May 13, 2003

Singh's shot at Annika Sorenstam way out of bounds: No good reason to exempt women from the best league in golf

Rogers CadenheadVijay Singh has jumped to the top of the Professional Golf Association's leader board of jerks with his remarks about Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial Golf Tournament in Fort Worth.

"I hope she misses the cut," Singh told an Associated Press reporter Sunday. "She doesn't belong out here. If I'm drawn with her, which I won't be, I won't play."

Sorenstam, the best female golfer in the world, was offered one of eight sponsor's exemptions to play in the Colonial. When she tees up on May 22, she'll become the first woman to compete in the PGA since Babe Zaharias in 1945.

Singh, who complained that Sorenstam is "taking a spot from someone in the field," is curiously silent about the seven men who got in by similar means. Nor does he seem to mind using his own exemptions, such as the lifetime European Tour free pass that lets him yank a spot from one of its players at any time.

He's not alone in his objections. Nick Price said the move "reeks of publicity," a funny reaction from a guy who sells his forehead and left breast to Nike, Dimension Data, and other sponsors.

Since Sorenstam's exemption was made public, many in the sports world have objected to the unequal treatment of letting women play in a PGA event when men are not allowed to do likewise in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

It's the easiest argument in the world to make, which means it's being repeated over and over on sportstalk radio and elsewhere: What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

As one caller put it on WFXJ/930 AM in Jacksonville this morning, there are men on the Nike Tour "just trying to support their family" (nice touch) who would be good enough to play in LPGA events and earn money.

The situations aren't comparable.

A man who competes in the LPGA would be joining a league that requires an exclusionary rule to maintain competitive balance.

The sports world is full of such leagues -- we all grew up with them. I can't recall facing any 18-year-olds when I played YMCA baseball as a kid.

There's a place for leagues that require exclusionary rules and those that take the best without restriction.

In the PGA (note the lack of an M), even the best female player in the world is likely to be a middle-of-the-pack player at best, and may even struggle to make the cut. (Sorenstam's showing an amazing amount of guts to risk that humilation.)

There's no chance that allowing women in the PGA would upset the competitive balance, because men have a natural physical advantage in the sport. Sorenstam, who is probably the best to ever play in her league, has an average drive length of 265.6 yards, lower than all but seven PGA Tour members.

Besides, if a few women were good enough to qualify for PGA events and regularly compete, would anyone really want to protect a few bottom-of-the-pack male duffers by keeping them out? The PGA would no longer be able to claim it features the best of the best, with all the monetary and marketing advantages that the distinction brings.

The reason that PGA events have larger purses and TV contracts is because the league features the best golfers in the world. A player like Singh rakes in more bucks because he's in the top league: He won two PGA tournaments last year and earned $3.7 million. Sorenstam won 11 LPGA tournaments, the most in 38 years, and still earned $700,000 less than he did.

By claiming that the PGA needs the protection of a gender rule, Singh reduces the stature of his league.

Allowing the top women to compete in the PGA should not create the expectation of equal treatment for men in the LPGA. One league has become successful because it is restricted. The other is vastly more successful because it isn't.

When a golfer like Hale Irwin or Lee Trevino gets a sponsor's exemption to play in a PGA event, no one claims that players under 50 should be allowed to compete in the Champions Tour (better known as the Senior PGA).

In 10 years, Singh will be able to extend his career by playing in that league, which has carved out a profitable niche for itself with an age requirement.

When he joins the senior league, I can't imagine that a single player would be ridiculous enough to claim that he shouldn't be able to take an exemption to play in the 2013 Masters.

Clearly, there's a different standard in play here when dicks are involved.

This is the first subscriber column by Rogers Cadenhead, one of the founders of Sportsfilter.

posted by rcade to commentary at 10:34 AM - 0 comments

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