The Sorenstam storm

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Mike Hendricks

With apologies to John Mesh, sports editor of the Gazette, I'm going to venture into the sports arena this week because a pretty significant event is taking place. At least, significant in the minds of some. Annika Sorenstam, the premiere golfer on the "ladies" tour is playing with the men this week at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. A lot has already been said about the subject but most of it has been from a sports perspective. I want to talk about female athletes in general and Annika in particular from a people perspective, although a few sports references will be necessary to frame the story.

There is little disagreement that Annika is the number one golfer on the ladies tour. By the way, the tour she plays in is called the LPGA. That stands for Ladies Professional Golf Association. Notice the gender reference. The men play on the PGA, the Professional Golf Association. No gender reference. Annika was given the opportunity to play in the Colonial because of a sponsor's exemption. There are several of these throughout the year and they give people (up until now, men) who haven't earned their PGA card (the ticket one needs to play on the tour) the opportunity to play as an invited guest. Because Annika's winnings and performance achievements in the LPGA don't count in the PGA, she was placed in a group of golfers who haven't won or finished in the top 125 on the money list. From that group, the pairings were announced. Annika was paired with two rookies on the tour for the first two rounds, Dean Wilson who has made only six PGA Tour stops until this year and Aaron Barber, an eight year pro who had never earned a PGA tour check until two months ago. Not exactly world-class competition. In fact, these two and many more like them are down towards the bottom of qualifying male pros. Most of the men found in this group will never win a single tournament and their careers will be relatively short. On the first day, Annika shot one over par, Wilson shot one over par and Barber finished with two over par. The projected cut after Friday's round is Even par. For you non-golfers, a full field begins play on Thursday and after the second round is played on Friday, the field is cut in half and only those who finished the first two days in the top half are allowed to play on Saturday and Sunday. Because of deadline constraints, this column had to be submitted before the second round was played. Annika had to shoot one under par on Friday to make the cut and play on the weekend. Okay, enough golf tournament talk.

The human question is what is this all about? Is it just a publicity stunt? Was the offer made to Annika to pad the pockets of the Colonial sponsors and the community of Fort Worth? If so, it's certainly doing that. A record crowd was on hand yesterday to see Annika make history. (Well, sort of history. Babe Zaharis, a female golfer, played in a PGA sponsored event sixty five years ago.) I'm fairly sure that Annika doesn't believe she can compete with the top male golfers on a level playing field but, on the other hand, the competitor that lives inside every athlete always has to find out. No one should begrudge her for that.

On the other hand, is this a trend or an isolated event? I hope it's an isolated event. In fact, there is already talk among the PGA leadership to specifically place in their bylaws, a gender designation. Up until now, there hasn't been one. In other words, certain people in positions of leadership want to specify that only males can play in PGA sanctioned tour events. They don't want the PGA tour to turn into a circus or a sideshow. I believe the reasoning is sound. By the same token, what we haven't heard much talk about is the deleterious effect a significant exodus of women to the men's tour would have on the women's tour. In fact, it would most likely signal the end of the women's tour.

Practically speaking, this will all work itself out in the end because of economics. Pro golfers, whether male or female, work at a job. Golf is their job, their avocation, their profession. Why would any worker choose to work for a company where the pay scale is dreadfully low? That's exactly what the pay scale would be if the women's tour was eliminated and all the professional female golfers had to make a living on the men's tour. A significant majority of them wouldn't be able to do it and those that could would not be very high up on the income ladder.

So, it will be interesting to see (by the time you read this, you will know) if Annika makes the cut or not after Friday's round or not. And if she does, it will be enjoyable to see how well she is able to compete against the very best on Saturday and Sunday. But regardless of whether she does or doesn't, this will not be a trend. Just as most of the male golfers would dominate the women's tour if they chose to play there, few if any women golfers have the skills needed to earn a substantial income on the men's tour. A landmark Supreme Court case ruled on the racial segregation of the schools many years ago by creating the "separate but equal" doctrine. The same should be done with professional golf. And all other sports.

And it has nothing to do with gender equity, sexism or any other social creation. Don't know if you've noticed lately but men and women are different. We always have been and we always will be. Most of the men at the top levels of athletic ability will always be able to defeat most of the similarly qualified women in games involving athletic ability, brute strength, speed and stamina. That's the way we were created.

Viva la difference.

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