In the modern history of golf, no female has made a cut on a PGA Tour event. Only Babe Didrikson Zaharias has done it ever, playing all four rounds at the 1945 Phoenix Open, and Tucson Open. And as Lexi Thompson becomes the seventh woman to play in a PGA Tour event next week, on a sponsor’s invitation to play in the Shriners Children’s Open, she’ll have a chance at history. The event’s first round is Oct. 12 and she’ll be the first female to compete alongside the men since Brittany Lincicome did in 2018. Even to golf fans who pay attention four times a year, Thompson isn’t a household name. Yet, her chance to destroy stereotypes, and cut through the crap that comes with golf’s sexism is a massive opportunity.
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Most sports are separated by gender for good reason. A’ja Wilson is an incredible athlete. South Carolina just erected a statue of her and she’s 27. She’s one of the best in the WNBA and she wouldn’t be able to stop Nikola Jokić or Joel Embiid. A prime Michael Phelps beats Katie Ledecky in a race hands down, despite both being their gender’s GOAT in the pool. The sport where the most head-to-head ground could be made up is golf. And I already hear the shouts about Danica Patrick. It’s way easier to spot the athleticism and skill while holding a golf club from a bunker than from a driver’s seat wearing head-to-toe protective gear.
Golf isn’t the only sport where different parameters have to be met per gender, even if a lot of it looks the same. The only gymnastics disciplines shared by men and women are the vault and floor exercise. The males have four others in the all-around, while females are only halfway done with the shared events. The men’s draw in major tennis events goes to best-of-five sets, while the women’s draw stays at three. Yet, the crossover potential in golf compared to the rest of sports is unmatched, and therefore will have to face the brunt of all-gender competition head-on.
The best modern example of that crossover was Annika Sörenstam, arguably the best female golfer of all time not named Zaharias. At the 2003 Bank of America Colonial tournament, she held her own but missed the cut by four strokes. You’d think 20 years ago she wouldn’t have been met with sexism and golfers at the top of their game would recognize how hard Sörenstam would have to work to make the cut. Nope, because of course not. Vijay Singh, who was ranked No. 4 in the world heading into that tournament was vocally opposed, going as far as to say he’d withdraw if paired with her. He also thought it was smart to say this in an interview: “What is she going to prove by playing? It’s ridiculous. She’s the best woman golfer in the world, and I want to emphasize ‘woman.’ We have our tour for men, and they have their tour. She’s taking a spot from someone in the field.” Singh did later try to walk back the comments, but the damage was already done.
It’d be a shame to go through this entire piece and not mention the contributions of Michelle Wie West, who competed in more PGA Tour events than any other woman with eight, one better than Zaharias. Wie West missed the 2004 Sony Open’s cut by one stroke, her best showing in a PGA Tour event. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a woman make noise on the men’s tour and I hoped Thompson’s inclusion wouldn’t be met with the same adversity those before her met. Thanks, Peter Malnati for proving we’ve learned nothing. And with some success, Thompson could help tear down her sport’s nature of competition being separated by gender.