February 04, 2004
No girls allowed

If golfer Greg Norman had his way, the PGA Tour would permanently bar women from playing in its events.

The Australian star dismissed women in men's events as a marketing ploy, and said men's tours should consider changing their bylaws to prevent women from receiving sponsor's exemptions.

"I think the situation is more of a marketing ploy than anything else," Norman said. "If the girls come out and think they can play against the guys and fail every time, that can't be very positive."

Norman's comments came three weeks after Michelle Wie, 14, missed the cut by a stroke in the Sony Open, an effort that prompted seven other PGA Tour events to offer her exemptions.

"I'm very impressed with her game, very impressed with her attitude and demeanor at such a young age," Norman said. "But I think the rightful place is that women play on their tour and we play on ours."

Norman, preparing for the Heineken Classic, addressed the subject when asked to comment on Laura Davies' appearance next week in the ANZ Championship -- the first start by a female player in an event sanctioned by the European and Australasian tours.

"I think everyone is just jumping on it, and it's got to stop," Norman said. "How do we stop it? It's up to our administrators to come up with the wording of our bylaws.

"The players have got to vote it in on a majority vote. We can't go play on their tour because we're not female, that's the wording they have in their bylaws. I think we should do something about it."

I'm not a golf fan, and frankly I don't care one way or another who plays where. But what exactly is Norman threatened by? Is the PGA Tour in danger of making ladies' tees widely available? If not, and if he thinks female golfers are not viable competitors on the men's tour, then what does he have to be worried about? Unless, of course, he thinks he can't beat those non-viable competitors consistently. If that's the case, I'd say he has bigger problems.

Eric McErlain and Ted at Women's Hoops have their say on this. I tend to agree with what Ted says, which is that the issue is with sponsors' exceptions. Seems to me that if that's so, the problem will correct itself one way or another. Either the novelty will wear off, and the occasional exception given to a hometown favorite like Laura Davies will be considered equivalent to one given to a non-golf pro celebrity, or someone like Michelle Wie will prove herself a worthy competitor and will force her way onto the PGA Tour as a regular.

Eric raises a question about the long-term effect on the LPGA Tour:

[W]hat happens to the LPGA Tour if the best players on the women's tour are playing in PGA events? Is it possible we could be looking at a situation analagous to Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues, where the Negro Leagues were doomed once their best players were allowed to compete on a level playing field in the Majors?

I don't think the MLB/Negro Leagues situation is exactly analogous, though it's certainly possible that the LPGA could become marginalized. Perhaps a better parallel is to the American Contract Bridge League, which was forced by a lawsuit to eliminate Men's events in favor of Open events back in 1990 or so. This has not killed Women's events, partly because female clients still hire pros for them, partly because the schedule of major Women's events usually doesn't directly conflict with that of Open events, and partly because Women's events were never considered as prestigious as the Men's, and now Open, events were anyway.

Basically, the Women's events have always been a niche market of sorts, and I suspect the same is true of the LPGA, WNBA, WUSA (RIP) and any other women's/ladies'/girls' league. That doesn't make them pointless by any stretch - I for one am a season ticket holder to the Houston Comets and plan to be for the foreseeable future - but if they are all eventually mooted by the integration of women as full and respected competitors in the related men's leagues, I don't think that will be counted as a loss in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 04, 2004 to Other sports | TrackBack

I compare Michelle Wie's ability on the golf course to Serena Williams' ability on the tennis court. Michelle is only 14, so she still has time to develop her short game to match her driving ability (I only wish I could drive a ball over 300 yards), however she can certainly compete with the men on the PGA Tour within the next few years. I have little doubt the Serena Williams could outplay most of the men on the professional tennis tour now, and with a little time and preparation, could be in the top ten on their tour.

Greg Norman is notorious for his choking on Sundays where he is leading a tournament. His collapse at the 1996 Masters is legendary (he lost a 6 stroke lead going into the final round, and lost by five. His tee shot on the 13th hole landed in a water trap, which pretty much summed up his day), and since he has been pretty much irrelevant the last few years, perhaps he's worried about someone such as Michelle Wie proving to be better than him.

Posted by: William Hughes on February 4, 2004 10:47 AM

Golf is the ultimate equalizer in that the player is playing against the course. If a player - any player - can shoot a better score while operating under the same rules and using the same tees, I can't for the life of me see the problem.

I didn't think it was kosher when Suzy Whaley gained entry into a PGA event by qualifing from the ladies' tees while her competitors played from the championship tees further back. That was an unfair advantage.

Wie played from the men's tees and beat several established male tour professionals. If she can continue to do it, more power to her.

Posted by: Patrick on February 4, 2004 1:56 PM

Michelle Wie is competing this week in the Pearl Open out here; it's a mixed tournament, and the best part is it's within 500 yards of my house.

Sponsor's exemptions are given at the discretion of the sponsor. Period. End of story. Norman has no case on that score.

As to the possible damage to the LPGA tour, I think Michelle is an unusual case. If you look at the competitors she beat in the Women's Publinx last year, she consistently outdrove them. Her game is so far ahead of most girls her age that it's not really comparable. I suspect the majority of juniors in the near future will continue to aim for the LPGA rather than the PGA tour.

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 4, 2004 2:45 PM

Michelle wie is going to be the best golfer that will ever live. She is only 14 and she is competing with the best in the world. I thought i was pretty good having a handicap of a 5 now but that is nothing compared to her and im 2 months older than she is. I guess i shouldnt try to compare myself to her because
she kicks ass.

Posted by: Tom on April 15, 2004 4:11 PM

What upsets me about women playing on the PGA tour is the fact that men are denied the same liberty. If the women's tour has by laws that restrict men from playing in the LPGA, then the PGA should restrict women from playing. Since I don't believe that will ever happen, I suggest a different change. The two associations should merge. Let there be only one professional golfing association in which all players are welcome. This would allow the women to play against the tougher competition that they've so persistently lobbied for. Also, it would eliminate the unfair advantage that women now have in competing for prize money on both tours while men can only compete on one tour. I imagine that this merger would be short-lived. The women who could'nt handle this higher level of competition would soon begin whining about the unfair advantage that the men have. Then they'll be desperately asking for the separate associations that now "hold them back." No matter what happens, the women will continue to whine. That's just what they do.

Posted by: golfer33 on July 12, 2006 10:29 AM