Thoughts on the LIV Tour and Aramco Series — Interview with Pro Bridget Ackley — Must-click women’s golf links
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, June 16, 2022
I’ll confess…I hadn’t given the LIV Tour an ounce of my attention until about eight days ago, when Dustin Johnson announced his resignation from the PGA to sign a four-year, $125 million contract with the Saudi-backed golf tour. For reference, Tiger Woods’ total career earnings from just golf is estimated at $121 million (he also just made the Forbes billionaire list last week). And since I’m throwing out numbers, keep in mind that only 2 weeks ago, the USWO had a historic $10 million purse.
Golf media has been obsessed with the LIV Tour and the amount of money being tossed around, which I agree, is newsworthy, but the storyline has run tired already. I don’t mean to oversimplify the situation but I see money, ego, and greed being disguised as wanting to ‘grow the game’, and I call B.S.
LIV being backed by the Saudi government is problematic for a number of reasons. If you missed this ELLE magazine article from last week’s link, go back and read it! It highlights a network of detention centers known as, ‘Dar Al Reaya’, within Saudi Arabia where women are sent for disobedience against their male family members. The level of abuse and the allegations against these women sent to these prisons is gut-wrenching. Let’s also not forget about the 92 executions carried out by Saudi Arabia this year — 81 of which occurred in March alone.
But it’s not just the men of the PGA Tour who are toeing the ethics line for the sake of more money, the Ladies European Tour or LET, which falls under the umbrella of the LPGA, are also accepting and carrying out events sanctioned by Aramco, a Saudi oil company. In fact, there’s an event happening in London at this very moment. This week’s London leg is the second of five $1 million Aramco Team Series tournaments on the LET calendar for 2022. It is famed for its unique format, in which three LET professionals play in teams with one amateur player.
But enter the dilemma, or at least, the issue I take with LIV/Aramco Series vs. the PGA/LPGA. Like so many of us, we believe in the history and the tradition of golf’s organizations. For 70+ years, these institutions have been the gold standard of what it means to ‘make it’ in golf, but now that’s not enough anymore. Players want the big payouts, I can’t blame them.
Last week, Beth Ann Nichols of Golfweek, asked the question…how vulnerable is the LPGA now that the LIV Tour is up and running? “It’s hard, because morally I have an issue when everything that goes on there [Saudi Arabia], especially towards women…but as Rory put it, $100 million isn’t going to change his life. But a couple million changes my life completely,” said Brittany Altomare, a nine-year vet on the LPGA.
It’s a luxury to be concerned about your legacy rather than money. A lot of LPGA players rent Airbnbs together, carpool to tournaments, stay with hosts families, and start GoFundMe pages for the sake of covering travel expenses.
By now, you all know how much I want women’s golf to catch up the men’s golf in terms of money and exposure, but I just can’t get behind the Aramco Series — not when the abuse of women in Saudi Arabia is being treated as an elephant in the room.
The debate on whether or not athletes and other public figures should be vocal about things like geopolitics is ridiculous. They are people, they have thoughts and ultimately I’ve reached this conclusion: someone, somewhere values their opinion and believes that they hold influence. It may not directly influence me but it impacts someone else, and for that reason alone, they should speak out. Regardless of stance or position, make a choice and stand firm in it. Athletes have some authority in public opinion and what they do/say matters.
Golf media should continue to dish out the LIV Tour and Aramco Series questions, but enough of the money talk, let’s start the conversation and address the blooming moral dilemma that’s facing all of us, and what side of history we want to be on.
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour…If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?”— Charlotte Brontë
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This week in women’s golf
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This past weekend was NUTS for women’s golf…
Let’s break down some of these major moments and what’s coming up!
On June 2, she won THE JOHN SHIPPEN National Golf Invitational presented by Rocket Mortgage to earn an exemption into the event at Blythefield Country Club, a venue at which she’s always enjoyed competing. “What Tiger brought to the men’s tour, my dad kind of instilled that in me. So that’s my spark, is just to make sure that we all continue that legacy really.”
Brooke Henderson grabbed her 11th LPGA win on Sunday in style! Playoff holes seems to be the nature of getting it done (JT at the PGA Championship), and the Canadian clutched a seven-footer for eagle to beat out Lindsey Weaver-Wright.
Epson Tour News
The Epson Tour is in the midwest this week for the Ann Arbor’s Road to the LPGA! After stepping away from the game, AJ Newell returns to the LPGA stage at Ann Arbor’s Road to the LPGA powered by the A2 Sports Commission. The former LPGA and Epson Tour pro has not played professional golf since March of 2020, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mainly due to a needed back surgery.
Last week was so major for the young stars of the Epson Tour. Lucy Li and Alexa Pano battled it out on Sunday where Li forced a playoff with Pano in Kinston, N.C. and drained a long eagle putt on the first playoff hole to secure the victory. Li moves to the top spot in the Ascensus Race for the Card rankings, and Pano moves from the 16th spot to the third.
Five at The IX: Talking PRIDE with golf pro Bridget Ackley
Meet PGA of America member and teaching pro Bridget Ackley — Bridget and I met at the PGA Show in Orlando back in January! As an openly gay woman, seeking to rejuvenate junior golf through energy and acceptance, Bridget started her own PRIDE Month initiative on Instagram that serves to educate people on what the month long celebration is about and how the LGBTQ+ community functions within our greater golfing community.
I had a chat with Bridget about PRIDE, teaching juniors, and finding herself through golf…enjoy!
What does it mean to embrace LGBTQIA+ pride? How are you celebrating this month?
I’ve been having this discussion a lot lately, especially with the younger generation, they’re like, “oh, rainbow flags, let’s go!” But you have to look deeper. You have to educate yourself on what it really means and how it came about. Right? Especially with the Stonewall riots — that’s generally where it manifested from. So for the people that have continually fought for the LGBTQ+ community, to be visible, and not feel that they have to be in the closet all the time, that’s really what pride is about. It’s celebrating your authentic self, and being comfortable with who you are.
I think pride fest in Detroit is either this weekend or next weekend. And I’m hoping to go over there at some point because I’ve never been to that one. But normally, if I was in South Florida, the gayborhood in Wilton Manors, they put on a parade and have a lot of different activities that I’d be involved in. But I’m having a lot of conversations, like with yourself and PGA magazine and just trying to get it, you know, spread my story. That’s essentially how I’m celebrating this month.
What’s the inspiration behind your pride month initiative?
I’m on the PGA lead cohort and I’m also involved with a Pride committee, that we kind of just came together. Some other members of LGBTQ+ community within the PGA, there’s a couple that work for headquarters and others are professionals from around the country, and we started thinking as a whole, how can the PGA specifically address Pride Month? Because there’s so many within the community that play golf, and, you know, golf as a whole is a very stuffy sport.
I was talking with the pride committee, and how we wanted to address Pride Month, with the PGA, I was like, well, it just kind of popped in my head. I’m proud and I want to showcase that not just for myself but more so for my juniors that I work with. Because, you know, especially the little ones, they’re say things like “oh, are you married? I see you’re wearing a ring.” And, you know, eight years ago, I’d be like I am and leave it at that. You know? Because you never know how that’s gonna be accepted. But once you start talking about it, the kids were like, “oh, that’s cool”. It is what it is, there’s nothing to it. So to be more comfortable with myself and talking about it within the workplace and not feeling like I have to hide that, especially in the golf industry. Like, why not?
What’s the best advice someone gave you when you were younger that you share with the juniors you coach now?
I grew up going to Catholic school, all the way from kindergarten up until I graduated high school. Being in the Catholic environment, where there’s solely based on heavy tradition… was very interesting. Because I knew at a very young age something was very different about me and like. I remember being like, oh, yeah, that’s that girl’s cute and I can vividly remember that when I was like, five. I knew then that it didn’t seem normal and I shouldn’t talk about this.
When I was a senior in high school, I got very close with my theology teacher, and she’s still a very important person in my life. I struggled with my family and what they were going to think because I’m going to church on going to Bible study and all this stuff and it was just hard. But my teacher said to me that your family’s always gonna be your family, but you can choose to be who you’re around. And that was so important. So that’s what I tell my kids. You have to be who you are at the end of the day. And some people aren’t gonna like you, because you wear a blue shirt today. But you know what, if you like it, then you have to be strong enough to be say I don’t care what you think about me. Because you have to be comfortable with who you are.
Where and when do you feel the most yourself, does golf play a role in that? If so, how?
So, I mean, golf is a huge part of my identity. I guess, feeling the most comfortable is when I’m teaching my juniors, because it’s so fun. And, I mean, the comments they make, you never know what they’re gonna say. I think that is the most fun part about it.
The summer, going into my sophomore year of college, I was in a bad car accident, and I almost lost the use of my left hand. I couldn’t play on the college team, obviously, because all I can literally do is move little my fingertips nothing else could move. And since it was nerve damage, we just had to kind of wait. There’s no physical therapy you can do — it’s either going to regenerate or it’s not. And I’m like, okay, so I always knew that I wanted to be in golf, there wasn’t a second option for me. So during that time, it just kind of instilled my resilience. I created all these little wrist braces and would duct tape the crap out of them just to like, hit a little pitch shot or something. But that’s what really drove me to get into coaching. And I always knew I wanted to be involved in junior golf because that’s where I felt most comfortable, too.
In your perfect world, what would you like to see from the golf industry when it comes to LGBTQIA+ visibility?
You know it’s not just “hey, let’s throw up a flag” type thing. If you don’t have somebody that’s part of the LGBTQ+ community at your facility, you need to be inclusive somehow, to this very large golfing community.
Whether if you have clinic specifically for them, or whatever, you have to do something, because they’re out there. I see them every day at my golf course right now. And it’s one of those things where you give them the gay head nod and you keep moving. But it’s like, hey, we’re here, too. And I know, most of these individuals are of the older communities. So they, they’re still very much I gotta keep my head down. I don’t want to be visible in this environment. I’m like, I see you and you have to be proud of who you are. Because at the end of the day, we’re here to play a game that’s supposed to be fun and social. And we need to get outside of these stupid boxes of tradition. And all of these rules, like golf, playing the game of golf, you have an incredibly long list of rules that you’re supposed to follow while you’re playing the game. If you belong to a country club, there, you sign a massive list of rules that you’re supposed to follow. But we’re here to have fun. We’re here to play a game. And I think that’s what we forget. So I think that’s where for the LGBTQ community, that’s where we kind of get lost in translation. Because so many people are stuck on the old school traditions. It’s like forcing people back into the closet. You know, if I don’t feel welcome at a facility, I’m not going back to that place. You know, I’m here to play golf. I’m here to enjoy this game.
A course could put on their front door, a sign that said, ‘all are welcome’. I think that would be huge. Because that’s inclusive to everyone.
I’m also in the process of drafting a letter to Seth [CEO of PGA of America] right now. Because I know he’s big on diversity and inclusion. And I think as the CEO of the PGA of America, he is doing a great job to start promoting some of those initiatives. The PGA has partnered with some LGBTQ companies like Athlete Ally, which I think is so important, you know, and I know there’s been some backlash from members being like, what what are you guys really doing here? Which is so annoying. But my letter to him, as you know, we have this group who came up with this committee and I want them to know about us.
It’s great that they posted that initial post on the PGA of America Instagram.
But there’s no follow up. That was a very rushed post, it felt like they were just jumping on the pride bandwagon. You have the trans flag in the back, you have the rainbow flag, but you have an unidentifiable person, when you have this whole community here that’s willing to be the face. If you want to put somebody out there, who’s a PGA member, but the fact that they’re not monitoring the hateful comments, royally pisses me off. Like, there were, I read through all at one time, that was 500 comments. Now they’re down to 374 and they’re not making any counter comments. They’re just like deleting them. And I’ve only counted about seven positive ones. But everything else is like, oh, why is the PGA posting this? Like we’re supposed to be playing golf? And then, I mean, you can imagine just ridiculous stuff that’s on there. Why are why aren’t they talking about this? Why aren’t they making a statement and saying, We are monitoring our social media accounts. And we do not support hate. They need to make that stand. And the fact that they haven’t done that in, you know, 48 hours, just blows my mind. But they made the initial post and then like, six hours later, they made another post and it’s like, okay, so we don’t even get 24 hours to like, just enjoy. Yeah, I just sit with was like that huge rush. Yeah, it was rushed just to check mark a box and then let’s move on. Yeah, it’s like, now what? What are we doing here?
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