In The Long Run This Will Make Women Run

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Think what you want about Annika Sorenstam playing in a PGA Tour event. But ask yourself: Do you care what happens to golf in this country?
 
The whole inane anti-Annika reaction is the second half of a one-two punch sure to knock out any interest women had in getting into the game. Independent of the right or wrong of the issues, the Martha Burk-Augusta membership flap laid a sticky varnish of exclusivity over golfs reputation, and the reaction of Vijay Singh, Nick Price and others to Sorenstams sponsorship exemption into the Bank of America Colonial makes it smell even worse.
 
Sure, a reasonable woman might see these episodes as isolated instances. Augusta is a special breed of private club, not the representative of all private clubs. And Price and Singh are only two players, not all of them.
 
But to even the most reasonable mental palate, theres a bad taste here for women who are looking at golf.
 
Oh, you dont think so? Id take another look. Women in the country are keenly attuned to any whiff of inequality in sports. Its the natural backlash from generations of being relegated to second-class-citizen status in so many things, sports included. And while great strides have been made in the last few decades, there is a long way to go. Within that notion, the most important thing is that women themselves feel there is a long way to go.
 
A couple of cultural examples:
 
1) My wife, an ardent golfer and enthusiastic athlete, received in the mail a catalog for workout clothing from a company that calls itself Title Nine Sports. If separatism of this ilk precedes a controversy, there cant be much hope for harmony.
 
2) About ten years ago, my wife invited me to join her at an Executive Womens Golf League outing. She assured me that it was not unusual for golfing husbands to come along. But when the tee groupings were made, a woman in our group took the organizers aside while I watched and said she refused to play with me. I had never met her. As it was reported to me (she wouldnt even meet me or speak to me), she simply decided that playing with any man would be too intimidating. Instead of giving me a chance, she would rather have insulted me by stereotyping me as all the nasty male golfers she had ever known.
 
As you can tell, that second one has stuck in my craw for a decade. Beyond the unfathomable stupidity and meanness of committing against men the same stereotyping sin that men have committed against women, the episode confirmed a seemingly hopeless situation for women in this game. I dont doubt that she had had unpleasant experiences with other male golfers. But were they bad enough to suspend the social contract to the extent she felt she had to, knowing nothing about me except my maleness? If we had been in a group of friends meeting for dinner and she hadnt yet met me, would she insist that I leave the restaurant?
 
Im not angling for sympathy, just trying to show the depth of the problem golf faces. And when otherwise decent and intelligent PGA Tour players behave like dolts, matters only get worse. Instead of welcoming Sorenstam as they should and being examples to golfers (especially juniors) all over the world, Vijay Singh and Nick Price come off as misogynists in Sans-a-Belts.
 
One step in the right direction might be to understand a sponsors exemption. Singh and others have been heard to say that by playing, Sorenstam takes up a spot that could have been filled by some deserving male player. Not so. As part of the package it buys when it makes its sponsorship payment, Bank of America has the right to invite whoever it wants to fill the sponsors exemption slots. Anyone. You. Me. P-Diddy. Donald Rumsfeld. Anyone. True, tournaments can and have used sponsors exemptions to reward a local standout who is not otherwise qualified. But there are no guarantees. If BOA wants to make a bold marketing move with its exemptions, it can. And those who want to persist in the she didnt qualify argument, go ahead, but reread this paragraph first.
 
Besides, it sounds disingenuous to hear Singh and Price talk about some poor up-and-comer losing out; we never heard that much concern from them before about guys struggling to get on the Tour.
 
And before their agents call me, be sure to buzz Bob Schieffer first. The CBS chief Washington correspondent, dean of the inside-the-beltway journalism corps, devoted his end-of-show editorial on last Sundays Face The Nation show to the Annika matter, all after 20 minutes of debate on a real issue, global terrorism. Schieffer, a man of impeccable manners, essentially called Singh and Price stupid, but without holding up a Warner Brothers cartoon-style sign. In response to Singhs promise to get scarce if he got paired with Sorenstam, Schieffer said:
 
Fellas, anyone who would say that can't be too smart. So I'll try to keep this simple. This is the kind of story that sells tickets. It's got a lot of women reading the sports pages again. It's all over the local news, and it's created so much talk the TV networks are planning extra coverage. Extra coverage means more commercials. News flash: Those commercials are where they get the money for those big prizes you play for. So let me say this slowly. More commercials, bigger prizes. Prizes are good; big prizes are better.
 
The money flow into purses may not always be as direct as Schieffer made out, but he has the right idea. Neither Singh nor Price did the cost-benefit analysis before weighing in, and it cost them. It was so out of character for both of them that it makes me think in terms of temporary lapse of judgment, not character revelation. I suspect both men will think things over and moderate their views, decent gentlemen that they are. (Study note: Price has two daughters, ages 9 and 6.)
 
But non-golfing women, and people who have not dealt directly with Singh and Price, may not be inclined to give them the benefit of that doubt. The long-term damage to the games relationship with women is already done.
 
Every person who knows ' and therefore loves ' golf should be promoting it. Talking it up, making other people want to play it, letting them know what theyre missing if they dont, subduing overblown controversies by just sticking the tee in the ground and getting going. They should be likelike
 
Well, like Annika Sorenstam. She has handled the early week, 528-credentialed-media circus with notable calm and decency. And dont be fooled: Mix the glares of those of her fellow competitors who are unwelcoming with the downpour of idiotic questions from the media, and you have a pressure-packed mix.
 
We can only hope the same brand of girl who thrilled to the accomplishments of Mia Hamm and Brandy Chastain will look at Annika and say, Yeah, I can handle that. Lets tee it up.
 
Well need them to come to the game via that brand of determination. Because we sure arent doing anything to invite them.
 
Related Links:
  • ''Everything Annika'' Feature Page
  • Annika and the Colonial Timeline
  • Full Coverage of the Bank of America Colonial