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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Golf quickens to a jog on the ‘direction of travel’ towards equitable rewards

The USGA have answered the R&A's hike in prizemoney at the AIG Women's Open.

Just two years ago, the journey towards equitable reward for men and women golfers seemed to be worthy of a Viking saga or perhaps as perilous as Frodo’s trek to find the right furnace in Lord of the Rings.

There was a hell of a long way to go. No, actually even longer than that.

Prizemoney for the Women’s Open was a fifth of men’s. In the US Women’s Open, correctly regarded as the premier major for females, it was about 40% of the men’s version. Even that level was a relatively recent thing, dating from 2014.

Last week the USGA set the prizefund for next year’s US Women’s Open at Pine Needles (why not pinestraw?) at $10m. That’s just a mere $2.5 million behind what they paid out at the Men’s US Open at Torrey Pines last June.

$6.8m? We’ll raise you $10m

Mike Whan, the former LPGA executive director and now chief executive of the USGA, said that within the next two years they’d raise the payout to $12m. You can expect the men’s version to rise exponentially as well, but it’s a clear statement of intent from the USGA.

And it follows a similar statement of intent at the Women’s Open at Carnoustie last year, when R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers announced a hike in prizemoney to $6.8m by this year’s championship at Muirfield.

Is there a degree of one-upmanship going on among the two governing bodies? One wouldn’t be surprised. As we mentioned above, the US Women’s Open is the premier major, and the USGA has a far more egalitarian history than the R&A’s (a low bar, admittedly).

The R&A’s prizefund hike made them the biggest paying women’s major. The USGA wasn’t going to have that, obviously. So perhaps that’s why they now say “we’ll see your $6.8m and raise you $10m. No, actually make that $12m”.

The “direction of travel” towards equitable pay was a bit of a leisurely stroll, and no-one was entirely sure they’d actually get there. Now they’ve broken out into at least a jog.

This is all fantastic news for the current generation of women elite players. Do they deserve it? Does anyone really deserve the massive riches that currently abound in all of golf, paid out apparently regardless of pandemics and economic crises in real life?

The last direct comparison one can make was at September’s Solheim Cup. The entire year’s earnings of every player present at Inverness CC was less than the $15m trousered by Patrick Cantlay for winning the FedEx Cup the same week.

And in terms of pure entertainment between the two competing events, it really wasn’t even a fair fight.

Sponsor’s input is simply reality, and should be welcomed

It’s notable – and for some, almost sacrilege – that both the two women’s opens have enlisted hefty sponsorship to boost their reward packages. In the Women’s Open it’s the financial giant AIG, and in the US Women’s Open, it’s the health company ProMedica.

This of course is not unusual in women’s majors – the other three, the ANA Inspiration (from this year the Chevron Championship), the KPMG PGA Championship and the Evian Masters have well-established sponsors.

Some seem to think that the two big Opens should have been different, but I don’t see why. If the target – however distant – was to bridge the money gap, then sponsorship is a simple way to make that task at least more manageable, and that’s what’s been done.

The men’s major championships don’t really need outside sponsors who demand their name on the branding. The women’s do. That is just reality. It doesn’t diminish anyone.

There’s probably a bit of subsidy involved, profits from the men’s Opens going to the women’s as well. Again, for me that’s absolutely fine. Our game’s history is what it is, but golf has a lot of making up to do to women.

To me, still the most important element in this drive to equality is in the numbers playing the game recreationally. Golf should really be the perfect sport for women. The figures for participation, while much improved, are still far too skewed.

More women playing the game means more families go to facilities and clubs, and greater interest in the elite form of the game for both sexes.

And from that, more money long-term for the women’s game to sustain equal rewards.

Cam Smith’s quiet rise into the top 10

I’m not fazed or frightened by the 34-under (!) it required for Australia’s Cam Smith to win the PGA Tour season opener, the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii last weekend.

Kapalua is a holiday resort course. It’s got a number of very friendly par fives, at least for the modern distances the top players hit it. The normal winds for the location somehow did not materialise. A month of rain made the course soft and accommodating.

It doesn’t mean we should batten down the hatches. Don’t be measuring pin positions a foot beyond Strath bunker on the Old Course for the Open this July. Three feet should still do.

We should however take due notice of Smith, who has quietly and steadily moved forward since his outstanding performance in the lockdown Masters on 2020.

The mulleted Aussie doesn’t remotely look like your template country club/college boy so prevalent on the PGA Tour these days. His attitude, notably last year at the WGC FedEx St Jude, is often refreshing as well.

Smith moved into the world’s top 10, holding off a refreshed World No 1 Jon Rahm to win. He’s already proved he can contend at major championships. The fact that’s he’s still somewhat under the radar – for now – can only help him as 2022 progresses.