September 24, 2017
|All Things Being Equal: A Case For A Men vs. Women Pro Tournament|
|Katherine Kirk, Champion of the inaugural 2017 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic|
|Jordan Spieth hitting from the practice tee during the final round of the Open Championship|
By Joseph NorthJordan Spieth was starting his back nine charge at Birkdale last month, and I was riveted.
Miraculous recoveries. Monster putts. Championship golf playing out at its finest, yet again. The last thing I was considering was the role of women in the grand scheme of the pro game.
That is until my four-year-old daughter, the only member of my family who seemingly enjoys watching golf with me, asked me a question I didn't really have an answer to.
"Why aren't the girls playing today?"
I attempted to explain the difference in tours (in simplified parlance she might understand). The closest I came to a valid reason why women weren't playing alongside the men was a discrepancy in distance off the tee. Still, I received the inevitable follow-ups of "why?" Again, I was flummoxed.
Babe Zaharias, Annika Sorenstam and most recently Michelle Wie in 2006 have notably played in pro events on a men's pro tour. In 2014, Pinehurst held U.S. Opens at its venerable No. 2 course in back-to-back weeks for both men (won by Martin Kaymer) and women (won by Wie). That's as close as we've come to viewing qualified pros from both of the top tours - men's and women's -- on the same course at the same time.
Can you imagine what a combined, nationally televised tournament would be like?
Undoubtedly, some would call it a publicity stunt. A novelty act. A way to boost golf's ratings in a post-Tiger world. But with professional gender equality still grabbing headlines, is it out of the realm of possibility to see it on Tour? Consider its effect: Dinner table conversations would be started. Antiqued, male-only clubs would be under the microscope. Trump would probably be there, and would very likely attempt to qualify himself. And little girls sitting on their dad's lap could see, if nothing else, equal opportunity.
Power, Precision, Pride and Putting
Newer courses are being set up for playability and versatility -- designed with upwards of 5 or 6 tee configurations. They're created more with amateurs of all skill levels in mind, and "teeing it forward" has never been a more salient national golf topic.
Just how would a men's/women's event like this work?
First, you'd need separate tees. Let's take the opening hole at Erin Hills, a par-5 that runs from 560 to 630 yards at the tips. Consider if female pros played from up tees, and male competitors from the back "championship" tee? Do you think scores would pan out in a similar fashion? Something tells me yes. Let's take a peek at the respective stat sheets to see how this might play out.
Through July 2017, the Top 100 LPGA Tour players averaged anywhere from 250 yards off the tee, up to France's Joanna Klatten, who leads the way with an average drive of 278.6 yards. All things being equal, she would just edge Brian Gay, the PGA Tour's 184th longest driver who averages 278.4 yards off the tee.
That's not exactly a fair fight (or flight as the case may be) unless you consider split tees and driving accuracy. Only then does the prospect of a combined tournament get a bit more interesting.
Katherine Kirk, winner of the inaugural Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic held outside of Green Bay in July, hits 72.4% of her fairways (she's ranked 78th on the women's tour in average driving accuracy). The men's most accurate driver so far this year? Wisconsin's Steve Stricker, who averages 72.5%.
Is this an apples to apples comparison? Meh. But with the right tee configurations (say 7,300 vs. 6,200), on a tight course with the rough up (Hazeltine could be fun) and it very well could be. It could, should and very likely would come down to pride and putting.
Bragging Rights vs. Equal Rights
I can already see the ad campaign from King Cobra - a black & white piece featuring grainy footage of Rickie Fowler alongside Billie Jean King. The games' greatest - Nancy Lopez and Jack Nicklaus - would be the tournament's honorary starters. Presenting sponsor, Nike Golf, could place proceeds directly in men's and women's junior golf programs.
And it could break all the rules: Walk-up music on the first tee. No regressive dress code. 36 holes broadcast on Thursday and Friday night. It would spotlight the inordinate number of men caddying for women. Beautiful celebrities would line the ropes alongside wide-eyed juniors.
Perhaps Vern Lundquist could sum it up best: In your life have you ever seen anything like that?
Not yet, Vern. But it'd be a lot cooler if you did ...
777 Under Par
Some of the greatest female pros gathered in Hobart, Wisconsin ( rural Green Bay) to play a championship course. They nearly ended up breaking the LPGA Tour scoring record during the LPGA Thornberry Creek Classic sponsored by Oneida Casino. So it was serendipitous that the 79 players who made the cut finished with triple 7s - a combined 777 under par, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Despite missing a number of top-ranked players, the tournament featured 12 major champions in the field, including familiar LPGA names: Paula Creamer, Brooke Henderson, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen and Karrie Webb.
But it was Katherine Kirk who took home $300,000 first-place check and the Thornberry Creek Classic trophy dubbed "Sky Woman".
First, let's talk about that trophy. It was sourced from a collection of Oneida Nation artists, and is nothing short of memorable. The trophy "depicts the strong and passionate nature of the Oneida people" and referenced the Oneida creation story. Their motto is: "A good mind. A good heart. A strong fire."
Kirk, a 35-year-old native Aussie, fought through back nine fatigue to summon just enough fire on Sunday to close out the championship with a 10-footer on 18, posting -22 to take home her first win since 2010. It seems that a visit to northeastern Wisconsin was just the kick Kirk needed.
The LPGA Thornberry Creek Classic was the first time the LPGA or PGA Tour has hosted a sanctioned event in the Green Bay area, and featured a fun, distinctly Wisconsin, "party-like" feel.
We're talking event-organized "tailgating" near the clubhouse. We're talkin' $2 beers and brats after birdies on hole 17. We're talkin' cheesehead visors (a.k.a. "chisors") being given away on the range. It's was all extra cheesy, in the very best of ways.
Previous to the tournament, Thornberry Creek was best known for being "the official course of the Green Bay Packers". And it borrowed some of that quirky, game-day culture to help attract about 60,000 spectators, with the largest crowds coming out for the tournament's final rounds Saturday and Sunday.
Those numbers would very likely come close to filling the lower bowl at Lambeau Field. So let's hope the LPGA Tour rolls out the barrel again in coming years, and another successful event makes its way to the shores of Green Bay.
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