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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Golden era dawning for women’s sport in Ireland

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Everywhere you look, particularly in televised sport, the female viewpoint is seen and heard.

Credit to RTE for bringing women presenters to the fore on virtually every panel they have in the uber-macho world of GAA, Rugby, and in their Sunday Game series.

TG4 have given Camogie, and women’s Gaelic football a platform for years

In golf, Sky have the knowledgeable and highly professional Sarah Stirk as a stalwart of their men’s Tour presentations.

Former LET player Hennie Zuel has made the transition into presenting and on-course coverage with Sky, while former stars Laura Davies and Trish Johnson have been part of it as well.

This is just the tip of a fast-melting iceberg, because women, instead of being frozen out, are finding new opportunities on and off the playing arena.

This applies particularly to golf, and it’s good news for Leona Maguire, Stephanie Meadow, and the young generation that will seek to follow them into the LPGA Tour in the next few years.

Maguire and Meadow could hardly have chosen a better time to parade their talents on the elite women’s circuit.

For a start, Mike Whan, the Commissioner of the Tour, has already spoken about his desire for the women who play with the LPGA to have equal pay with the men’s game.

This ambition will take time, but he believes it can be realised by a combination of two things – first, having sponsoring companies who increase LPGA purses “because it’s the right thing to do” says Whan and second, in the wider social sense of corporations and firms valuing their female employees as much as they do their male workers.

“Pay gap is going to close in women’s golf just like it’s going to close in women’s sports.

“It’s not going to close because some ad agency comes up with a spreadsheet that shows you the analysis of….that’s not how social movements happen.

“It’s going to happen because a couple people step up and say: ‘You know what, this is the right thing to do. I can afford to do it, and by God, I’m going to do it.’

“And I think we’re going to see the same thing happen in golf.

“Is that going to happen in a year or two or ten? I don’t know. But I have zero doubt that’s going to happen, and it won’t be because of the new analysis run on branding numbers,” said Whan.

Terry Duffy, CEO of the CME Group who doubled the prize fund for the Tour Championship won by Sei Young Kim last year, exemplified that approach.

Whan: “Terry Duffy called me and said, ‘Mike, I want a $1.5 winner’s cheque. I’m sick of watching TV every weekend and watching a man win $1.5 million. At my event, a woman is going to win $1.5 million.’

“I didn’t send him data, I didn’t ask him for a brand analysis.

“He didn’t send four agencies to do a review. He just said, ‘In my world, that’s how it’s done,’ and now it’s done that way.

“That’s what’s changing. That’s what’s coming.”

More good news soon followed with the LPGA Tour and LET Tour joining forces, something which looks a positive move for the Europeans.

“It’s literally a 50/50 joint venture that we’re proposing, six members of a Board from our side and six members of a Board from their side.

“And all proceeds stay in Europe, we can’t take any dollars out. We can put money into the LET, but we can’t take money back out, which I asked my Board to support.

“I want to make sure the European Tour players know that this is not some American growth strategy.

“I’m not expecting to make money at the LET, but, the way I said it to my Board is: ‘If you read the mission of the LPGA, it’s to provide women the opportunity to pursue their dreams in the game of golf, period.’

“As I said to our Board, I don’t see a boundary or a fence around that statement.

“It doesn’t say in America, doesn’t say in North America, doesn’t say in countries where you think the opportunity is greatest.

“So I said to my Board, I think we should do this because we can. We really can. And I think it’s our responsibility,” said Whan.

The LPGA 2020 season schedule boasts a record $75.1 million in prize money for its official events (33) to be played in 11 countries.

Another highlight is the UL International Crown to be played at the Centurion Club near London from August 27-30.

This is a biennial event, albeit “unofficial”, with a prize fund of $1.6 million in which teams from the world’s top eight countries compete.

The Olympics in Japan will no doubt provide a big incentive for Leona and Stephanie from August 5-8. Venue for golf in the Games is Kasumigaseki CC which is around 60km outside Tokyo.

The LPGA Tour returns from March 19-22 with the Volvik Founders Cup in Arizona.

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