2005: No (shaved) leg to stand on

Sotogrande, Spain

The sight of Jean Van de Velde in a kilt, his legs neatly shaved, on the first tee at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in next year’s Weetabix Women’s British Open would be one to behold.

It’s certainly a better image than the one he is most famous for: trousers rolled up and standing barefoot in the Barry Burn before Carnoustie’s 18th green, sand wedge in hand, his dream of winning the 1999 British Open slowly dying.

The Frenchman may have been joking about the kilt and the leg shave, but he’s serious about trying to play in the 2006 Weetabix Women’s British Open. Not because he has a burning desire to win a women’s major championship, just a pressing need to make a point.

Van de Velde is unhappy at the double standard that now exists in golf, whereby women can play in men’s tournaments, but men cannot play in women’s events. He plans to write to the Ladies Golf Union at St. Andrews for an entry form for the Women’s British. He will not get much joy: The LGU, like the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour, has a female-only policy that prohibits men from competing.

“I’m not trying to make a sexist point,” Van de Velde said Oct. 27 at the Volvo Masters. “If we accept women in men’s tournaments, then we have to accept that Tiger Woods or Jean Van de Velde can play in women’s tournaments. If not, then there is discrimination there. It cannot work only one way. It has to work both ways, otherwise we have to reconsider our stance.”

Van de Velde said it is pointless for women to play in men’s tournaments because they have no chance of winning.

“All you hear is, ‘I would like to play in men’s tournaments because I would like to see if I can make the cut.’ I never heard anyone say, ‘I want to win the (British) Open Championship.’ Why would you enter a tournament that you feel you cannot win? I just want to understand the rationality of that. If you want to see how you play with the guys and where your level is against them, then why not play with, say, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke on a Sunday and see how far you have to go?”

Fair play to Van de Velde for having the guts to raise this issue in an age when political correctness curtails freedom of speech.

Does he have a point? Yes and no.

Van de Velde is right to expose the double standard, but he’s wrong about men playing in women’s events, and he’s equally wrong about women playing in men’s events.

Poulter is on record as saying he would win any women’s tour event by 15 shots. Van de Velde said he would win against the women because he is a minimum of 30 yards longer off the tee than the rest of the field.

“I almost won the Open Championship,” he said, “so I reckon playing 30 yards forward with a different field I will stand a good chance.”

I’m not sure Van de Velde is quite right on that one. Even though he is playing better these days, I might just take Annika Sorenstam over the Frenchman. Incidentally, if I were a sponsor on the LPGA, I’d be pressing the powers that be to get Van de Velde into my event. The media interest it would generate would be enormous. Yes, it would be a circus. But, if I was trying to promote a product, be it breakfast cereal or electronic goods, then his presence could help expose the brand around the world.

The majors are different, though. They are the pinnacles of the women’s game and should be for women professionals only. As Andy Salmon, the LGU’s chief executive, said, “Most people think it’s a silly point he is making. If we let men in, it will be the end of the event. Just because women are now eligible to compete in the men’s British Open doesn’t mean we have to have a reciprocal arrangement.”

Silly? Maybe, but Van de Velde has a lot of support from male colleagues other than Poulter.

The Frenchman is correct about the top male golfers winning women’s tournaments. If Tiger Woods enters the Women’s British Open, he wins. No question. He’d win the grand slam if he entered all four of the women’s majors.

That’s why men can’t play with women. The best men would clean up, just as Roger Federer or Andy Roddick would win the women’s draw at Wimbledon, or U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin would win the women’s 100 meters, and so on.

It should work the other way in golf, and here’s why. The four men’s majors are golf’s Olympics. They should be for the best golfers in the world. If one of those golfers just happens to come from different chromosomes, then so be it. If she is good enough, she should play.

End of story.

The same goes for the PGA Tour. It is the best tour in the world, and should be for the best golfers in the world. If a woman fits into that category, then she should compete.

The problem is, we are not at that point yet. The only reason we are having this discussion is because a 16-year-old girl has expressed a desire to win a men’s major championship. Good for her. Let’s be honest, though, right now she is not good enough. I’m not sure she ever will be. In fact, I actually don’t think a woman will ever win a men’s major. I think one might qualify for a men’s major, but win one? Uh, no. Although if it happens, I will be the first to say I was wrong.

Right now there is only one woman who comes close to competing with the men, and her name isn’t Michelle Wie. It’s Annika Sorenstam, and after her one try at the Colonial in 2003, she seems to have dismissed the notion of playing with the men.

We shouldn’t even be having this discussion right now. We should have it when a woman who is good enough to compete against the men comes along. Right now, that scenario doesn’t exist.

I’m not sure it ever will.

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