If she's handed the first-place check for $560,000 next week, Laura Davies won't hesitate. 'I'd buy a Ferrari,' she says. Or, 'Oh, my God, that's a house,' she adds. 'But, more importantly, it's the U.S. Open, and you'd get a big lovely trophy.'

The $3.1 million purse for the U.S. Women's Open, July 3-6 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, is the largest in the history of the LPGA Tour Ñ thanks to the USGA, which conducts the event.

'Our purse is actually more than the ($2.5 million) U.S. Senior Open,' LPGA star Beth Daniel says. 'Give the USGA a lot of credit. We all hoped we would grow to the point where we'd be playing for money like that.'

Juli Inkster got $535,000 for winning last year's Open, and runner-up Annika Sorenstam took home $315,000. Betsy King earned $85,000 as the 1990 champion, and JoAnne Carner won $9,054 for winning in 1976.

Half of the LPGA Tour purses, which are sponsorship-driven, have been raised this year, making the average $1.2 million, says Commissioner Ty Votaw.

Still, the women trail the PGA Tour significantly, which bothers some players. 'Theirs is all TV contracts,' Daniel says. 'Every one of those guys should thank Tiger Woods every day. Our sponsors pay to put us on TV.'

Daniel compares the LPGA Tour to a slow, steady stock. 'You make these big jumps, where else do you go?' she says. 'Maybe the PGA will be bigger than they are, but that's hard to imagine.'

Meanwhile, Lorie Kane chuckles at the fact that she has made $4.6 million as a pro.

'Quite amazingly, I could be on Tour in my seventh year and already have surpassed all the (LPGA) founders on the current money list,' she says.

Sorenstam has won more than $12 million, which is almost as much as King and Nancy Lopez combined. Lopez won nine tournaments and had 19 top-10 finishes in 26 events in 1978 but earned just $189,813, about $2.7 million less than Sorenstam made last year.

ÑÊJason Vondersmith

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