2005: R&A shift offers Wie an Open door

By Alistair Tait

St. Andrews, Scotland

Michelle Wie will be allowed to play in this year’s Open Championship if she qualifies for the tournament from the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews said April 26.

The all-male R&A has been dealing with the thorny issue of women playing in the British Open for the past 15 months. Annika Sorenstam’s 2003 appearance at the MasterCard Colonial and Wie’s appearance in several men’s tournaments have placed pressure on the R&A to change its male-only entry criteria for the British Open.

R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said earlier this year that he would like to see the entry form changed to allow women to play. The entry criteria cannot be changed for this year’s championship, but Dawson and Martin Kippax, chairman of the R&A championship committee, stated that Wie would be allowed to play if she qualifies from the John Deere, held the week before the British Open. The lowest John Deere finisher not already exempt will receive an exemption into the British.

“The reality is that she (Wie) would probably get in,” Dawson said. “It hasn’t been decided by the championship committee but if it were put to them I’m quite sure they probably agree to that.”

When pressed, Dawson said Wie would definitely get into the tournament if she qualifies.

“If Michelle Wie wins the John Deere Classic, then she will get in,” he said.

The R&A looks set to change its all-male policy in time for the 2006 championship, opening the door for women to play alongside the best male golfers.

Added Dawson: “There is no resistance to women playing in the championship if they can qualify for the championship. We are not going to change the stringency of the entry conditions for the Open in the sense that we are allowing higher handicap players or lesser players than the level that is currently set. Somehow we have to find what the equivalent is, and that’s not immediately obvious in some parts of the equation.”

In other R&A news:

44The world’s best golfers will notice a difference at St. Andrews’ Old Course, which has been lengthened by 164 yards with the addition of five new tees. The most noticeable change is at the par-5 14th hole, where the tee has been moved back 37 yards, extending the hole to 618 yards and making it the longest hole on the British Open rota.

All bunkers have been riveted, with the biggest change coming at the Road Bunker on the 17th. It has been widened and is shallower.

44Dawson also announced that golf will be considered as an Olympic sport for 2012 when the IOC meets in July. It is one of five sports up for consideration, along with karate, roller sports, rugby and squash.

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