A big week for women’s golf but perhaps not for progress

Coverage bestowed upon amateur event at Augusta takes from year’s first Major

 Olivia Mehaffey  drives from the third tee  f during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Photograph/Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Olivia Mehaffey drives from the third tee f during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Photograph/Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

Ally McDonald started the weekend as the highest LPGA nonwinner on the ANA Inspiration leader board. Could she become the second consecutive player, after Pernille Lindberg, to make the year’s first Major her first LPGA victory?

Back in Mississippi, her home state, the players who competed against McDonald in high school know better than to discount her chances. After she took the first-round lead, two men posted recollections on the LPGA’s Facebook page of being outclassed by McDonald, who won the boys’ state championship in her senior year at Itawamba Agricultural High School.

McDonald, 26, competed on the boys’ team because there wasn’t enough interest to field a girls’ squad.

“Once I got to probably my freshman, sophomore year, the state changed regulations and I had to move back to the boys’ tees,” McDonald said Friday, adding, “They said if I was going to play with the boys, then you’re going to have to play where the boys play from.”

McDonald recalled winning the state title on a course that was longer than Mission Hills Country Club’s 6,834-yard layout, and in their Facebook posts, Peyton Dunlap and Chandler Thompson remembered her “whipping up” on them. There were a few exceptions, McDonald said, who went on to star at Mississippi State, “but as a whole, the guys that I was surrounded by always respected me”.

On the LPGA Tour, the women are playing for more than money, trophies and world-ranking points.

“What we’re working toward is having the same amount of respect that the men get,” said Jessica Korda, the women’s world number 11.

Korda, who was tied for 12th after 36 holes, is the women’s leader in the inaugural Aon Risk Reward Challenge, a competition on the PGA and LPGA Tours featuring a running tally of players’ scores on designated holes. At the end of the season, the players on each tour with the lowest scores in relation to par will receive a $1 million bonus.

“It’s a great step in the right direction,” Korda said, referring to the equal prize money. The Tuesday before the first round of the ANA Inspiration was Equal Pay Day, the date into 2019 that women had to work to earn what men made in 2018.

In golf, the gender pay disparity is glaring. When Georgia Hall won the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham in August, she earned $490,000. A month earlier, Francesco Molinari collected $1.89 million for his victory at the men’s British Open at Carnoustie.

Same opportunities

“It’s not only golf, clearly, it’s society, and we need to aim for having the same opportunities and the same prize fund in this eventually,” Molinari said in March.

Molinari has spent time around Hall at events for AON, a global professional services firm that uses both as brand ambassadors. Like McDonald’s male high school team-mates, Molinari has more respect for Hall after getting to know her.

Jin Young Ko tees off on the 16th hole during the third round of the ANA Inspiration tournament at Mission Hills CC. Photograph: Kelvin Juo/USA Today sports
Jin Young Ko tees off on the 16th hole during the third round of the ANA Inspiration tournament at Mission Hills CC. Photograph: Kelvin Juo/USA Today sports

“The main thing is when you meet women like that, you see in the end we do the same thing, we have the same drive, the same passion, the same dreams; everything is exactly the same,” he said. The onus is not on the women to narrow the gap, he added, but on their male peers and those who control the corporate coffers.

“What we can do as players is support the ladies’ tour,” Molinari said. “But I think the main thing is the exposure they get. It’s nowhere near where it should be, and that creates less interest in sponsors, less money.”

Molinari’s words rang as true as birdsong on Saturday as the best women in the world took a back seat to the top up-and-coming women, whose final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, played on the same course that will host next week’s Masters, was shown on NBC.

The three hours of network coverage bestowed upon the likes of the winner, the women’s world number one amateur, Jennifer Kupcho, the runner-up, Maria Fassi of Mexico and Ireland’s Olivia Mehaffey, who finished in a share of 23rd place, was three hours more than was conferred on McDonald, Korda, Hall and Company at the ANA Inspiration.

To Molinari’s point, neither Bank of America nor AT&T, two of the corporate sponsors whose girl-power-theme ads were in heavy rotation during Saturday’s Augusta women’s amateur final-round coverage, sponsors an LPGA event.

“I think all we can do is try to play the best golf we can and show the public and the sponsors and the media what we can do,” Hall said.

On this great week for women’s golf, is it progress that the Augusta National Women’s Amateur runner-up had a bigger stage and audience than the reigning Women’s British Open winner?

On the eve of the ANA Inspiration, which started on Thursday, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan told reporters: “In my mind, the Augusta Women’s Amateur is an evolution, not a revolution. But maybe in time, it will be the revolution that I want it to be.”

- New York Times

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