SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – I met a couple of Open contestants here Wednesday morning who drive it 225 yards off the tee but think they can be competitive.
Amy Alcott and Hollis Stacy.
Oh, I meant U.S. Senior Women’s Open contestants. It’s a new tournament in the USGA corral, finally giving the, uh, mature women the same chance to compete that senior men were afforded when the USGA started its U.S. Senior Open in 1980. Thirty-eight years later? Yeah, that’s about how far behind women’s equality issues usually lag men’s in our great society.
“The event is a long time in coming,” said Alcott, a World Golf Hall of Famer whose 29 LPGA victories included five major championships. “I want to thank the USGA for stepping up to the plate way before the #MeToo comments were ever made and making this a reality.”
I was a little embarrassed when the USGA’s own news conference, featuring executive director Mike Davis and managing director Jeff Hall, paused briefly at its conclusion and Alcott, fellow Hall of Famer Stacy and Senior Women’s Open director Matt Sawicki stepped onto the podium for an additional session and three-fourths of the 75 or so media in the room got to their feet and exited.
It wasn’t rude as much as it was simply business, because in this Internet world, every deadline is three minutes from now. Writers had to go write, or they had no room or no interest in senior women’s golf or maybe a combo platter of all three.
Well, the U.S. Senior Women’s Open definitely can’t jump out of the men’s U.S. Open’s shadow on the eve of the latter’s return to Shinnecock Hills. As for any comparison between women’s golf, which is under-supported, and #MeToo, that’s hardly a level playing field. Golf is an entertainment vehicle. If enough viewers want to watch a product, sponsors will pay for it and networks will televise it. Public interest is not an equal-opportunity proposition. Any entertainment, sports or otherwise, has to create its own interest and earn the coverage.
Is women’s senior golf at that point yet? The USGA is about to find out. The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be played July 12-15 at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill., with a field of 120 players filled by a mix of qualifiers and exempt former tour players.
Tip your visor to the USGA, though, for finally giving senior women’s golf a shot and for giving broadcast partner Fox Sports another dose of content.
“With respect to why now and not a decade or two ago, we wanted to make sure there was demand for it,” Davis said. “We did a lot of analysis of how many senior women amateurs, former tour professionals, teaching professionals and foreign players might file entries. We always wanted to do it. It was just a matter of when was the right time.”
The men’s Senior Open began in 1980 and was soon followed by the Senior PGA Tour, now known as PGA Tour Champions. On the women’s side, the Women’s Senior Golf Tour, known today as the Legends Tour, launched in 2000 but is not nearly as well established as its male counterpart.
“Golf doesn’t stop when you’re 50,” Alcott said. “So obviously, we’re really thrilled.”
Said Stacy, “We could have all been sitting at that bitter table of one, but we look at this as a new beginning for all of us. We’re all very excited to play in Chicago at such a great course.”
Stacy and Alcott always were among the LPGA’s best players and most fun personalities, and they haven’t lost a step in the latter category.
Stacy, 64, was asked how she’s preparing for the Open. “Well, I am actually stretching,” she said, getting laughs. “No, I’m practicing. I tell my friends, ‘I don’t want to make a complete fool of myself,’ but I’ve said that throughout my career. I’m looking forward to it. There’s no way I can win it. My goal is top 10. Well, it was top 10; now, it’s top 15. I’ll be OK. I just want to make some 50-year-olds upset that this 64-year-old woman beat them.”
Said Alcott, who is 62, “When you’re full-time on the LPGA, you’re hitting balls every day and you get stronger. So, I’ve got to pick that up. I’m not playing 38 tournaments a year the way I was all those years back.”
She still enjoys the game and likes to play nine holes at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a swank place where she said she used to sneak under a fence to play when she was young and where she is now an honored member.
Stacy said she used to drive it about 235 yards in her prime, back when wooden drivers, steel shafts and balata balls were the cutting-edge equipment of the day. She and Alcott say they hit it maybe 225 yards now with modern gear.
“My attitude is, just go out there like Babe Zaharias, loosen my girdle and let it rip,” Alcott said jokingly.
For those younger than 30, a girdle is … never mind. “Now we have Spanx,” Stacy said.
I asked the women who’s the player to beat in their new event, who are the top guns of senior women’s golf. They named Trish Johnson, Juli Inkster and Laura Davies. “And Liselotte Neumann,” Stacy said. “I see photos of her skiing on Facebook all the time. I say, ‘Look at her. She’s practicing.’ ”
These women and the others finally have a reason to practice. It’s about time.