Teed off: where is gender equality in the PGA?

Teed off: where is gender equality in the PGA?

Mary Devine
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR

CHIPPING AWAY: In 2016, Lexi Thompson was only the second woman ever to play in the Greg Norman’s PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament.

CHIPPING AWAY: In 2016, Lexi Thompson was only the second woman ever to play in the Greg Norman’s PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament.

As of today, professional sports leagues and associations continue to be predominantly male, separating women into their own leagues. Despite this, brave female athletes have tried to fight their way into the male-dominated sports world. The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) has made great strides to prove that women can compete on the same level as the male golfers of the Professional Golf Association (PGA), having some of their female athletes take their shot at a Men’s Golf Tour. 

Some may argue that certain extreme contact sports call for separate leagues—which is reasonable, if golf were a contact sport. The ESPN Women’s network (ESPNW) describes golf as playing the ball, not the opponent. The only contact made in the sport is the club to the ball, an action any golfer, male or female, can accomplish. However, taking on the challenge of the men’s golf course is not a typical walk in the park.  The men’s tour, according to ESPNW, consists of generally longer, narrower fairways and harder, faster greens. 

Female golfers continue to improve, thanks to natural ability and newly developed equipment, which helps add length to their shots. Despite this, men still have greater strength in their swing, leaving men with the advantage of power.  According to Golfweek, there is no rule against women playing in PGA Tour events alongside male athletes, but due to the intimidating male tour, only a few female golfers dared to attempt finishing a Men’s Golf Tour Event. This allows male athletes to dominate the sport. Despite the probability of losing, a few women decided to take on the challenge, opening up a gateway to progress. 

The first woman to try her hand in the Men’s PGA Tournament was Mildred “Babe” Zaharias. According to Golfweek, Zaharias was an all-around athlete. She was a successful basketball player who won two gold medals in the 1932 Olympics along with fifty-five golf tournaments throughout her entire golfing career. In 1938, Zaharias qualified for the Los Angeles Open, becoming the first woman to play in a men’s professional golf tournament. Zaharias had the honor of being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame,  becoming a female sports idol to many.

Zaharias also played a major part in the foundation of the LPGA in 1949. The foundation of LPGA allowed women to take the first step in showcasing their talents as golfers. The establishment of the women’s golf association allowed women to prove that they were larger than their stereotypical categories, that they are as strong and talented as their male counterparts. 

In 2003, Annika Sorenstam, one of the best golfers in LPGA history, was invited to compete in the Colonial in Ft. Worth, Texas. ESPNW states Sorenstam’s reasoning for competing against PGA’s male athletes. “I wanted to test myself at a high level,” Sorenstam said. “I wanted to learn from the guys and what they do. It was one of the highlights of my career.” After shooting 74 on the second day of the Colonial, Sorenstam unfortunately missed the cut into the next round. Sorenstam never accepted another PGA Tour event despite gaining the appreciation of not only women golfers, but the majority of male golfers as well. 

Suzy Whaley, another accomplish golfer, participated in the Men’s 2003 Greater Hartford Open. Having won the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA tournament, Whaley automatically qualified to play in the tournament. Like Sorenstam, Whaley was unable to make it past the second round and was cut.

Michelle Wie attempted her first PGA Tournament in 2004, when she was only fourteen. Striving to compete against the male golfers of the tournament, Wie played in several tournaments and tour events from her debut in 2004 all the way to 2008. Just like the two athletes above, Wie was unable to make it past the second round with a score of 143, five shots short of qualifying for playoffs.  

The most recent woman to play in a PGA Tournament was Lexi Thompson, who made history this past year, according to Naples Daily News, as the second woman to ever play in Greg Norman’s PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.  Thompson and her partner made it pretty far into the team tournament but failed to win, finishing in sixth place in the ten-teamed event.

Despite their losses, each woman was able to prove that they could get further into the PGA tournament than anyone would have thought a woman could get in a “men’s sport.” Despite the differences between leagues, these women were able to break the gender stereotype, learning and watching their male competition and making these women better athletes overall. 

As stated by Edwin Pope, the best and most logical place for women to make it anywhere in a men’s sport would be golf, since it is a predominately male sport. As of 2016, a woman golfer has yet to complete a Men’s PGA Tournament, but with patience and determination, women athletes will one day be able to reach that goal, turning a “men’s sport” into a sport shared equally between men and women. 

The PGA already has no restraints against women playing in the tournament. If more women golfers attempt to compete against their male counterparts, this could open the association to new possibilities, a PGA where men and women compete together as athletes.

Mildred “Babe” Zaharias was the first woman to ever play in the all-male PGA tournament in the late 1930’s.

Mildred “Babe” Zaharias was the first woman to ever play in the all-male PGA tournament in the late 1930’s.