Why Golf in the Olympics Is a Major Step Forward for Women’s Sports

From a former LPGA player

In 2009, when the Olympic Committee announced golf would make its debut in the Olympics (for the first time since 1904), the feelings were mixed for many. Some wondered how it would fair against traditional Olympic events. Others worried if the golf course would be built in time. There were concerns if golfers would even have interest in playing when they already play a full schedule and compete in events where they can earn prize money.

Photo via LPGA

As time passed and we inched closer to Rio, more than 16 PGA Tour players opted out of the Olympics citing already hectic playing schedules and concerns with Zika.

World No. 3 Rory McIlroy stated that he only dreamed of winning green jackets and claret jugs, not gold medals. He said he “didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game.” His arrogance shook me to the core and I wondered how privileged of an athlete one would have to be to not see the beauty of competing in the Olympics, let alone helping grow the the game that has afforded him a wonderful life?

With only one female player opting out of not playing, it seemed women golfers’ desire to play was different.

When I played on the LPGA tour I did not have goals of making the Olympics. I initially wasn’t even all that excited for golf at Rio this year. I have always followed women’s golf and have watched their tournaments with a passion. I’ve tried to watch every major, have read hundreds of pages of women’s golf history, and have nothing but respect for the founders of the LPGA tour who made it possible for me to play.

However, my interest in golf at the Olympics this year only started to come to life when I saw how disenchanted the PGA Tour players were in comparison to the LPGA players. It appeared the LPGA players relished the opportunity and could not wait to tee it up. The PGA Tour players seemed to be going in begrudgingly.

Seeing this made me realize just how important it was for the women to step up and take advantage of this worldwide stage. For the first time since I left professional golf three years ago, I felt sadness that I would not have a chance to compete.

For me, the desire to prove the PGA Tour pros wrong who didn’t see the importance of using this platform to grow the game was even greater than my national pride and patriotism.

LPGA players make a fraction of what the men do and have fewer tournaments shown on network television. Take, for instance, the men and women’s U.S. Opens this year. When PGA Tour player Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open, he took home $1.8 million. When Brittany Lang won the women’s U.S. Open, she took home $810,000. Sure, not chump change by any means, but still a significant difference.

To put it in a greater perspective, Robert Streb, who currently is 100th on the PGA Tour money list, has made $958,867 this year. Celine Herbin, who is 100th on the LPGA money list, has made $78,857 this season. Take into account that the average player spends close to $50K–$70K a year on travel expenses and a caddie, if Herbin does not have sponsors (which many LPGA players do not have), she is making very little money.

I have always believed that many women play golf because they simply love it. Even the most dominant players on the LPGA tour do not receive the same amount of money in endorsements as mediocre PGA Tour players, nor do they receive nearly the same amount of media attention. Golf Digest, a monthly publication in circulation since 1950, has had 23 issues with women on the cover. Nine of those covers have been shared with other male pros, and three had non-professionals on them (including TV personality Holly Sonders, model Kate Upton and social media starlet Paulina Gretzky, Dustin Johnson’s wife). Only 11 female professional golfers have had their own covers.

I can’t speak on behalf of other women’s sports, but I know from experience that golf is #MoreThanAGame for LPGA players. The players I have spoken with feel a sense of pride and they know that should they make this an exciting Olympics, they could help change the future of women’s golf.

Sure, golf in the Olympics will only happen every four years, but people will see a diverse group of women competing against each other; they will see national pride; they will see grit; they will see a burning desire to win; they will see players who found a way to make the Olympics work into their already crazy travel schedule, which requires being on the road almost 30 weeks out of the year. World No. 7 Stacy Lewis got married just last week, and instead of going on a honeymoon, she is competing, representing the United States, then heading to the Canadian Open the following week. Her next break won’t take place until November, when the season is over.

This stage for women’s golf is too big for them not to appreciate the opportunity. For me, it’s also too important not to watch and appreciate it as well. And I will watch and wish it was me hitting those momentous shots.

Make sure to tune in this week starting Wednesday to watch some of the world’s greatest female golfers take center stage in the golf (and the sports) world.

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