You can billet an LPGA Tour pro – and you should
by Jim Sutherland
The life of a touring pro, what must it be like? Wouldn’t we love to share it, even if just for a week? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Well, share it for a week I did, along with my wife, Jessie Horner. And it is quite a life. And it was an amazing experience.
But not everything is exactly as perhaps it might seem.
This all happened after we signed up as potential billet hosts for the CPKC Canadian Open, held in late August at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.
I took an online Safe Sport training course (complete with exam), and we passed a criminal records check. Then, within hours, we learned who our billet would be.
Wichanee Meechai may not be a household name in your house, but it certainly became one in ours. The 30-year-old is part of the wave of golfers from Thailand who, following an earlier wave from South Korea, has truly transformed the LPGA into a global tour—significantly more global than the PGA Tour, one could argue.
A seven-year tour vet, she has emerged over the past couple of seasons as a solid contender, one who has yet to win, but who notches Top 25s and 10s on a regular basis.
In fact, that’s exactly what she did on the Sunday afternoon before the Monday evening when she arrived at our place – she tied for 10th at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Jan, as she said we should call her, joined us for dinner, and graciously answered our many questions – like, for example, how does an LPGA pro get from Northern Ireland to Vancouver in a hurry?
Well, listening to her response sparked the first realization that all is not as it seems.
LPGA stars do not charter jets, it turns out. They don’t even jump on the next flight out of nearby Belfast. What they do – or at least what she did – is partner with other golfers and caddies to rent a van.
Sure, you’re thinking, to drive the couple of hours it takes to Dublin and its well-connected international airport. Makes total sense.
What they did is heap into their van for the drive to Belfast, from which they caught, not an airplane, but a ferry. This they rode to Cairnryan, Scotland, a sailing of more than two hours.
From there, they drove another two-and-a-half hours to Edinburgh Airport. From which they boarded a flight for Frankfurt, Germany. After which they boarded a flight for Vancouver. After which, as I said, she sat at our table, graciously answering our questions.
We let her go to bed after that one.
Jan was up in good time the next morning to go check out Shaughnessy in a practice round, then on Wednesday she punched the clock again for the pro-am.
Scores were going to be high, she told us, because the greens were very firm and the players weren’t able to hold them.
She came and went as she needed to, joining us for dinner most evenings. A cook and foodie, she ordered takeout from a Thai restaurant that she thought would be great, and it was. We countered with a Malaysian spot that opened her eyes to a cuisine we wrongly assumed she’d be familiar with.
She eschewed beers, but we didn’t.
On Thursday, the first day of the championship, scores were indeed high, as Jan had predicted. We were able to follow her during Friday’s round, and were awed by both her natural cool and impressive skill and talent, which she displayed on her way to a sparkling 70, more than four strokes less than the field average, and enough to move her into a tie for 10th.
Afterward, we had visions of a Top 10, maybe a Top 5 – maybe even, well, who knows?
It was not to be. I followed her again for a chunk of Saturday, but something was missing, and she told us later that she didn’t feel quite right, that she ran out of gas on her way to a disastrous 76.
Still, she rallied on Sunday and finished tied for 36th, good enough for $14,380, an okay payday that edged her up to 82nd in the LPGA’s Race to CME Globe and brought her season’s earnings to $170,000.
Now, as a journalist, it was pretty much my job to ask her how much it costs her to play the tour for a season, and her estimate wasn’t a lot less than $170,000. True, she does have some sponsors, which together contribute another five-figure lump, but it became very clear that anyone outside the top half of the tour’s money list is going to have to be pretty frugal.
In Jan’s case that means renting a room in the Orlando house owned by her friends, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn (sisters playing on the LPGA Tour), playing in more events than she’d ideally like to, zigzagging between sites in sometimes tortuous fashion, and yes, billeting at many of her tournaments.
Later, I spoke to Cheryl Lee, who helped look after billets for the CPKC Women’s Open. Of the 156 players in the tournament, 76, or just under half the field, requested billets, as did a number of caddies.
Jan explained that conserving money is a big part of the motivation, but not all of it.
“As tour players we’re always looking for a place that feels like home,” she said. “Especially someone like me, whose home is so far away.”
We hope she found a bit of that at our place.
Jim Sutherland is a former editor of Vancouver and Western Living magazines in British Columbia who amuses himself by writing humorous novels with a golf connection, including Snap Slice (2013) and Good Grief (2020), both set in the Pacific Northwest and available on Amazon.