The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, November 5, 2020
'I think the media has an enormous responsibility to help grow the women’s game.' — Interview: Lisa Cornwell — Must-click women's golf links
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Women’s golf advocacy 101
This past week, while scrolling through Twitter, I came across this tweet from Golf Channel reporter and PGA Tour Live commentator Lisa Cornwell about Pine Valley Country Club’s rules for its female membership.
While I wasn’t surprised that an upper-echelon, private club like Pine Valley still subscribed to such an archaic mandate, the subsequent battle between Lisa and the negative commenters that replied to her post really got me thinking about what it truly means to be an advocate for women’s golf.
I think it’s easy for fans of women’s sports, myself included, to want to avoid difficult conversations with those that don’t see the importance of female athletics because it’s either a moot point, or not worth the energy arguing about. While I understand the need to disengage with negativity, it’s imperative to understand that education about and advocacy for women’s sports is the key to increasing support for them.
Women’s golf is definitely underrepresented in the sports media landscape and, at a lot of clubs around the country, still carries a stereotypical reputation that hasn’t ever left the mid-20th century. While some of the responsibility for this lies with those in control of the narrative and in leadership positions at said clubs, I think fans of the women’s game can really be champions for it at a more grassroots level.
What do I mean by that? I think there are three simple things that we can start doing as supporters of women’s golf to both bolster awareness of what’s going on in the game professionally and generate inclusivity at the recreational level.
First, I think we can simply talk about it more. The past two weeks, I’ve been encouraging you to consume more women’s golf content across all platforms, but that consumption doesn’t mean as much if you don’t share it with those around you.
Now, I’m not saying that every single conversation you have about golf needs to be centered on the LPGA. But, if you and your buddies are chatting it up about who’s going to win the Masters next week, don’t be afraid to mention that there’s a cool event with night golf on the Ladies European Tour happening this week.
You never know the interest you could spark in someone simply by bringing it to their attention. And hey, who doesn’t love NIGHT GOLF? That’s epic!
Secondly, speak up for the women at your club, no matter your own gender. Too often, the female membership is left out in the cold when it comes to support from most golf and country clubs. They often don’t feel as valued as their male counterparts in terms of course availability and event programming and, as a result, we lose the interest of a valuable demographic when it comes to growing the game.
If you see something happening in this regard that you don’t agree with or want to change, say something to the professional staff. Speak up about the discrepancies in how the female membership is treated. Question the reasoning for not being supportive of growing the game across all demographics. Offer ideas on how to better serve the whole membership, not just one part of it.
It’s easy to sit back and criticize the leadership of your club for not doing more to encourage growth of the game and the membership. Push yourself and, if you feel there are needs that aren’t being met, call attention to it. Who knows what change you may affect?
Finally, the easiest way to show your support of female golfers is to invite women to play. Do you have a wife, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, mother, friend, or grandma? Are they interested in learning to play or an avid player already? Take the time to invite them out to the course.
I think we forget how much inclusion really means. For women in golf, it speaks volumes when those around us, especially men, choose to engage us both in conversation about golf and by inviting us to play a round with them.
Thus, while bringing awareness to the women’s game and speaking up for the women around you in golf settings is incredibly important, the feeling of respect that comes with being included is truly the most empowering. And that empowerment will lead to lifelong participation.
I feel like everyone involved with golf is always talking about the need to grow the game, but few are willing to put in the work to do that. We always hear that the female demographic is the most fertile area for growth in golf, but, do we really subscribe to that belief if we aren’t supporting it and encouraging female golfers?
Again, there are plenty of those in leadership positions that are just as responsible for this cause as we are. However, I think that we have a responsibility as women’s golf fans to carry the banner on this issue. We can very easily talk about it, speak up in unfair situations, and invite women to play golf with us.
It’s a worthwhile cause and, with the future of golf fandom always up for debate, encouraging growth in the game in this way is more important than ever.
This week in women’s golf
(Reminder: First: the underlined words are the links. Second: CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. ESPECIALLY NOW, as newsrooms are forced to make difficult choices. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me! email@example.com.)
Stacy Lewis among those added to field at the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golfweek)
More on the ten additional players now exempt for the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golf Digest)
One LPGA Tour player made a cross country road trip after WD at the ShopRite LPGA Classic due to caddie’s positive COVID-19 test. (via Golfweek)
PGA of America says farewell to first female president Suzy Whaley. (via LPGA.com)
Ron Sirak on Betsy King’s connection to Rwanda. (via LPGA.com)
How the LPGA and DOW assisted with flood relief in Michigan this past summer. (via LPGA.com)
Symetra Tour money leader out of the tour championship after second positive COVID-19 test. (via Golfweek)
The Pelican Women’s Championship announces a new partner. (via LPGA.com)
Diamond Resorts extends contract with the LPGA. (via LPGA.com)
Catriona Matthew among positive COVID-19 tests at LET event this week. (via Golf Digest)
A breakdown of 10 latest additions to the U.S. Women’s Open. (via LPGA.com)
Lydia Ko will be using a local caddie in Dubai. (via The Guardian)
Alison Lee is teeing it up for the first time on the LET this week. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Three players have withdrawn from the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic due to COVID-19. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Sir Nick Faldo weighs in on the challenges for the players at the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Bailey Tardy named 2020 Symetra Rising Star. (via Symetratour.com)
Junior women’s golfer at Virginia wins Golfweek Carolina CC Amateur. (via Golfweek)
Here from Nuria Iturrioz who’s defending on the LET in Dubai this week. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Two more women’s golf events in Australia have been postponed. (via Yahoo! Sport)
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Interview with Lisa Cornwell of Golf Channel and PGA Tour Live
As you saw above, Lisa put out a tweet this week that really struck me, so I wanted to interview her for “Five at The IX” this week. First, if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you should! Not only does she post great grilling content, Lisa is constantly going to bat for women’s golf.
Second, really take the time to read this interview. Her passion for supporting the women’s game is absolutely contagious and she is resolved to make golf more inclusive in any way that she can. Lisa is truly one of the most fascinating people I’ve met through golf and I hope that you enjoy her interview as much as I did.
How did you get started with golf?
I was always competitive from a very young age. When I was a toddler, I think my parents got me little plastic golf clubs and I would just go around and slap the golf ball in the backyard. Thankfully, we were members at a small club, Fayetteville Country Club, where I grew up and they had a really good junior golf program. My sister played, she’s four years older than me, and everything my sister did I wanted to do even though she wasn’t really athletic.
The funny story is I was up at the country club one day…my parents still tell this story. I was actually at the pool with our babysitter and apparently I snuck off and they couldn’t find me for like thirty minutes. When they finally found me, I was on the driving range hitting golf balls in my bathing suit and flip flops. I think it’s safe to say I fell in love with it from an early age. I was addicted to it like a lot of junior players and it just became part of my entire life. Not just being up at the golf course but watching it, playing it at home, meeting friends that way and then getting into competitive golf. I did that very early again because of the junior program at the club. We had good instruction. I learned a lot and just really became focused and dedicated at getting better. That dedication and drive only grew.
It’s just amazing to think back and all of the friends that I made. As most people will tell you, when they play junior golf, you make lifelong friends. It has just become, next to my family and my friends, the biggest part of my life and obviously carried over to my professional career.
What is it like working as a host/reporter for Golf Channel and host/commentator for PGA Tour Live? How do you find interesting information and leads for the stories and events you cover?
I think that it has certainly changed over the years. I’m now in year seven working for Golf Channel and, when you first get into any job, there’s a lot more nervous anticipation that goes with it. I say that because, knowing the job now, obviously makes it easier to understand what works best and really make it flow well. The job that I do for Golf Channel is much different from PGA Tour Live so I’ll start with Golf Channel.
Everybody has their own style, but I come at it from the aspect of a golfer and a player and so I’m probably pretty stats heavy. It’s much easier when I’m out on the PGA Tour than unfortunately the LPGA Tour because of ShotLink. ShotLink makes a lot of things easier in certain aspects that you can get information or focus on a certain part of a player’s game. It’s not just that. A lot of it too is visual: watching, paying attention, knowing players’ tendencies, knowing what works, talking to coaches and caddies. I actually like that as much as anything when I’m out reporting. I love to talk to coaches. I love to get the insight into preparation. You can tell what a player’s really grinding over on a certain week. When you come to a bigger tournament, obviously the bigger story is going to be the high profile players, like this week it’s Mickelson and Koepka. Jordan Spieth…the ball striking has been down. It’s really week by week, but it’s just having that overall understanding of, if I’m at home and I’m watching, what would I want to know with somebody who’s there on the ground? I think that’s the most important thing. I try to keep it as short and simple as I can and not, for lack of a better word, try to create something out of nothing and make it so wordy that even I don’t understand it. The focus of the story is about the player or about the tournament or about the golf course. I try to make it as little about me as possible because I’m just the messenger and really giving the players the voice and letting them be heard.
My favorite part of the job is the post-round interviews because it is a challenge. It’s something you really have to pay attention to and the last thing that I wanna do is ask some sort of softball question that lets the player know that I haven’t paid a bit of attention to what he or she has done throughout the day. Sometimes you have to, but nothing says “I haven’t watched your game” more than just saying “How would you assess your round?”. That’s one of my pet peeves so really it’s watching. It’s knowing what to watch for, knowing what to be prepared for and to ask them questions in a thoughtful way that lets them know that number one, I know the game and number two, I know what they’ve just done. I think that just being aware of those things as I’ve grown into this job has certainly helped for PGA Tour Live.
From the standpoint of being a play-by-play host, I love getting in there and just watching golf and breaking down stuff with the analysts. Asking them questions, how they would play it, how different shots affect the round, just those types of questions and, again, utilizing ShotLink to sort of wrap it all together. You can really get detailed in terms of how well a player’s putting from fifteen to twenty feet or how well he’s putting from five to eight feet. Those are stats that aren’t available on the LPGA Tour but, when you’re doing play-by-play, it really helps. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn that aspect of the business, that side of the business and present that new challenge because I’ve only done it a handful of times. I really enjoy that even though there’s the disconnect from a player, it’s a nice mix. Anytime that you can learn something new and grow, I always think that it’s a great opportunity to do it so it’s been good to add the PGA Tour Live stuff into the mix.
What’s your favorite story or interview that you’ve done as a reporter?
So many different interviews stand out, but obviously the ones where a player actually opens up and gets emotional so I’d probably go to the most recent time. Maybe the biggest time it’s ever happened to me was last month in the Sanderson Farms Championship when I interviewed Sergio after his win. He hadn’t won in three years on the PGA Tour. He hadn’t won since he had been a father and that was my first question: even though he had won on the European Tour, there had been a big gap on the PGA Tour and what it meant to him to be able to do that again out here at his age, 40 years of age. He gave a really thoughtful answer and he talked about being a father and he talked about the changes for him personally.
But then, he teared up and I could see it even when I went back and watched it, you could see it more in person than you could even see on the television because of the angle of the camera. I could see these big tears welling up in his eyes. That’s when he admitted that it had been obviously a tough year for everybody, but this win was extra special because it would give his dad something to smile about and be happy about because he was having a really difficult time after losing two brothers to COVID-19. It’s just one of those moments where you’re in it and just watching that from a player who, not only is so high profile, but has been controversial and the fact that he’s had these on-course displays and is a typical, fiery Spaniard. He’s one of those people that seems like they either love him or hate him even though I will say in Sergio’s defense he’s matured so much over the last several years even though there have been some one-off instances. But, he’s just one of those players that I personally as a fan have always enjoyed watching, not just from the way that he plays golf but the intensity with which he plays the game. That was just a human moment.
I think that when you can get players outside of winning or losing or birdies or bogies or whatever it may be that happens on the golf course, when you can get them in that human moment that shows you who they really are, those are the interviews that really stand out. There are certain players who are really good at that. I didn’t realize that Sergio would be one of those players, but that’s probably the most emotion that I’ve seen in an interview. Being a part of that was really special. I think watching him and seeing how sincere he was in that and how much it meant to him and how much being able to do that for his dad meant to him was really cool. It’s one of those interviews that I will definitely never forget.
There have been a lot of them, but I think that when you can get players to give you just a little bit more, not just the standard answer, those are definitely the ones that stick out. It’s hard to do, especially with the bigger name players. Number one, they’re interviewed so often so it kind of becomes routine, but certain times you catch them and that just happens. It’s not just special for the person doing the interview, it’s more special for the people at home getting to watch them and learning a little bit more about that person as a human being rather than as a player. I use that Sergio example because I think that again he really showed his human side as a son, as a husband, as a father and it was a really special moment to be a part of.
What needs to improve in how the women’s game is covered?
Anybody who knows me knows, especially on Twitter, how vocal I am about equality, not just for women, but minorities in this country. I think anybody who is being honest realizes that golf unfortunately, as much as I love it, is the most restrictive game in terms of equaling the playing field with women and minorities. It has gotten better, but at a slow rate. When you think about growth of the game, we always talk about growing the game of golf and minorities and women, primarily women, are the biggest areas where we can grow the game. Probably, minorities too. The unfortunate part is golf, to be competitive, is very expensive. It also takes a lot of time. It’s exclusionary historically and, while the inclusion rates have gotten better, they haven’t gotten better at a fast enough pace.
Now, I think your question really isn’t about the overall game. It’s more about how we cover it. I think the media has an enormous responsibility to help grow the women’s game. I think that the media in large part fails because of basically old, stereotypical beliefs. I think that, in a certain way, we teach people what to pay attention to in the media. We really do. We help set the tone. We help set the standard and I think that overall we fail the women’s game a lot.
I think that, first of all, you make it better by just starting with that awareness and admitting it. These women are so good. I’m out there on a regular basis and the things that I see people write about, they just have no idea. I would just encourage people to go out and watch them play. Even if you’re talking about a player who may only hit it 240 yards. Look at Mo Martin. She’s a major champion. She may be one of the best putters in the history of the game. You don’t hit the ball 230 yards off the tee and win a major unless you can putt. I would put her in a contest with anybody around the greens and I mean that, male or female. It’s part of I guess the culture of American sports. We like power, we like Bryson DeChambeau and it is intriguing to stand up there and watch it.
But, I think putting the women in news shows at the start of the show more often, getting more female analysts involved, getting more women involved in general from the media side. Beth Ann Nichols. I’m a huge fan of what she does because there’s so much dedication to the women’s game and she’s passionate about it. Randall Mell when he was at Golf Channel. Look at what he did. I think he cared more about covering the women than he did the men and he didn’t see it as a slight to be out there with the LPGA Tour versus the PGA Tour. I can say the same thing about Jerry Foltz. His primary job is an on-course analyst for the LPGA Tour. Certainly the PGA Tour role would be more high profile, but I think he would prefer to be out there with the LPGA Tour. I respect people like that, especially men like that who bring that to the table.
I think that the number one way that we get more people interested in women’s golf is to get them and force them to pay more attention to it in terms of what we write about, what we talk about on TV, what the analysts are talking about, how much time we give to an LPGA tournament. Not just filling it into some hole on a news show. I’ve always fought that. I’ve always believed in it and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but I have to believe that, as time goes on, that it will get better. Certainly that’s my hope. It’s something that I will always advocate for. It’s something that I will always support and the reason being because those women deserve it. They are damn good and the world needs to be aware, especially people who play golf and understand how difficult the game is. These people who bash females in terms of comparing them to men have absolutely no idea how good they are.
You grew up playing junior golf around Tiger Woods. What has it been like to watch his career both as a friend and as a member of the media?
First of all, anybody who knows me knows that I’m a pretty private person so talking about Tiger in that regard, not that I haven’t done it a lot, maybe I haven’t done it as much as I should have. When I started working at Golf Channel, he was going through a lot of the back issues and I had only seen him once since we stopped playing together. I say this to people all the time; I remember Tiger when we were kids more as a person than a golfer. By that, I mean he was just a good kid. He was a good friend. He was normal. There wasn’t anything that stood out other than he was a Black kid who we didn’t see that much and I thought that it was really cool. I knew the struggles that they faced even though Tiger didn’t talk about it, but I really got to know his dad well.
It would always bother me when people would say “Earl Woods has a chip on his shoulder.” Well of course he had a chip on his shoulder. Who wouldn’t? You’re talking about days when golf courses were still pretty segregated. There were a lot of places that they couldn’t even play. I think I was always drawn to Tiger and his dad number one, because of that. Number two, I just really liked them. I thought Colonel Woods was one of the coolest people when I was a kid. He helped me a lot with my game. Tiger and I would play a lot of practice rounds together.
One of the stories that I tell and Tiger and I still joke about it, we were at The Woodlands, Texas playing a junior tournament. We played a 9-hole practice round and then we went to the range because we both were range hogs. We were hitting balls and the range was empty. It was just the two of us. I felt something on my back and I turned around and Colonel Woods was twenty feet behind me, maybe fifteen. I hit another shot and I felt something again. I kinda whispered to Tiger, “I think your dad is throwing pine cones at me.” He looked at me and kind of laughed and said, “Yeah. He probably doesn’t like the way you’re practicing.” So it became a big joke. Colonel Woods thought that I hit golf balls too fast and he really talked to me about my whole practice sessions and making the most of my time. He was spot on because even to this day when I go to the range I still battle it. It just shows how much awareness he had and how much I listened to him. I would get his advice all the time and it’s no surprise that Tiger is the golfer that he is and has the mental toughness that he does. It’s because of Colonel Woods. He set him up for all this.
I say all that to say that watching Tiger succeed early was I can’t even tell you. I remember when he first won the Masters in ‘97 I’m sitting at home bawling like a child, but it was such a special moment to see this guy who was a friend and who was so talented, who faced struggles in terms of the racial issues that golf went through, especially back then. I mean we all remember Shoal Creek in 1990 not allowing African Americans. But, Tiger never let that affect him. He used it I think as a fuel to get better. He didn’t speak about it much, but it was really special I think to watch him put on that green jacket and to do it his way.
To be able to forge a friendship with him again after my time at Golf Channel which obviously had nothing to do with Golf Channel. It just had to do with two old friends reconnecting. I will always be grateful to my job for that because I probably wouldn’t have had that opportunity. He’s a great friend. He’s funny. He’s smart. He doesn’t let the world see him as much and I totally understand why.
What I’m most proud of isn’t the number of wins. It isn’t getting that fifteenth major last year at Augusta National. It’s how he basically has been through hell and back and paid a huge public price and he has become a better person. And a better father. And a better friend. I’m most proud of him for that than any of those wins because having to go through that in front of the world, I cannot imagine and he didn’t let it beat him. He let it make him better and, because of that, I think he’s enjoying life even more. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of him.