Inequality in women’s game extends beyond purses to access to equipment

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22: Inbee Park of South Korea hits a tee shot on the sixth hole during round four of the Hugel-JTBC Championship at the Wilshire Country Club on April 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

Inequality in women’s game extends beyond purses to access to equipment

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Inequality in women’s game extends beyond purses to access to equipment

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England ­– There has long been a great divide between the men’s and women’s game. Purse sizes are an obvious talking point. At the recent Ricoh Women’s British Open, the women competed for $3.25 million. Four weeks ago, the men played for $10.5 million at Carnoustie.

It’s also widely understood that sponsorship opportunities for LPGA players are vastly different. There’s no pot of gold attached to a tour card. Blank hats and blank bags aren’t limited to the lesser-knowns. LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster started out 2018 with no sponsorship deals.

But what about free equipment? Surely that’s easy to come by. Turns out even a current World No. 1 might have to pull out a credit card for a new 3-wood.

Two months ago, when Inbee Park was No. 1, caddie Brad Beecher reached out to a TaylorMade rep on behalf of Park to get replacements for the 3-wood, 5-wood and two Rescue clubs she had in her bag. Park is a Srixon staff player but is only required to have nine Srixon clubs in the bag. For more than five years she has played with four TaylorMade woods. That timespan includes six of her seven majors, an Olympic gold medal and more than 100 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

Park received the same response as several other LPGAers: A new company policy stipulates that players must use a TaylorMade driver to get free product.

‘It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do’

Park almost immediately put new Srixon woods in the bag.

“That’s where we are,” Park said at Royal Lytham. “It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do at the moment.”

Karrie Webb is playing a limited schedule this season. Her equipment contracts with Srixon and Bridgestone ended last year. There are weeks the 41-time LPGA winner worries she won’t be able to get golf balls.

To be clear, there’s no call for a free-for-all in the women’s game. Every business has a bottom line, and companies go through ebbs and flows. That’s understood. But we’re not talking about freshly minted pros here. A case-by-case basis seems the more sensible approach.

In the case of Park, Cristie Kerr said it best: “It’s professional courtesy.”

If a No. 1 player can’t get replacement clubs after a long and successful relationship, what kind of message does that send to up-and-comers?

“It just goes to the fabric of the inequality that is trying to be changed in golf, but it still exists,” Webb said. “And it doesn’t get spoken about at all.”

Both Marina Alex, 33rd in the world, and Catriona Matthew, a major winner, looked into switching out a club for links golf. Matthew, a contracted Ping player, reached out to TaylorMade about putting a new driving iron in her bag. She received the same response as Park and wound up going with a different brand.

“It’s a bit pathetic,” said Matthew, who won the Ricoh Women’s British Open the last time it was played at Royal Lytham.

Alex has carried a TaylorMade 4 hybrid in her bag since 2014 and considered swapping her 5-wood to a 3 hybrid for a lower ball flight. She also was told she’d have to use a TaylorMade driver to get the hybrid.

“Why does this kind of stuff still occur?” asked Alex, who noted that TaylorMade hasn’t sent a rep out to LPGA events this season.

Trailer with no name follows LPGA

When asked to comment on their policy regarding Park, a TaylorMade representative said, “We don’t share information around our relationships with athletes (contracted or non-contracted) due to confidentiality reasons.”

On the PGA Tour, equipment companies typically send their vans to most domestic stops. On the LPGA, companies mostly work out of a communal trailer run by Paul Boehmer, the LPGA’s club repair technician.

Manufacturers partner with the LPGA to fund the trailer. Mo Martin noted that it no longer carries a TaylorMade sign.

Ping actually had an equipment van at Royal Lytham and sends out a company rep most weeks. Equipment reps from Callaway and PXG also have a consistent presence on the range at LPGA stops across the country.

Martin, the 2014 British Open champion, said she hasn’t found a driver that can beat the TaylorMade M2. She actually bought a backup driver on Walmart.com. Bought her own Epon wedges too. Martin calls the whole situation unfortunate but will open her wallet to get what’s best for her game.

It’s no secret that PGA Tour players drive the bulk of equipment sales. But surely a strong commitment to the women’s game isn’t only the right thing to do – it’s wise too. LPGA growth and overall participation numbers go hand in hand. Even the R&A has dubbed a “Women and Girls’ Golf Week” across Great Britain and Ireland.

“The longer I’ve been out here and the older I’ve gotten,” said Webb, “you know, when you see other female athletes standing up for their rights, it starts to make you think about how much we’ve just said, ‘Oh that’s just the way it is in golf.’ And maybe we shouldn’t be like that anymore.”

Because the gap, in many cases, is worse than most people think. Gwk

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