The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, May 21, 2020
Where is golf's Kobe Bryant? — Interview with Meghan MacLaren — Must-click links in women's golf
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Where is Golf’s Kobe Bryant?
This past Sunday, Golf Channel and NBC played live golf for the first time in what feels like forever. The TaylorMade #DrivingForCharity Match, between Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Matthew Wolff and Rickie Fowler, was a skins match that raised money for COVID-19 relief. Over $5 million was raised, so first and foremost, hats off to all involved who helped make this happen. But there is one component of “golf being back” that I want to bring light to today: not a single woman on the broadcast.
LPGA player Mel Reid, who is pretty well-known for speaking up for equality, took to Twitter to address this exact issue asking the question—is golf really back? What’s awful about this tweet is the reaction it got and how many people took it completely out of context. There isn’t a word in there intended to take away from an amazing cause. Simply an incredible opportunity to, I don’t know, showcase the LPGA too? As Mel points out, it was a missed opportunity.
Lindsey Gibbs, author of the Power Plays newsletter, wrote about this same topic earlier this week. She interviewed Chief Brand and Communications Officer Roberta Bowman and asked if LPGA players were invited to the event. The answer was no.
“I commend (UnitedHealth Group) for what they did and the amount that they raised for a very worthy cause, but it felt like a modestly missed opportunity to me…Nearly 80% of health care workers are women, we’ve got great female athletes, it’s all about charity. We’re hoping the next opportunity that comes around we’ll have some of our excellent players front and center.” (via Power Plays)
TaylorMade even sponsors several LPGA players like Maria Fassi, Sung Hyun Park, Maria Fassi, Charley Hull, and Sierra Brooks. Why not include a couple of these talents and personalities? Or why not invite any of the local players who live down the road from Seminole like Lexi Thompson or Jaye Marie Green—who would actually be perfect for a mic’d up kind of match. There was no representation when it came to the players and there was no representation off the course, either. The two “stars” they brought on to interview were Bill Murray from his living room and Donald Trump. All men covered the match and conducted these interviews.
It’s 2020. You can’t get away with this anymore. And I’m sorry, but the fact that this was a charity match doesn’t give you an out or an excuse to be completely exclusive of women. If someone CHOSE not to turn on this match, or CHOSE not to donate money because there were LPGA players competing, then shame on them. I actually think having women included would have raised even more money, and drawn more interest, because you’re appealing to a different audience.
All the negative comments back to Mel Reid’s tweet argue that it’s a “supply and demand” problem or the point “is to raise as much money as possible” or that “nobody cares” about women’s golf.
I call bullshit. Women’s golf isn’t even close to having the respect that men’s golf has. The LPGA television rights aren’t even close to the PGA Tour and how often they are on network television? So if it’s never actually been equal to begin with, how can you possibly argue that it’s a supply and demand problem? When women weren’t even invited to begin with, nor have they in the past for something like this, how can you argue it would have resulted in less money being raised? You can’t, not in good faith.
So yes, I think the #DrivingForCharity match failed when looking at the logistics of the event itself (not the amount of money raised). I watched some of it and thought it was boring, to be completely honest. The interviews with Murray and Trump ruined what good it had going for it—just raw, unedited conversations between the guys and some forced trash talk. It didn’t really need to be a huge production to make good television; I just thought it missed the mark when it came to entertainment AND showing that golf can be an inclusive sport.
Instead, it showed how far behind golf really is. Instead, Mel Reid got blasted on Twitter by middle-aged men telling her how worthless she is. That’s not the kind of world I want to live in nor one that I want my future kids to have to live in. This point is about nothing other than RESPECT for women athletes. It got me thinking about other sports and how they fare with their male counterparts. Being a hoop head, the WNBA and the NBA is a perfect example. What has helped the WNBA, in my opinion, is the genuine support and the voices of NBA players.
Where is the Kobe Bryant of women’s golf? There isn’t one. Not even close. I can’t think of a single PGA Tour player who has ever advocated for the LPGA or has talked about the incredible display of talent that the LPGA offers. Kobe Bryant raised his daughters in WNBA gyms. He was in the WNBA Commissioner’s office asking how he can help, and how he can move BASKETBALL forward. He was tweeting at female players about their triple-doubles, major accolades and other on-court accomplishments. He was watching Arike Ogunbowale hit March Madness buzzer beaters and would later surprise her on the Ellen Show. He was known for being a voice in basketball.
Golf doesn’t have what Kobe did for the game of basketball. I don’t think it’s a coincidence you now see NBA players rolling up to game day in their WNBA sweatshirts and merchandise. This might feel seemingly insignificant or maybe you (falsely) believe that they are forced to do this, but I think it goes a really long way. At the end of the day, the NBA influences pop culture. Maybe an NBA player wearing WNBA on his chest will change someone’s mind that basketball is basketball and it actually is cool to support the WNBA. These things matter.
It’s hard not think what if Rory or Rickie suggested inviting a couple LPGA players? It might feel counterproductive to ask for the support of men, who frankly are the problem more often than not (just read the replies to Mel Reid’s tweet if you don’t believe me), but their voices and platforms are powerful, too. The voices of men who genuinely care and have the LPGA’s back—we see you, we hear you and we thank you. Every voice in this choir, begging for something as simple as respect, truly matters.
On a closing note, and as I’m writing this, an email from Getty Images just hit my inbox announcing a webinar on inclusive visual storytelling. They joined efforts with SeeHer to change the way women are portrayed in the media and included a pretty alarming statistic in their pitch: only 44% of women say they see themselves reflected in today’s media, yet women influence over 85% of purchase decisions. Need I say more?
It should happen because it’s right. But it will happen, eventually, because equality is profitable.
If television, the media and overall exposure alone aligned with the real world, imagine what would happen. Seriously. Imagine that.
This Week in Women’s Golf
Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Golf returned for a charity showcase, but women weren’t invited. (via Power Plays)
LPGA players might not be hitting the links with caddies when returning. (via Golf Channel)
Mike Whan addresses to players and the media how the 2020 and 2021 LPGA tour seasons will be handled. (via LPGA.com)
LPGA pro says her skins game criticism was taken out of context. (via Golf.com)
LPGA cancels another event in addition to Qualifying Series. (via Golf Digest)
With qualifying events canceled, no changes to rosters on LPGA-run circuits. (via ESPN)
Here’s the latest statement on the upcoming tour schedule (via LPGA.com)
More action on tap for the LPGA eTour on WGT. (via LPGA.com)
LPGA’s biggest obstacle upon return: it needs fans at events. (via Golf Channel)
Meghan MacLaren thankful for LET partnership with LPGA. (via Union Journal)
A caddie’s most important measure of distance? Now it’s 6 feet. (via New York Times)
LPGA pro speaks to golf letting an opportunity slip during Skins Match. (via Golf.com)
Meghan MacLaren backs Reid over Driving Relief criticism. (via Bunkered)
LPGA caddie hopeful for safe return to competition after recovering from COVID-19. (via Golf Channel)
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Meghan MacLaren
Meghan MacLaren, an English professional golfer who currently plays on the Ladies European Tour, is one who backed Mel Reid and the points she raised surrounding the charity match. She is another player who consistently speaks out to take on gender issues, and this past week was no different. Last May, when Hank Haney made horrible comments about LPGA players during one of his radio shows, MacLaren spoke up. Her strong convictions on women’s rights, and continuing to fight the fight, made her a perfect match to speak to what went down on Sunday and the Twitter frenzy that ensued afterwards.
I. Based on the reaction from Mel’s tweet, was there any hesitation for you to speak up?
To be honest it was the reaction to Mel’s tweet rather than the subject of her tweet itself that motivated me to say what I did. I’ve experienced some of that myself and it has always frustrated me because I think people constantly miss the heart of the issue. It’s difficult to experience that kind of backlash, and even when I’d already written my piece I did seriously consider not posting it – even when you are firm in your convictions and know you’ve been authentic and measured, it’s impossible to not have some of the negativity hurt you. Even more so if it’s from people respected in some way in your industry.
II. Why do you think the topic of equality brings out the ugly in a lot of people?
I think it’s a social media problem as much as an equality problem. A lot of people seem to feel safer or braver saying things online that they wouldn’t say to you in person. It’s also incredibly difficult to tackle a problem as complex as equality on a platform that isn’t really built for extended debate. Fragments of what you say can be taken out of context in an instant.
III. How have the reactions been to your statement?
I’m completely blown away by the positivity and support I’ve received on this occasion. Like I said, I’ve had plenty of criticism and derogatory things thrown my way in the past on this issue, alongside the support, but I’ve never had anything seemingly hit home as much as this before. It seems to have connected with people across the board, whether players who have reached the pinnacle of the game or average fans thinking again about their understanding… it’s shown me how powerful social media can be, in the most positive way.
IV. What impact do you think including LPGA players would have had on the overall production of the charity match?
I don’t think it’s fair to make any criticisms as such in the production of the event, as it was for such a brilliant cause. But having said that, this is our reality and the point I wanted to make with my comments was the constant silence we as women are faced with and its lasting effect. Having any LPGA players present at a time when people are craving top-level golf to consume would have only been a good thing for the game as a whole.
V. What will it take for the respect of women athletes and LPGA players to get to where the men are?
I think it starts with an understanding of how things currently work. Respect is the heart of the issue – not supply and demand, or “simple economics”, or a commercial reality. Once people can understand that they are outcomes rather than causes, then hopefully the systems that have created them can be influenced. It needs a change in mindset across the whole scope of the game – individuals can’t do it themselves.