I’ve always been a fan of the women’s game but not to the degree I am now. I couldn’t watch the LPGA Tour, LET or ALPG that much throughout my career because I was playing at the same times as the women. I would always catch the ANA Inspiration, the old Dinah Shore, out in the California desert because it felt like The Masters for the LPGA Tour. It was fun to settle in and watch because it always aired later in the day on the East Coast. And I’ve always enjoyed the U.S. Women’s Open because I like seeing how the women battle USGA setups.
But the event that changed a lot of thinking was the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open played back-to-back at Pinehurst No.2. A lot of people didn’t think back-to-back championships would work, but it turned out to be a revelation. Not only could the men and women compete on the same course, they could do it under virtually identical conditions.
Now, here at the ISPS Handa Vic Open, they’re doing it simultaneously.
When I’m at a golf tournament now, I'm watching other people play just as much as I'm playing myself. Last year at the Vic Open and again this week, I found that all I wanted to do was watch the women and how they went about it. Some of them are just machines. They don't hit bad shots. I watched one after another hit hybrids onto greens to 10 feet. Men don’t play that way. When I hit a hybrid, I'm happy to hit it anywhere on the green. So, for those who haven’t watched the best women in the game, there is something to be learnt from both men and women, and there's enjoyment in watching both styles of play.
The Vic Open should open people’s eyes to the fact that our game is full of amazing golf talent. It also proves that women and men playing together can work. Tennis has been doing it for years and has clearly benefitted from it. There are certain major tennis championships where the women’s final draw more eyes than the men. I know some people think it's not complete equity – the women play best of three sets and the men play best of five, that sort of thing - but at least they play at the same place at the same time. And, they play for the same prize money.
There have been mixed events in golf over the years. The J.C. Penney in the U.S. was an unofficial tournament where women and men played together as partners, but it was late in the year and the sponsors went away.
I’ve had the opportunity to play with So Yeon Ryu and Su Oh, and I’m envious of their ball striking. Men could learn a lot by watching the consistency and efficiency of the game’s best women. Other men pros have said the same thing. They didn’t realize until they played with professional women just how good their games are.
The point is, golf shouldn’t be so stuck in conservative traditions. Look at the rest of the world. The Japanese Ladies Professional tour is a much bigger and successful than the Japanese men's tour. Women’s golf in Korea turns out record crowds and record ratings. Whenever the women’s game is presented properly, it's just as popular as the men’s game. We just have to give it the same opportunity.
Certainly, concurrent Australian Opens, men’s and women’s, at a Royal Melbourne East and Royal Melbourne West or Peninsula Kingswood North and Peninsula Kingswood South would work. Or, you could have neighboring courses and combine the common areas. There are logistical ways to pull this off. But the sum will almost always be greater than its parts.
The Vic Open has proven that men and women together is not only possible, it’s fun to watch. The Pinehurst U.S. Opens proved that back-to-back events work. When Martin Kaymer won and then Michelle Wie the next week, we all loved it. I watched more of that U.S. Women’s Open than any other because I was interested to see how the women played the course that I had just played.
It just requires a bit of creative thinking. And it requires a change in mindset. Guys need to open their eyes and their minds and realize that there is good golf being played in the women’s game. Once the mindset changes, the money will certainly follow.