No, not THAT Open, and it no longer even has ‘British’ in its name, but this week’s AIG Women’s Open signals better days ahead for women's golf ... and it's about time
This week the best golfers in the world take on a historic links with a chance to win the British Open on the line.
And no, you did not click on a story from a year-gone-by. It’s the real deal – because the AIG Women’s Open tees off Thursday.
“We believe,” an R&A spokesperson told me, “that playing the AIG Women’s Open will be a real boost for women’s golf.”
But one important question remains: How can you have one Open and not the other?
I posed that query to the R&A. While the men’s British Open could have been fit into the PGA Tour’s schedule for 2020 – I mean, if the Masters can be played in November, then anything can happen – would it even make sense? Force-fitting an Open into an already robust fall schedule that features the two other major championships, the U.S. Open and the Masters, plus layering in international travel for more than half the field plus caddies and support staff, seemed like a risk not necessary during the global coronavirus pandemic.
But the Women’s Open has gone ahead, all the while navigating those same issues. It will be the first LPGA Tour major championship to be played this season.
In the end, it came down to the size of the championship.
“The two championships are not comparable in terms of scale and have very different requirements,” an R&A spokesperson told me. “The infrastructure for the [men’s] Open takes three months to build, and together with a range of other factors, cancellation is the right decision.
“We have had the benefit of more time with the AIG Women’s Open, which has enabled us to adapt our staging plans and develop a robust framework and protocols for playing the championship safely without fans.”
The cancellation of the men’s Open should not be looked upon as a true loss, as much as a gain for North American golf fans who get to wake up this week, pour a cup of coffee and watch the best in the world take on an iconic Open venue in Royal Troon.
The Women’s Open has been rebranded as such (it dropped the word “British” from its title, to help put it in line with the men’s major). American International Group, the New York-based insurance company known as AIG, just announced that it had signed a two-year sponsor extension. It will present the Women’s Open through 2025.
The tournament will be played at Royal Porthcawl next year, and according to a report in The Telegraph, there are even whispers it might be played at Muirfield in the future. Muirfield, of course, just admitted its first female member last year, 275 years after the home of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Gullane, Scotland, opened.
“The AIG Women’s Open is a global championship, and its new name reflects its growing stature and broadening international appeal,” Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, said at the time of the announcement.
Danielle Kang will come into the week as the obvious favorite. Kang won the first two starts in the LPGA Tour’s return to golf, back-to-back in Ohio, and she tied for fifth last week in the Ladies Scottish Open. Though there’s been a bit of musical chairs in terms of who the top American is in the women’s game, Kang, now second in the world, has firmly cemented her place as the leading lady from the U.S. Nelly Korda ranks fourth in the world and is looking for her first major, while sister Jessica and Lexi Thompson (the only other American in the top-10 in the world) are all looking to nab the Women’s Open title. Stacy Lewis, a former No. 1 herself, just captured her first title in three years, and after becoming a mother last year. She won a four-person playoff Sunday at the Ladies Scottish Open.
Despite extensive safety protocols installed for the week (bubbles, tests, and limited movements, oh my!) many of the top international players in the world have decided to take a pass on the Women’s Open. We may not see South Korea’s Jin Young Ko, who is No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, until much later this year, if at all. Ditto world No. 3 Sung Hyun Park, No. 6 Sei Young Kim, and No. 10 Hyo-Joo Kim, all of South Korea. But the Women’s Open does mark the return to the LPGA Tour of Canada’s Brooke Henderson, a major champion who is No. 7 in the world.
While some of the big names won’t be there, many others will. No spectators will be there to see it, but for the first time the women will take on the magical Royal Troon. It’s nearing the end of August, and it’s just the first major championship of the season, but it’s something.
So how do you host one Open and not the other? When you know how big of a global impact the event will have for women in the sport, you just make it work. And all golf fans should be happy for that.
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