DUBLIN, Ohio – Judy Rankin was recognized as the Memorial Tournament honoree on Wednesday afternoon, a highlight of the annual PGA Tour event.
As Rankin was receiving adulation from host Jack Nicklaus for her contributions to golf as a player and TV analyst, a discussion about golf instructor Hank Haney’s sexist/racist comments was being debated on Twitter.
In his morning radio show on SiriusXM, Haney was asked about the U.S. Women’s Open, which was schedule to begin today at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina. His comments were disgusting.
“I couldn't name you, like, six players on the LPGA tour,” Haney said. "Maybe I could. Well ... I'd go with Lee, if I didn't have to name a first name; I'd get a bunch of them right ...Yeah, I don't know."
Haney and his co-host Steve Johnson suggested that Haney is not a racist, but it’s difficult to read those comments and not see them as anything else.
Haney then turned to Twitter to apologize.
“This morning I made some comments about women’s professional golf and its players that were insensitive and that I regret. In an effort to make a point about the overwhelming success of Korean players on the tour I offended people, and I am sorry. I have the biggest respect for the women who have worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of their sport, and I never meant to take away from their abilities and accomplishments. I’ve worked in this game with men and women players from many different cultures, and I look forward to continuing to doing so.”
Though Haney’s comments were racist and sexist, that fact doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a racist or sexist. It does, however, highlight issues with how women often are perceived in the U.S., and to a lesser extend how women’s professional golf is viewed, especially by men.
Women’s professional golf is not followed to the same extent as the men’s game. The reasons are numerous. Pinpointing the issue is difficult, but it’s not because the sport has too many of one race versus another.
“I think it’s easy for people to look at a flag and not a human being,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said while attending the Rankin ceremony here at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “Our true fans, the ones that follow the LPGA, they get to know the players, and it’s hard to stereotype that. I don’t know what he said, but at the end of the day one media person is not going to change the roll we’re on at the LPGA.”
Any sport, women’s or men’s, can link its popularity to stars. The NBA had Larry Bird and Magic Johnson before passing the torch to Michael Jordan.
In tennis, women such as Billie Jean King created an environment that forced men and women to watch greatness, providing a vehicle for women’s tennis to launch into another orbit.
Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie brought fans to women’s golf because they had star power and were personalities.
While it’s true that the LPGA does not have the same star power as it did decades ago with Lopez and then Sorenstam, Haney crystalized an issue that extends far beyond golf. Women too often not only are treated differently than men, but they are losing some hard-fought gains in privacy rights.
Haney’s comments can be dismissed easily if you are a man, but they are much harder to understand if you are a woman. What Haney and many men don’t get is how difficult it is to be a professional woman trying to make it in what is still a man’s world.
As a man, it is difficult for me to speak about how women feel or think. As the father of two professional daughters, I know they would not disagree with my assessment.
When Haney put his head on his pillow last night, no doubt embarrassed by his comments, it should be viewed as another wake-up call for men and women to appreciate that sexism and racism has no place in professional golf or in our society.
Let’s see what Haney will do beyond his apology to support women’s golf. Then, maybe we can find a silver lining for what has been a gray day for women’s golf.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli