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Why Women's Golf Deserves a Better Deal

By: | Mon 26 Feb 2024

For this week's View From The Fairway, Golfshake's Derek Clements looks at the constant struggle for women's golf to grab attention and why that is something that desperately needs to change.

I recently wrote about golf’s need to find a dominant figure or two to replace 48-year-old Tiger Woods, a veteran who continues to create waves around the world every time he announces that he has playing.

My belief is that every sport needs its superstars. 

Tennis is beginning to find out what life could be like after Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, three players who dominated the sport for 20 years, hoovering up grand slam titles for fun. Federer has already retired, Nadal continues to struggle with constant injuries and Djokovic is beginning to look his age.

Even as non-tennis fans, you will all know about these guys. 

However, what about the world’s top tennis players? I watch a fair bit of tennis but if asked to jot down the name of the world’s best women’s tennis player I have to hold up my hands and tell you that I haven’t a clue - and I suspect most of you would be in the same boat. It is Iga Swiatek. And this identity crisis is indicative of a much wider issue.

If I challenged you to name men’s golf’s world number one, I am pretty certain that most of you would be able to come up with Scottie Scheffler. And if further pressed on whether you could identify, say, five of the top 10, it is a safe bet you would be able to name Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay

If you bumped into any of the above golfers in the street I am 100% certain that you would recognise each and every one of them.

So here is a question for you - who is currently ranked as the best woman golfer on the planet?

Give yourself a pat on the back if you said “Lilia Vu”. You will know that I consider myself to be something of a golfing anorak but I really cannot tell you with any confidence that I would have got that right. I only know because I looked at the rankings list when thinking about writing this article, and there were just a handful of names that I was familiar with - Nelly Korda, Celine Boutier, Lydia Ko and Charley Hull. And I am only familiar with Hull, ranked eighth, because she is English.

Korda is one of the daughters of former tennis champion Petr Korda, and it is revealing that when you do an internet search for Nelly, you will see her father’s name mentioned in almost every article. Why? She has surely earned her own identity by now. (Charlie Woods, take note!)

Korda is the second-best golfer in the world. She has a solitary major to her name and nine PGA Tour titles. 

Vu won two majors in 2023, the Chevron and the Women’s Open. Other than that, she has just two LPGA Tour titles to her credit. And if I bumped into her in the street I wouldn’t have the first clue who she was.

So we have established that my knowledge of women’s golf is pretty inadequate, and I know for certain that I am not alone.

Charley Hull

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Before I look at some of the reasons for this, I want to address something that Hull recently shared with the world. We all know that Woods changed the face of men’s professional golf forever with his incredible fitness regime. When he joined the paid ranks he spent as much time in the gym as he did on the golf course. And the results were remarkable. Woods hit the ball so far that dozens of courses had to be “Tiger-proofed” to ensure they were still relevant. And, of course, all those who wanted to give Woods a run for his money followed him into the gym.

I can guarantee that every single member of the men’s top 10 would regard themselves as gym bunnies.

Hull is 27 and has finished as runner-up in three majors. That she is talented is beyond dispute but there have been some questions about her commitment. And she admitted as much herself when she told BBC Sport that she has adopted a new fitness regime in an attempt to take her game to the next level. I was speechless when she revealed: "I'm that weak in my arms, I can't even do a press-up. I've been working a lot on my fitness in the off-season, trying to strengthen my arms.

"There are certain things in my swing my coach wants me to work on and I need a little bit more arm strength for my backswing, so I'm working on that."

I understand that there are many reasons why a woman would not want to end up being muscle-bound but a basic fitness regime is surely the minimum requirement to compete at the highest level. And I strongly suspect that Hull is not the only top woman golfer who has avoided the gym. 

But that is not the reason so many of them are not household names.

In the main, it comes down to exposure, plain and simple. The LPGA and LET Tours simply don’t get anything like the same level of TV and press coverage as the PGA and DP World Tours. Period. 

And it is also interesting to note that when women’s golf is televised the coverage is nothing like as polished as that applied to the men’s game. It infuriates me that when PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events are being shown at the same time, the women’s option is always on the red button. Or, worse, via YouTube.

I have already documented the huge disparity in prize money. It is a fact that it is far more difficult to make a rewarding living from golf if you are a woman. 

I would also argue that women’s golf is desperately crying out for some proper personalities. 

Christina Kim is an American golfer and, sadly, her best days are now behind her. She only won three times on the LPGA Tour but represented the USA at the Solheim Cup on three occasions. She wore her heart on her sleeve and was a thrilling golfer to watch, a player who only knew one way to play the game - to attack every flag. Kim was a larger than life character who later made the successful transition to the commentary box.

Lydia Ko has attracted much criticism for the way she routinely replaces golf coaches and caddies but she and Hull are two players I would pay to watch. The problem is that I appear to be in a minority. When women’s tournaments are televised you can’t help but be aware that the attendances are disappointing to say the least.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I have nothing but admiration for any golfer who is good enough to get anywhere near the top 10. 

The bottom line is that women’s sport receives pretty shoddy treatment at the hands of the media. But things can change.

Take women’s football as an example. For years, the women’s game in the UK was largely ignored by both the media and football fans. And then England won the European Championship and should have added the World Cup. The England players are now household names - goalkeeper Mary Earps was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2023, and that is something that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. If Charley Hull wins the Women’s Open in 2024 I am not convinced she would even make the shortlist for SPOTY.

Almost overnight, attendances at matches have soared, participation within all age groups has increased at a record rate and league and domestic cup games are finding their place within the TV schedule. It is a success story.

I am not certain how women’s golf can emulate that success but I do know for sure that if it is to have any chance of doing so it needs some big personalities, more blue-chip sponsors and TV executives who are brave enough to give it a bigger slice of the cake.

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Tags: lpga LET daily picks

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