Tait: LGU's ultimatum to Hull short-sighted

Charley Hull during the 2012 Sally Amateur.

The Ladies' Golf Union needs to look at golf’s bigger picture rather than focus on its own interests. That much is obvious from its decision to ban England’s Charley Hull from playing in this year’s Curtis Cup.

Hull’s decision to accept an invite into the Kraft Nabisco Championship means she will miss a training session at Curtis Cup venue Nairn Golf Club, and as a result the LGU, unbelievably, has ruled her out of the match.

The LGU should reconsider its decision. If not, Great Britain & Ireland enters the 37th Curtis Cup already one down. GB&I hasn’t won the Cup since 1996 and trails the U.S. in the biennial series 6-29 with one match halved. The last thing GB&I needs is to travel to Nairn without one of its strongest players. Hull is No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, the third-highest ranked GB&I player behind Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow.

The Hull situation should be a wake-up call for the LGU – wake-up call that tells them it’s time they caught up with the times. The intransigence of the organization suggests the LGU powers at be are stuck in the past, in an age when the lines between amateur and professional golf were more equal.

The days of career amateurs are long over. The LGU needs to accept that the players it looks after all aspire to play in the professional game. The organization should be helping them towards that goal, not hindering their progress.

“The LGU has to accept they’ve got a short window of opportunity to make an impact on these girls’ careers by helping them along the right path,” said 2004 Women’s British Open champion Karen Stupples, a two-time Curtis Cup player. “They have to look at the big picture. The girls are going to turn pro. The LGU can’t stop that. It’s a chosen career path now and you can now make a good living. I’m living proof. I was told I would never make a living playing golf, that I should get a proper job. And yet here I am, doing fairly well.

“You have to look to the future. You can’t be looking at what you have now and trying to cling onto them for dear life. That seems to be what the LGU are doing. They’re trying to cling onto them, to get them to stay amateur. They can’t do that. You can’t hold talent down.”

You don’t need a Ph.D. to realize golf’s landscape has changed forever. The majority of amateurs stay in the unpaid ranks for only a short time before turning pro. “You’re not going to have many career amateurs anymore,” Stupples said. “It’s just not going to happen. These girls don’t want to stay amateur.”

No. they want as much professional experience as possible, which is why Hull jumped at the chance to play in her first major championship.

“The experience she’ll get from the Kraft will stand her in good stead when she turns pro,” Stupples said. “I only played in one pro event before I turned pro because I’d qualified for the Women’s British Open at Woburn. Then I turned pro and I was suddenly in at the deep end. I had no clue. There was no one to help me. So this will help Charley’s career. The LGU should recognize that and help her out and encourage her instead of standing in her way.”

Hull has been unfairly treated by an organization that Catriona Matthew, 2009 Women’s British Open champion and three-time Curtis Cup player, described as “short-sighted.”

The LGU is correct to point out that Hull signed an agreement to play in the training session, an agreement which made it clear that players would not be selected for the match if they missed the session. I can sympathize with the LGU being let down by players deciding to play professional events rather than amateur ones. But that’s today’s reality, and the LGU has to work with that reality, not against it. We’re talking playing in a major, not a player missing the session because she just doesn’t feel like attending.

Why the LGU can’t see that playing in the Kraft will do Hull more good than a practice session is beyond me. The irony is, Austin Ernst has been selected for the U.S. team and has also been granted an exemption into the Kraft. Playing in front of large crowds in California can only help prepare Ernst for similar galleries at Nairn.

Matthew and Stupples are right to slam the LGU. And qualified to do so. After all, they have experience of amateur and professional golf and can see both sides. Too bad the LGU doesn’t have the same prescience.

The LGU has got this one badly wrong, and has shown itself to be a truly “amateur” golf organization. It’s time the women’s body got with the times.

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