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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Who will take on the men?
By Caroline Short

"Male professional golfer" on Open entry form

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club has taken a historic step in agreeing to allow women to play in The Open Championship.

BBC Sport weighs up the repercussions for the game of golf.

WHO HAS TRIED SO FAR?

American sporting legend Babe Zaharias led the way for women in men's tournaments.

Gold medallist in the javelin and the 80m hurdles at the 1932 Olympics, she also showed she was pretty talented with a golf club by making the cut in three PGA tournaments in 1945.

Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam (left) was overawed when she took on Tiger Woods and co

But since Zaharias blazed a trail, no other woman has made the cut in a men's event.

World number one Annika Sorenstam attracted a lot of publicity by accepting an invitation to play in the men's Bank of America Colonial Classic in 2003.

She missed the cut by five shots and afterwards seemed stunned by the experience.

"I had such a great week but I will go back to my tour where I belong," said the Swede.

"It's been so much more than I expected. It was over my head. I wasn't as tough as I thought I was."

Laura Davies also missed the cut when she competed in the 2003 Korean Open, but she was unfazed by the experience.

"If the right tournament came up, I'd love to play again (with the men) because I know I'm good enough to make the cut," said the Briton.

SO WHO SHOULD TRY NOW?

Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie has played and missed the cut at the Sony Open twice

Physical strength seems to be the main argument against women succeeding in men's events. They just don't hit the ball as far.

But teenage amateur Michelle Wie could change all that.

She didn't perform so well when she took on the men at the Sony Open in Hawaii this year.

But last year she missed the cut by just one shot, prompting glowing praise from her male competitors, and the R&A's decision has opened the door for her potentially qualify for The Open this year.

It would take the performance of a lifetime to do so - she needs to finish among the leaders at one of the other men's events she has targeted this year, the John Deere Classic which is the week before St Andrews.

Some of the top men's players agree Wie, who would be in the women's top ten money list on the strength of her results so far if she was not an amateur, is in a league of her own.

  • "She swings the club like no woman I've ever seen." Ernie Els
  • "One of the best golf swings I've ever seen." Davis Love III
  • "When you see her hit a golf ball, nothing prepares you for it." Fred Couples
  • "I've grown up and played with some of the best male golfers in the world and she's better at her age than they were." Wie's coach Gary Gilchrist

Sorenstam and Davies agree Wie may be the best bet.

2004 LPGA Average Driving Distances (yards)
1. Sophie Gustafson 270.2
2. Wendy Doolan 269.2
3. Annika Sorenstam 268.2
4. Grace Park 267.9
5. Laura Davies 266.7

"The most likely candidate to have a go right now would be Michelle Wie, who hits the golf ball a very long way - an absolute necessity for any woman who wants to compete against the top men," says Davies.

Sorenstam added: "Michelle could be the one. She's already six-feet tall and hitting it 290 yards off the tee. She's determined to play on the PGA Tour. That's the kind of attitude you need to have."

But both Sorenstam and Davies could be tempted back.

2004 PGA Average Driving Distances (yards)
1. Hank Kuehne 314.4
2. Scott Hend 312.6
3. John Daly 306.0
4. Mike Heinen 305.2
5. Chris Smith 304.0

Sorenstam was clearly stung by her Colonial experience but she may get bored with the Ladies tour.

A fierce competitor, she monopolises the world number one spot and may want another go.

Davies, too, is a formidable character.

She whacks it a fair way, has vast experience, doesn't need the money and, you sense, wouldn't be intimidated by playing the men.

HOW DO YOU QUALIFY?

With no world ranking on the men's tour, the women would have to come through fiercely competitive qualifying to play in the Open.

The Open Muirfield 2002
Links golf isn't easy - for men or women

There are five International Qualifying events (IFQs) held around the globe, each attracting a maximum field of 120 players.

Three of the IFQs offer four spots at the Open while the remaining two have 12 places up for grabs.

There are also 16 regional qualifying events as well as local qualifying, which takes place on courses near the Open venue on the Saturday and Sunday preceding the Championship.

The other option is to win, or finish high enough, in a men's event that offers an exemption, like the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond - or as Wie has chosen, the John Deere Classic in Illinois.

BBC commentator Peter Alliss thinks anyone who qualifies for the Open should be welcome to compete.

Nevertheless, he warns that links golf can humble even the finest players.

I'm not being defeatist, I'm being realistic... strength has always been a factor, and always will be
Alison Nicholas

Heavy rough, driving rain and howling gales are a far cry from the manicured fairways and greens of the US Tour.

Not only that, aside from the British Women's Open, links golf doesn't really feature in the women's game.

"It's a monster test for them and I don't revel in seeing good people just overwhelmed by the occasion," Alliss said.

US Open winner Alison Nicholas agreed.

"I'm not being defeatist, I'm being realistic," she said.

"Strength has always been a factor, and always will be. We have separate competitions and it should stay that way."

SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

It's really up to the women, but there are possible repercussions.

Will the top women players eventually decide to abandon their own tours in order to compete alongside the men?

And will the men stake their claim to play on the women's tours?

Whatever happens, if and when a female golfer does make it into the Open, both the publicity and financial rewards are likely to be huge.




SEE ALSO
Davies calls for parity
26 May 04 |  Sport Relief 2004
Davies rules out a repeat
13 Feb 04 |  Golf


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