Mike Nichols is leaving the LPGA after 16 years of leadership, Golfweek has learned. As chief business officer of the Epson Tour for the past decade, Nichols transformed the LPGA’s qualifying tour in substantial ways.
Nichols joined the LPGA in 2006 and served as vice president of tournament business affairs with oversight of the LPGA schedule until being named chief business officer of what was then known as the Symetra Tour in July 2012.
In 2013, the qualifying tour’s season had 15 events and $1.6 million in prize money. This year, players will compete in 21 events for $4.5 million.
Earlier this year, Nichols oversaw the five-year title deal that brought on Epson as the tour’s title sponsor. The level for minimum purses was raised to $200,000 while player-entry fees were lowered by 10 percent per tournament (as much as $1,000 per player for the year). In addition, the annual Epson Tour Ambassador Program grants $10,000 to each of the 2021 Epson Tour graduates to help support their move to the LPGA.
Even Shaquille O’Neal took part in promoting the new Epson sponsorship.
“I knew that it was time for me to hand the ball to someone new once we onboarded Epson,” Nichols told Golfweek. “They are a tremendous partner, and we are only just scratching the surface on what their involvement will mean for this tour and our members over these first five years.”
Rachel Rohanna and NBA star Shaquille O’Neal team up to take part in a promotion for the Epson Tour. (courtesy of Epson)
Nichols, who is leaving the golf industry for the corporate world, joined the LPGA after serving as championship director of the 2005 US Senior Open at NCR Country Club in Dayton, site of this year’s US Senior Women’s Open.
“I don’t think people understand how much Mike has done for the developmental tour of the LPGA,” said veteran player Kim Kaufman. “We are often talking about the growth of the LPGA but forget about how this tour has grown as well. I played in 2013 and came back in 2020 and I couldn’t stop telling people how much better the courses and the purses were. I know the team at the LPGA will find someone great to replace him, but they are going to have very big shoes to fill.”
Last week, LPGA rookie Sophia Schubert nearly won the Amundi Evian Championship, finishing one stroke behind Brooke Henderson. Schubert was one of 10 players who earned her LPGA card via the Epson Tour money list last season.
“Mike’s been great,” said LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan.
“He’s been really awesome for the Epson Tour, and we’ll build on that for sure.”
Lucy Li of United States tees off on the 15th hole during the third round of Honda LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course on March 12, 2022 in Pattaya, Thailand. (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)
This week’s Epson Tour event, the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship, is in Battle Creek, Michigan. Former child prodigy Lucy Li, now 19, leads the money list with $107,241.
“I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made as a team with an incredible group of partners who bought into our vision,” said Nichols.
“In my first full year, the leading money winner on tour made less than $50,000 for the season. Next week in French Lick, the winner will take home more money in four days than the top player did in the course of 15 events in 2013. You don’t make that kind of progress without the commitment and belief of a lot of people with a common goal.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek