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Let Sorenstam Play
May 20, 2003
by Kirsten Tynan

In an unbecoming (if not unusual) display of poor sportsmanship, Vijay Singh recently decried Annika Sorenstam's participation in the upcoming invitational golf tournament at the Colonial Country Club. Singh commented that he hoped Sorenstam does not make the cut because she doesn't belong in the tournament and claimed he would withdraw if paired with her. Says Singh of Sorenstam, "We have our tour for men, and they have their tour. She's taking a spot from someone in the field."

Singh is wrong on both counts.

There is, indeed, a ladies-only golf tour as Singh pointed out. However, the fact that the LPGA tour prohibits men from tournament play says nothing about the rules of the PGA tour. As Singh ought to be aware of, the PGA tour has no gender-based prohibition. According to No. 3 ranking professional golfer Phil Mickelson, "The PGA Tour has always said it's about having the best players in the world compete" and has "never differentiated male or female". In a much less fussed-over event just a few months ago, 13-year-old Michelle Wie tried to qualify for the PGA's Sony Open. She tied for 47th place in a field of nearly a hundred golfers. While the PGA tour is almost entirely dominated by men, it does not exclude women if they can compete.

Singh also complained that Sorenstam will be "taking a spot from someone in the field". This incorrectly presumes that the spot she is occupying belonged to some other player who is now being excluded as a result of her participation. While most slots in the tournament are secured through competition, sponsor exemptions are given to select people at the discretion of the sponsor. Often sponsor exemptions go to favored employees, relatives, and even very young golfers who would never have qualified otherwise. Many of these exemptions are given to men. Even renowned professional golfer Tiger Woods benefitted from a sponsor exemption which allowed him to play in a tournament for which he was otherwise not qualified at the time. He missed the cut.

Perhaps the reason that Singh has not had similarly harsh words for the men who will also be taking advantage of sponsor exemptions at the Colonial is that they are unlikely to make the cut. If Sorenstam does not make the cut, then she has impacted professional male golfers chances no more than any of the men who accepted sponsor exemptions. But if Sorenstam does make the cut, then she has "taken" a spot from someone who did not play as well as she did in that particular instance. The exact same can be said of all the male players who make the cut. What's the problem with that? It's called competition, and it's how the game is played. PGA rules don't allot extra credit to those who did not play as well simply because they are persons of a particular gender. If Singh disagrees with that, then he ought to have taken it up with the PGA rather than taking it out on Sorenstam simply because she is a woman.

Unlike Martha Burk, Sorenstam has not badgered, bullied, or otherwise tried to force her way into the company of male golfers. She has merely accepted one of many invitations extended to her by tournaments who would all be more than happy to benefit from the excitement and publicity (translated: profit potential) she would bring to their tournaments. (Ironically, Singh's comments may have the effect of raising interest in the tournament even more, thus increasing the likelihood of sponsor exemptions going to top women golfers in the future.)

Unlike Casey Martin who argued for special treatment for himself all the way to the Supreme Court (and won it), Sorenstam will be playing by the same rules as the other players. She'll be hitting from the same tees as her male competitors, and she won't be riding around in a cart.

And unlike Vijay Singh (who at least later had the sense to try to backpedal on his disparaging remarks), let's hope that Sorenstam and her fellow golfers carry themselves through the tournament in a gracious and courteous manner, upholding the tradition of etiquette and sportsmanship associated with the game of golf.

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