Bunker Men­tal­ity

As Mike Wil­son ar­gues, it’s high time for golf to take a look from ten­nis, where men’s and women’s prize money is – at the ‘Ma­jors’ at least - equal.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

It’s high time for golf to take a look from ten­nis, where men’s and women’s prize money is - at the ‘Ma­jors’ at least - equal.

Now we are of­fi­cially in au­tumn. It’s time to air that hoary old ch­est­nut that is a firm favourite of Bunker Men­tal­ity, namely the vast, in­iq­ui­tous and out­dated dif­fer­en­tial in prize money earned by male and fe­male pro­fes­sional golfers around the world. And, with the win­ner of his na­tional Ladies Scot­tish Open this year mak­ing a mere 18.5% of her male equiv­a­lent.

It is 10 years since the last of the four ten­nis ‘Ma­jors,’ Wim­ble­don, in­tro­duced equal prize money for the men’s and women’s sin­gles and get­ting on for half-a-cen­tury since the U.S. Open be­came the first of the sport’s Grand Slam events to of­fer equal re­mu­ner­a­tion for both sexes.

Of course, the ar­gu­ments raged then - as they still do to a much lesser ex­tent - not so much on the point of prin­ci­ple. But on the fact that the win­ner of this year’s women’s sin­gles ti­tle at the U.S. Open will win the same amount - US$3.5m - as the men’s sin­gles cham­pion whilst play­ing a max­i­mum of three sets per match com­pared to the gru­elling max­i­mum of five re­quired of the men.

And, in some re­spects, that’s a fair ar­gu­ment, equal pay for equal work. But don’t ex­pect the men to be hav­ing their work­load re­duced or the women theirs sub­stan­tially in­creased any­time soon.

How­ever, it seems as if pro­fes­sional golf is stuck in a time warp. Women, play­ing ex­actly the same 72 holes in their U.S. Open and Women’s Bri­tish Open as the men, ad­mit­tedly slightly shorter holes to take cog­ni­sance of the re­spec­tive hit­ting power of the gen­ders.

But the best fe­male play­ers in the world face ex­actly the same chal­lenges as their male coun­ter­parts, chal­lenges which in­clude play­ing un­der pres­sure, com­pet­ing against the very best of the rest, play­ing in wind and rain, out of bunkers and the rough, avoid­ing out-of­bounds and that cru­ellest of all mis­tresses, Lady Luck her­self.

Hav­ing cov­ered four open cham­pi­onships in the month of July, the Scot­tish Open fol­lowed by the Open Cham­pi­onship at Royal Birk­dale, then the Ladies Scot­tish Open and fi­nally the Ricoh Women’s Bri­tish Open, the most strik­ing dif­fer­ences were how much fun the women’s events were to cover as a jour­nal­ist. More so for those in­trepid pho­tog­ra­phers how much the fe­male play­ers seemed to be en­joy­ing - as op­posed to the men seem­ingly

en­dur­ing - their God-given tal­ent and how ac­ces­si­ble, amenable and open the top fe­male play­ers are, to fans and the me­dia.

Watch­ing women’s golf at the elite level was like watch­ing in 3D, high-def­i­ni­tion colour. The men’s events one-di­men­sional and seem­ingly in black-and-white, and yet there were four-times the num­ber of press, in­clud­ing golf ‘Num­ber-ones,’ and fea­ture writ­ers in at­ten­dance at the men’s events.

Hav­ing cal­cu­lated that Mi-Hyang Lee, the win­ner of the Ladies Scot­tish Open made ex­actly 18.5% of the US$1.25m earned by Rafa Cabr­era-Bello a fort­night ear­lier for win­ning the men’s ver­sion over the self-same Dun­don­ald Links golf course. And that the win­ner of the Ricoh Women’s Bri­tish Open (In-Kyung Kim) would win 27% of the US$1.9m won by Jor­dan Spi­eth at Royal Birk­dale, the pre-tour­na­ment press con­fer­ences ahead of the Women’s Bri­tish Open pre­sented a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to gauge the mood in the ladies locker-room.

Asked about the gen­der pay gap, Scot­land’s Ca­tri­ona Matthew said, “I think equal­ity is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” adding, “Ob­vi­ously in an ideal world, you'd love it to be the same amount in each, but I think cer­tainly we're head­ing in the right way.”

Mean­while, English poster-girl Charley Hull said, “I don't know, re­ally. I sup­pose be­cause men have more cov­er­age, so then more peo­ple watch it, so it's bet­ter spon­sor­ship,” adding, “But I don't know. I think it's get­ting there, but I can't an­swer that ques­tion though, I don't think about it too much.”

So, it was left to the Grand Dame of women’s golf, Laura Davies to hit the nail on the head.

“We need backing from Europe cor­po­rate, we need them to put their money be­hind us [and] think we're a good prod­uct, be­cause I think we are,” said the 54-year-old, in­sist­ing, “I think the girls do a great job in the ProAms and the way they con­duct them­selves at tour­na­ments.

“But we need peo­ple to step up with the money to back us. TV, we're get­ting more TV now, but we're not see­ing the re­sults from it,” con­tin­ued the win­ner of 84 ti­tles world­wide, ad­mit­ting, “I'm just a golfer. I don't know why.

“If you're say­ing women's sport doesn't get the sup­port it de­serves, I agree with you 100%,” re­flected the four-time ‘Ma­jor’ win­ner, con­clud­ing, “I don't know why we don't get the sup­port.

“The LPGA Tour is so well backed, and I would have thought we would get some­thing like that in Europe, but for some rea­son, the cor­po­rate world isn't that in­ter­ested in us at the mo­ment. Hope­fully, that will change, so fin­gers crossed.”

And per­haps within those re­sponses from three of women’s golf’s finest, past, present and fu­ture, lie some of the rea­sons why the gen­der prize money gap is as wide as ever.

Firstly, con­trary to what Matthew says, equal­ity is not mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion and women’s golf, par­tic­u­larly in Europe where the Ladies Euro­pean Tour is on its knees, they are not head­ing in the right way.

Sec­ondly - and it’s hard to be crit­i­cal of the 22-year-old Hull who is just en­joy­ing life and play­ing for sums of money hitherto unimag­in­able - per­haps more of the se­nior play­ers need to start think­ing more about their plight, and act­ing upon it.

Thirdly, Davies may be, “Just a golfer,” but with her sta­tus, ex­pe­ri­ence, in­flu­ence and con­nec­tions, “Fin­gers crossed,” is no strat­egy at all, whilst, “The LPGA Tour is so well backed,” that’s only by com­par­i­son with Europe and Asia.

Ru­mour has it that, even given an eye­wa­ter­ing US$9.25m prize fund for a lim­ited field event on the PGA TOUR in Korea this month, sig­nif­i­cant in­duce­ments are hav­ing to be of­fered to golf’s ‘Top brass,’ to take part, per­haps spooked by the lat­est mis­sile cri­sis on the Korean Penin­sula.

That same week, for a prize fund of just US$2.2m, each and every one of the LPGA elite will be bat­tling-it-out in far-flung Tai­wan in search of the US$300,000 top prize, some­what less than the ap­pear­ance fees the PGA TOUR ‘Top dogs,’ are said to be seek­ing to take part in the CJ Cup in Korea.

Ask any ten­nis jour­nal­ist or ex-player for three words to ex­plain why women’s ten­nis is as strong as it is and has been en­joy­ing par­ity with their male coun­ter­parts for the best part of a gen­er­a­tion, and they will re­cite, ‘Bille,’ ‘Jean’ and, ‘King.’ And, with a host of re­tired su­per­stars such as Davies, Annika Sören­stam, Lorena Ochoa and Se Ri Pak.

With so many women now rightly oc­cu­py­ing se­nior mar­ket­ing roles and de­ci­sion­mak­ing jobs in TV, per­haps, were they to try it, women’s golfers and their ad­min­is­tra­tors might just find them­selves push­ing against an open door; if they never ask the ques­tion, they will never re­ceive an an­swer.

English poster-girl Charley Hull said, “I don't know, re­ally. I sup­pose be­cause men have more cov­er­age, so then more peo­ple watch it, so it's bet­ter spon­sor­ship.”

“We need backing from Europe cor­po­rate, we need them to put their money be­hind us [and] think we're a good prod­uct, be­cause I think we are,” said Laura Davies, the 54-year-old Grand Dame of women’s golf

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