LOS ANGELES – After the Americans soundly defeated the Europeans last month in the Solheim Cup at West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. captain Juli Inkster closed her news conference by questioning why women’s golf doesn’t get its due.
“I just think as women golfers we always get shortchanged, and it irks me,” said Inkster, 57, whose 31 LPGA victories include seven major championships.
Inkster’s comments were somewhat off the cuff and she wasn’t pressed to elaborate, so Morning Read decided to get a better understanding. At the Walker Cup, where Inkster worked on the Fox Sports broadcast team, she spoke about the state of women’s golf.
Alex Miceli: Regarding your comments at the Solheim Cup, do you have a solution?
Juli Inkster: You can't really solve it overnight. To me, it's about these corporations believing in our product. I feel like sometimes we get shortchanged as far as our skills. And I think a lot of people don't really know how powerful and how good these players are, and I feel like a lot of these CEOs – and I can't pick one – would rather play with a Jordan Spieth or a Dustin Johnson, to tell their buddies that they played with Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas, instead of saying, Hey, I played with Lydia Ko or Lexi Thompson. I still think we get shortchanged because we're women. I've watched it my whole career, that someone will come up and say, Hey, where are you playing this week? We're playing Columbia Edgewater. Oh, that's a good course for women. OK, so why is it a good course? Because it's short or because it's tight or because we're not that good and just little things like that and stuff like that bugs me.
AM: Do you think the WNBA women are shortchanged like the LPGA women are to the PGA Tour?
JI: Well, I feel like it's all about the home run. It's about the long bomb. It's about the slam dunk. It's about how far you hit the ball. It's not about the hit-and-run. It's not about the bounce pass. It's not about the wedge play, getting it upanddown. We don't hit it as far as the guys; never will. We won't be able to slam dunk it. We won't be able to hit home runs, but we have a lot of good things that we do. I'm saying that the guys are the best in the world; there's no doubt about it. But we're the best at what we do, and we do it well. And I don't feel like we get the credit that the guys do.
AM: It's basically a business aspect of the LPGA. For years, you've been shortchanged on that side of the equation. Before Michael Whan came in as commissioner, the LPGA was in a pretty deep hole.
AM: You did a bad job with Golf Channel. You had a commissioner [Carolyn Bivens] that got corporations completely upset with what you were doing and left. So, Whan had to take that, bring that all the way back. Do you think there's any culpability, not on your personal side, but on the LPGA's side?
JI: Well, I don't really know that business side, but I know Mike's done a great job. We're a global tour. We make more money overseas than we do here, OK. Is that fair? I'm not sure that's fair. I don't know why we don't have AT&T sponsoring the women. I don't know why we don't have Dell computers sponsoring a women's tournament. I know I pay most of my bills. I know I support a lot of these companies, but what are they doing to support women's initiatives? Whether it's golf, tennis, basketball, lawyers, doctors, businesswomen, whatever, I just think that they're not. They're shortsighted, and they're not looking at the big picture.
AM: Considering women are the majority of the population?
JI: And pay the majority of the bills at home.
AM: Why does this happen?
JI: I don't know. It blows my mind away. I don't know. I'm just saying if a lot of these companies would just think about it. Just think about it. Just give us a chance. It's like the PGA of America taking KPMG, taking a chance on us. And we need more companies like that to showcase our golf. And we need media. We need positive feedback. I mean, we had the greatest Solheim Cup. Golf Channel didn't even televise the whole thing.
AM: Your partner?
JI: Yeah, our partner. Golf Channel did not even send live from the Solheim Cup. Our partner. That stuff is unacceptable to me.
AM: What can you do now?
JI: All I can do is just is try to be a voice and try to get it out there. We have a lot of our girls on our tour, they just want to know where the next tournament is. They're not really worried about building the brand and building the tour. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older and getting more outspoken that I'm seeing these things and I'm at a point in my career where I'm going to speak up, because no one else is. And I know Mike Whan wants this, but he's in a different situation. He can't, really. He needs to kind of be the spokesman for the LPGA, and I'm just trying to get companies to take a look at us, take a look at women’s initiatives, not only just golfers. Just take a look. You know, I want my kids’ kids to have the same opportunity as if someone has four boys. I want my four girls to have the same opportunities as these four boys, and I'm feeling right now that they don't.
AM: If Michael Dell [CEO of Dell Technologies] or Randall Stephenson [head of AT&T] said, OK, fine, let's sit down and talk this through, would you be amenable to that?
JI: Oh, yeah. I don't know them personally, but I’d bet you they're great guys, and I’d bet you we would go out and have a round of golf and have a great time. But I just think they need to really look at the LPGA and maybe doing a mixed team, maybe doing something outside of the box. But there's so many opportunities out there that these huge corporations could really help women's golf and help women in general that I just think, Why not?
AM: Would you be willing to make significant changes with your tour, if that would be required?
JI: Well, like what kind of changes?
AM: I'll give you an example. A lot of people talk about how you're competing on a weekly basis against the men: Web.com Tour, Champions Tour, PGA Tour and European Tour. Would you be willing to play golf Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, when your final round is a Tuesday, versus being on a Sunday, where Monday and Tuesday there's no golf being played? You would be the only live golf, which would mean that you would certainly get showcased more than you would be getting showcased now.
JI: I wouldn't be opposed to that. On the other hand, I don't know why we have to do that. I just think that the big knock on us right now is we have a huge contingent of Asian players. And so why would an American company sponsor our tour? But no one knows these Asian players. They just look at one Kim and they see 10 Kims. But again, it's their perspective of not knowing who these players are, and that's a lot on the LPGA and that's a lot on media and that's a lot on our showcasing women's golf on TV.
AM: This country is very diverse, and it shouldn't matter if they're Korean women or Hispanic women or whatever, should it?
JI: I know, but it does.
AM: One thing we wrote at Morning Read which the LPGA didn't like was that we think the Solheim Cup shouldn't just be Europeans and the U.S.
JI: I disagree.
AM: Can you tell me why?
JI: Why? The Ryder Cup has survived forever. The Solheim Cup started in 1990, and every year is building bigger and bigger and bigger. We have the International Crown, which is every other year and includes all the other countries. It's only been going on for three years, but it's growing. I don't see any reason why we would have to change things.
AM: If by bringing Asian players into the Solheim Cup, it would exponentially grow and the interest level across the board from a corporate standpoint would be bigger, would that change your mind?
JI: No. Why don't we have something different? Have the Asian players against the world. I wouldn't mind having that. But I don't think you should change the Solheim Cup at all. I think it would be great to have the top Asian players against the world players. Brooke Henderson, Gaby Lopez and some of these others would love to play in something like this. We would have a Suzann Pettersen playing with a Cristie Kerr. I would pay to see that. So, there are opportunities out there, but you can't do any of this if you don't have sponsors.
AM: Are you hoping that you're going to be the next Solheim Cup captain?
JI: It's not in my court. I would do it in a second, but I think the LPGA probably needs to give somebody else a chance.
JI: Because that's kind of the way it's gone down. Say Meg Mallon [the winning U.S. captain in 2013] won two in a row and I would never have had the opportunity to do it, I would have been disappointed. There are people that probably deserve a chance.
AM: Is the Solheim Cup a competition or an exhibition?
JI: It's a competition. No doubt.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli