The first golf Major since lockdown begins today in San Francisco when players tee off at the US PGA. It’s another sporting instance where the men’s game is further down the road to recovery than the women’s – a discrepancy that Wales’ Lydia Hall finds all too familiar, as Graham Thomas reports.
Lydia Hall flies back into the UK at the start of August – as determined to be high on the leaderboard at the Ladies Scottish Open as she is to help shake up women’s golf.
After six months spent in Australia – four more than intended because of lockdown amid the global pandemic – the current Welsh No.3 has had plenty of time to assess her sport and its injustices.
As a member of the Ladies European Tour players’ council, Hall, from Bridgend, has a very credible overview of European, UK and Welsh golf and where it should be heading.
It is, says the 32-year-old, time for major change if more girls and women are going to be inspired and encouraged to take up the game.
As in many sports, women’s golf found itself marginalised by the re-start from lockdown as the top male professionals went off to resume on the PGA tour in the USA and their UK female counterparts on the Ladies European Tour were left grounded.
that european tour playoff was worth €1.5 million…
yet the second place cheque was still more than if you’d won EVERY (excl. majors) event on the ladies european tour this year so far… combined #stillhere
— Meghan MacLaren (@meg_maclaren) November 17, 2019
It was the same story heard elsewhere in so many sports. Sponsors and TV money meant the men’s game could be awoken. But the women’s game stayed asleep.
Former world No.1 Justin Rose recognised the problem and decided to do something about it – creating a one-off Rose Ladies Series, which has provided tournaments for the leading players in the UK.
Hall has been unable to return from Australia – where she was playing a number of events including the Australian Open – until now. She welcomes Rose’s move but says others from the ranks of the multi-millionaires in men’s golf have a chance to do more.
“The Justin Rose initiative was desperately needed and for a male tour player to stand up and say, ‘Hold on a minute, this is not right. We are going back to work and these girls don’t have that opportunity because of finance’ was great,” says Hall.
“These guys are making millions, not just from winnings but from endorsements.
“Most of the girls on the Ladies European Tour or LPGA tour don’t get endorsements or even free equipment or clothing because budgets are blown on the men’s game.
“So, for a player to stand up and say, ‘no, this is not right. I’m going to help a bit,’ was welcome. Companies have jumped on the bandwagon, Sky TV are on board and that’s all it takes – for someone to show some respect – someone who is in the golf industry and is very respected himself.
“But I just wish a couple more had got on board and said, ‘you know what, Justin. I’ll match you and throw in the same. If just five guys had done the same thing, we could be playing for £150,000.”
Even with sponsors on board in the form of American Golf, the prize money on the Rose series is £70,000 per tournament.
The winner of the men’s Open Championship received £1.5m last year, while the winner of the women’s Open earned around a third of that figure at £517,000.
That suggests the gap is closing, since in 2008 the leading earner on the women’s tour earned £500,000 for the season – a figure that would have ranked her at No.110 on the men’s money list.
But it’s lower down the food chain at the less glamourous tour events, where the gender pay gap in golf is still substantial.
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) June 9, 2020
Hall reckons she has earned around £500,00 in prize money since turning professional in 2008 – but has spent around the same on flying to tournaments, paying for hotels, caddies, equipment and other expenses.
“The bottom line is that if I was a guy, I would comfortably be a millionaire by now, but I’m nowhere near that.
“I don’t think we get the credit we deserve or the backing the girls deserve. Just like the guys, we work our arses off and I don’t think people respect that enough.
“Golf Digest Australia put a question out to all their followers the other day, saying, ‘what handicap would a male amateur golfer have to have to be competitive on the LPGA? ‘
“They are basically saying, that a male amateur golfer could compete with a female professional golfer on the LPGA! It’s just so disrespectful! It’s unbelievable! It drives me insane.
“Pro golf is so different to amateur. When you’ve spent 2,000 quid just to be able to tee it up on the first hole, then knowing you have to sink that five-footer not to lose all your money, then it is a different feeling to anything in the amateur game.
“It’s a different feeling to some guy putting to earn 20 quid in a medal on a Tuesday afternoon!
— Ladies Scottish Open (@LadiesScottish) July 20, 2020
“Don’t get me wrong. We had an incredible schedule from January onwards in place. It was one of the first years, where you actually thought, we can make some money and have a chance to make a living.
“But the lockdown has changed all that and so we are starting again in a way.
“So many huge companies are missing out on not investing in the women’s game because so many people around the world love watching women’s golf.”
The reason all this matters, says Hall, – and is not just another moan about money in sport – is because it affects the chances of more girls taking up golf.
The more exposure and more successful the role models are seen to be, the more likely, she says, are young Welsh female golfers to enter what can be a male-dominated world.
“The biggest thing that can come out of this lockdown and what happens after, is that men have that closer relationship and respect for women – like Roger Federer and Serena Williams in tennis.
“They respect each other. I hope that can happen in golf – that male tour players get behind us and say, ‘hey – these girls can play, too.’”