For two weeks of the year, I get to indulge myself by working at Wimbledon. Commentating, chatting, laughing. It’s a pretty good deal. The draws for both the Gentlemen’s and Ladies Singles are wide open and about as hard to predict as I can remember for a long time.
But one thing I can probably predict is that the debate of equal pay will turn up at some point. For someone who works much of the year, covering men’s and women’s golf, it’s a debate I listen to and join with some interest. Whoever wins the Venus Rosewater Dish and takes the ladies title at Wimbledon will walk away with £2.2m! That’s exactly the same as the men’s champion. Personally, in a world of sport where there is such inequality between men and women’s pay cheques, I find tennis refreshing. Not only the prize money but the fact that the majors are played at the same venue at the same time. Yes, I have heard all the other arguments such as the amount of court time. Get over it. Move on. No one is trying to say men’s tennis and women’s tennis is the same. I had to smirk at John McEnroe at paying Serena Williams the ultimate compliment by calling her the greatest women’s tennis player of all time only to get “caught in a storm” for saying she would be ranked about 700 if she played on the men’s tour. He was asked for an opinion and that was his. It’s not as if he was dismissing Serena as a player. Far from it. As I have pointed out, he was actually giving her the ultimate compliment – GOAT!
Oh, for such a debate in golf. The total prize fund for the ladies golf equivalent of Wimbledon, the Ricoh Women’s British Open is just under £3m. That’s £800,000 more than the winner will get at SW19. More pertinently, this at a time when the Ladies European Tour is making headlines for events getting cancelled. I don’t know exactly what goes on behind the scenes with management at the Ladies European Tour. What I do know, is there are a number of hard working people who want to make the best product they can for the ladies game and they will be banging their heads against the wall with what has been happening. I don’t know the facts but it seems to me that Turkey was cancelled due to the political situation and its proximity and that the Ladies European Masters was cancelled for a financial reason. While, personally, that is irritating and costly as I was due to be working on both events, my real thoughts are two-fold; The impact on Europe’s chances at the Solheim Cup and the cost to the players coming through the ranks in Europe right now.
As with the men’s Ryder Cup, the European team for the Solheim Cup is based on two lists. Points from earnings on the tour and world rankings. In 2017, there will be just 7 events that will count before the team is announced after the Women’s British Open. It’s not that the lack of events necessarily eschews the qualification as I think Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker have shown a wonderful consistency over the last 18 months and would probably be on that team anyway. But it harms the team’s chances when players are so under-cooked compared to their opponents. Both Hall and Parker will only have played a maximum of 5 events over a 4 month period before they potentially hit their opening shots at the biggest event of their life. And it certainly doesn’t help any potential players chances of earning a wild card from Annika Sorenstam based on their golf in Europe. The chances of someone bursting through, like Thomas Pieters did just before the last Ryder Cup, to force their way into the captain’s reckoning are minimal.
Then there are the players who have just turned pro or just won their LET cards. Without a sponsor or a wealthy parent or backer, it has been tough. There are a number of players who have had to take up part time jobs just to keep things afloat financially. In the first half of the year, there will have been just two full field events, that is events exclusive to Ladies European Tour players only. I met many of these talented young players at a media training session earlier in the year. The dream of winning their LET cards has resulted in little playing opportunity. They have had to play on the Access Series, the equivalent of the Challenge Tour just to get game time. This can only be stunting growth and talent for the next generation of players. Not every player can hit the professional ground running and make an impact in America, where the LPGA Tour has enjoyed a resurgence in the last few years. They need to find a rhythm, to find themselves. What chance have they got?
The obvious question is: so what is the answer? I have my opinions but I don’t want to aggravate a situation which is very sensitive at the moment. And in any case, it’s not my business. I just hope those whose business it is, can come to a solution that will allow talented players to shine. Oh, for a debate about equal pay!!