Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Championship the USGA Forgot: Senior Women's Open Is Long Overdue

You probably saw the news a couple days ago about the USGA dropping two long-running championships in favor of two newly created national championships. The United States Amateur Public Links Championship (founded 1922) and the Women's Amateur Public Links Championship (founded 1977) got the kibosh.

And in their place, the USGA is launching the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship and the U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

Whatever. I don't really care one way or the other about this change. But notice that in both cases, there are two versions of the same event: the Public Links has a men's tournament and a women's tournament; the four-ball will have a men's tournament and women's tournament.

Go down the list of USGA championships and that's true of them all (almost). The Opens? Men's open, women's open. U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women's Amateur. Boys Amateur, Girls Amateur. Mid-Amateur, Women's Mid-Amateur. Walker Cup, Curtis Cup. Men's State Team, Women's State Team. Senior Amateur, Women's Senior Amateur. Senior Open ...

Aha! There's is a U.S. Senior Open, but there is no Senior Open for women! Every USGA championship has both a men's and women's field - except one, the Senior Open. There is no U.S. Senior Women's Open.

What sense does that make? Why have men's and women's fields for every championship except one?

Well, you could say that the U.S. Senior Open gets televised and that no network would want to televise a Senior Women's Open. You might even be right. You could claim that not many golf fans would care about a Senior Women's Open, and maybe you'd be right about that, too.

But so what? Who cares about, or watches, the State Team Championships? Is anyone going to watch the new Four-Balls? Were the networks scrambling to put the Public Links championships on the air?

A U.S. Senior Women's Open, if it was played in 2013, would have in its field the likes of Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Rosie Jones, Amy Alcott, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez and the list goes on. Laura Davies, Meg Mallon, Helen Alfredsson and Dottie Pepper would be eligible soon; Annika Sorenstam isn't that far away.

It would also have a bunch of senior women golfers who were never tour players, or who were tour players of minor achievement, and one of them might very well win the championship. Is that a drawback? Well, you could argue that it is.

But again, so what? If an Allen Doyle or a Michael Allen wins the U.S. Senior Open, instead of a Tom Watson or Fred Couples, does that denigrate the championship? Does that cause the USGA to re-think holding it? Of course not.

Maybe the field for a U.S. Senior Women's Open wouldn't be strong enough, or the scores might be too high, for an over-50 women's event. Maybe! So what! Adjust accordingly. Here's a little-known fact: When the USGA instituted the men's Senior Open in 1980, golfers had to be 55 to play. The age of 50 isn't set in stone. Start the Senior Women's Open with an age cutoff of 45, rather than 50, and see how it goes.

The concept of "equity" is front and center in the Rules of Golf. But there is no equity in the USGA staging men's and women's versions of every one of its championships except one.

There are legends of women's golf who deserve a chance to compete for a national senior championship. There are no-name senior women who are phenomenal golfers who deserve a chance to qualify to play in such a tournament and perhaps pull off a shocking win.

The USGA should add a U.S. Senior Women's Open out of basic fairness. Out of a simple sense of equity. It's the right thing to do, and it's long overdue.

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