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Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK
Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK

Minjee Lee. Linn Grant. In-gee Chun. Three women who should have made global headlines in the past month, but do you even know who they are?

There have been some interesting developments in the world of golf. For starters, there was the opening event of the LIV Golf Series in the UK. This coincided with the resignation of a number of high-profile PGA Tour players after the US Tour failed to approve their permission to play in the breakaway series.

Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and a whole heap of South Africans decided the offer was just too good to turn down and chose to take the cash over their places in golfing history. This is big news when it comes to shaping golf in the near future, and news that demanded all the available space in the media spectrum.

But the timing of the announcement of players who would be competing in the “Saudi League” a week before the inaugural event could not have been worse for women’s golf.

While the world’s best women were competing in the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Golf Club, playing for a record purse of $10m, all eyes were focused on the unfolding drama of LIV Golf.

How many of you are aware that Australia’s Lee claimed her second Major and, with it, the largest pay cheque in women’s golf history — $1.8m?

The following week — another significant one for women golfers as they competed alongside the men in a combined Ladies European Tour and DP World Tour event — the first LIV Golf event dominated the headlines.

Grant made history as the first female winner on the DP World Tour, but all the media cared about was Charl Schwartzel’s R63m payday in London. Of course, we revelled in the fact that a South African won the biggest prize money ever on offer in golf, and that our country enjoyed a 1-2-3 finish with unheralded Hennie du Plessis the runner-up and Branden Grace taking third.

But at the Halmstad Golf Club, 22-year-old Grant obliterated a field of male and female golfers at the Scandinavian Mixed event and romped to a nine-shot victory after posting an 8-under 64 in the final round. How was that achievement not equally, if not more, newsworthy?

Just last Sunday, Chun lifted her third Major trophy when she captured the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in a nail-biting final round at the Congressional, but once again it was Brooks Koepka’s decision to desert the PGA Tour in favour of the LIV Golf Series that stole the limelight.

In fact, the DP World Tour’s announcement to ban and fine its members who participated in the first Saudi League event last Friday during the second round of the women’s Major destroyed the traction the event had gained in the media space.

I mean, can’t the women catch a break?

Can you name the top 10 women golfers right now? Perhaps more alarmingly, how many have you even heard of?

Jin Young Ko, Lee, Nelly Korda, Atthaya Thitikul, Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Nasa Hatoaka, Hyo-Joo Kim, Jennifer Kupcho and Brooke Henderson. In total, eight of the women’s top 10 are Major winners, accounting for a total of 11 Majors and almost 200 professional titles. All this with an average age of just 24.3.

The world’s top 10 male golfers are all household names, but despite their obvious talents, the women continue to struggle for recognition.

It reflects in the prize money on offer, with a startling disparity between the men’s and women’s tour purses. The 34 events that make up the 2022 LPGA Tour season have a combined purse of $85.7m. That number included doubling the prize money in the US Women’s Open and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

The total prize money for the five women’s majors now stands at $37.3m, which is up from $13.75m 10 years ago, but the PGA Tour, by comparison, offers $1.5bn in prize money for the year, and with the new LIV Golf Series, that gender gap will only widen.

Critics will argue that if women’s golf had the star players, it would draw the sponsors, the supporters and the crowds. Yet, how does one create, or in this case, expose existing stars in the women’s game when the men dominate live television coverage and media reporting? When arguably the biggest tournament in the history of women’s golf is relegated to the back pages by a breakaway golf league?

Those who have taken the time to watch agree that the product is really very good. These golfers are just as fearless, outstandingly skilful and entertaining as their male counterparts. And by all accounts, the women professionals are a sponsor’s dream as they appreciate — not expect — the sponsorships, the coverage and the investment in the women’s game.

At the end of the day, it’s a chicken and egg scenario.

Investment in the women’s game is necessary to bring about more interest and greater participation, but I think we all realise that when forking out cash for golf, it’s the men who pull the biggest sponsors.

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