season, Allen won for the first time on the Ladies European Tour and finished fifth on the Order of Merit. She ranks 92nd in the world and tops the tour’s money list after four events, with 46,315 euros (about $50,000).
“I care a lot about the tour,” said Allen, who sits on the LET’s player council and board.
Why is Allen playing in Europe? She had no problem getting through LPGA Q-School but couldn’t keep her card. Allen, a graduate of Cal State-Northridge, decided she couldn’t make a living on the Symetra Tour and saw the LET as a chance to improve and see the world.
Financially, the women’s game will never be on par with the men’s. There simply aren’t enough eyeballs on television/print coverage for the women to command the same level of sponsorship.
But the fact that a player on any major tour in the world could finish in the top fiveand not garner a single sponsor seems ridiculous. 
Especially a player who is thriving on a tour that touches five continents, is broadcast to 148 countries and reaches 573 million homes.
Allen understands the media game and wishes she could play it well.
“I often wonder what kind of sponsorship I could potentially earn if I wasn’t a gay, red-haired and freckly American playing in Europe,” she said. “Or better yet, a man. I can’t even get free clothes.”
TaylorMade has provided Allen with equipment throughout her career, and she uses a discount code online to purchase apparel from Adidas. 
In previous years, she mostly wore clothes bought at Old Navy. Her expenses on tour last season totaled about $60,000.
Last spring, Allen’s friends helped spearhead a social-media campaign to get her a sponsor exemption into the Kia Classic. Allen’s late father, Jim, a former San Diego city golf manager, taught her the game. He caddied for Allen at the start of the 2005 LPGA season but was diagnosed with melanoma, a cancer that eventually spread to his lymphatic system. He died the next year at age 60, while his daughter was competing at the Corning Classic in New York.
Allen didn’t receive that sponsor exemption to the 2015 Kia, nor did she get one this year despite a letter written on her behalf from former LPGA player Sophie Gustafson, who now works as Allen’s caddie.
Kia’s first exemption in 2016 was given to Sung Hyun Park of the KLPGA, and the second, selected by J Golf, is Je-Yoon Yang.
“Fair enough,” Allen said. “They’re Korean companies.”
Allen spends limited time in the U.S. and has moved to Edinburgh with her domestic partner, Clare Queen. But she’s interested in “testing the waters” again on the LPGA by trying for several other sponsor exemptions. 
The LET features three co-sanctioned events with the LPGA, including two majors: Ricoh Women’s British Open and Evian Championship.
Allen’s top-5 finish on the Order of Merit secured a start in a third major, the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif. She’s ecstatic to compete in her first USWO since 2007, in her home state. 
The next week, she intends to marry Queen in Glasgow at a stately mansion.
Gustafson, winner of 28 events worldwide, said Allen is “definitely good enough” to compete on the LPGA. Allen won the European Masters in their first week working together. Gustafson’s new boss said at the start of the event that she had worked hard to prepare for her accomplished caddie.
“I could just call the shots and she would hit them,” Gustafson said. “Draw, fade, low, high. Didn’t matter; she did it. It was a great display of ballstriking.”
Stacey Keating of Australia said Allen’s self-belief finally pushed her into the winner’s circle in 2015. She’s a tell-it-like-it-is player whose honest approach is valued on the LET. Allen smiles a lot. Want heart? She donated a kidney to her brother, Dan, five years ago.
Allen has taken the road less travelled among American players and worked hard for every dime she has earned.
That should count for something more.