News & Opinion

It’s time for USGA to ante up for equality

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Congratulations to Jeongeun Lee6, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open champion, and the first female golfer to receive a $1 million winner’s check in doing so (scores).

Last week, the USGA was justifiably proud in announcing that for the first time, it would be increasing the 2019 purses by equal amounts for the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens, by $500,000, assuring the $1 million payout for the women’s champion.

It was an important step in recognizing the value of the women’s competition, yet it landed wide of the mark.

The total purse for the men’s event next week at Pebble Beach will be $12.5 million. Even with the $500,000 bump, the women’s purse at Country Club of Charleston was less than half of the men’s, at $5.5 million. In other words, the women are being paid 44 cents for every dollar that the men will earn. The national average on pay for equal work isn’t great at 80.5 cents per dollar, but it is almost twice as much as what female golfers are earning in the USGA’s premier women’s tournament.

At $12.5 million, the men’s U.S. Open purse is the richest of the four major championships, a bragging right among organizations (Augusta National Golf Club, PGA of America, USGA and R&A), and matches the payout for the Players Championship for the largest prize in golf. But would anyone value this prestigious championship any less if the payout weren’t the largest? I sincerely doubt the average fan knows or cares whether the winner receives a check for $2.2 million or $1.6 million. Neither does that fan make his or her decision to attend or watch based on player payout.

I’ve never heard a player say that he or she wouldn’t play a major championship because the payout wasn’t large enough. All talk about their careers being measured in terms of major titles won, not their ending bank balance.

Justin Thomas made just such a statement last week, noting that even with his differences with the USGA, he always will play in the U.S. Open because it represents one of golf’s four top prizes. It would go a long way if those elite players would back up their statements by supporting this proposal, starting with, but not limited to, those men with daughters.

It’s no secret that the USGA has come under fire lately on the men’s side, especially for setup issues at the Open venues, resulting in a slew of negative articles.

As the governing body for the sport across all ages and genders in the U.S. and Mexico, the USGA has an opportunity, I believe, to make a positive statement in 2020, not merely by increasing the purses by equal amounts but by combining the purses and awarding equal payouts.

It would send a serious signal across the sport that the women’s game has equal value to the men’s. It’s a critical issue in ensuring the growth of the game in an era in which there are an ever-increasing number of distractions that affect participation.

Hank Haney’s ill-advised, but honest, comments last week sadly reflect the sentiments of too many pseudo golf fans, those who are interested only in the men’s game and don’t value the women’s (“If Haney feels remorse, next step is key,” May 30).

I recognize that the men’s U.S. Open brings in by several times more gate revenue, viewership and sponsor dollars than the women’s. In the past, those facts have been used as a justification for payout disparities.

However, I sincerely doubt that splitting the $18 million equally between the two tournaments would impact the men’s revenue by even one dollar, but it would seriously elevate the perception of the women’s game, hopefully resulting in not only increased fan interest but also increased revenue as well. Ultimately, perhaps participation in the sport will increase, especially among women and juniors, which is critical to the growth of the game.

For a governing body, the bragging rights of valuing all golfers equally is worth more than just having the richest men’s major purse.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss and “The Grinch,” “Then the USGA thought of something they hadn’t thought of before! What if the men’s U.S. Open payout, they thought, wasn’t just about being the largest? What if the Open payouts being equal … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

For the continued growth of the game, it’s something to consider.

Dove Jones has been consulting on marketing, PR and communications in the international golf tourism industry over 25 years. She also has written for many golf publications in the U.S. and the U.K. and is the international correspondent for Golf Central Magazine. Email: DoveJ77@aol.com