The first thing we need to accept is that women playing a competition at Augusta National is a terrific thing for women’s golf.
Augusta National, home of the Masters, is practically a shrine for golfers in this country and around the world. Opening the gates for women – first to membership and now to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament this week – can only produce good things for women and the game of golf.
It’s not that Augusta National is hosting a women’s amateur tournament that is a problem. The issue is that Augusta National is hosting the tournament this week. Because this is the week of the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year on the LPGA. It should be a week where the golf world focuses on the history and tradition and the great play at Mission Hills Country Club.
But by its very nature, anything that happens at Augusta National will outshine anything else in golf at the same moment, and that will be true this week. When the amateurs play at Augusta National on Saturday – only one of the three rounds of that event will actually be played at Augusta National – it will inevitably take the spotlight away from the third round of the major championship in Rancho Mirage where the best women players in the world will be playing.
AUGUSTA NATIONAL: Jennifer Kupcho shares ANWA lead
HOW TO WATCH: ANA, ANWA on TV
Again, this will be history being made at Augusta National. But it is history that could have been made last week or two weeks from now. The ANA Inspiration is contractually obligated to play its event on the first Sunday in April. That’s not true of the ANWA event. Yet somehow it appeared in the same week as the LPGA major.
Some proponents of the two events argue that the addition of the ANWA will make this week a celebration of women’s golf, that the excitement of the new tournament and the excitement about the major championship will give women’s golf more exposure than ever.
Perhaps, but that feels like an argument being made in order to lessen the conflict. No other tournaments that celebrate the game at the highest levels are played against each other. Could you imagine the U.S. Women’s Open and the U.S. Women’s Amateur being played the same week, and the United States Golf Association calling that a week celebrating the women’s game?
And what about the amateurs who could have played in the ANA Inspiration, a long-time tradition of the tournament, who were also invited to play in the ANWA?
In last Sunday’s ANA Junior Inspiration, an American Junior Golf Association event that awards a berth in the ANA Inspiration to the winner, three players near the top of the leader board had already committed to play at Augusta National. With a win Sunday on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, those teenagers would have had to make the decision to either play in the LPGA major or the ANWA. What 16-year-old needs to have that decision in their life?
In a real sense, this is a fight the LPGA didn’t want and frankly couldn’t win. The LPGA and Commissioner Mike Whan could complain loudly, but that might actually hurt their cause. You can’t fight city hall, and city hall is a pushover compared to Augusta National.
And remember, there are LPGA players, particularly younger players, who are crestfallen that the ANWA is being played now, rather than three or four years ago when they could have played the Masters course. Four members of the World Golf Hall of Fame — Nancy Lopez, Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and Lorena Ochoa — will be at Augusta National for the weekend rather than the ANA Inspiration.
So what can the ANA Inspiration do to fight that?
There will be talk of moving the ANWA or moving the ANA Inspiration dates. There will be talk of watching the best players in the world on the LPGA compared to the talented amateurs playing the Masters course. There is already talk about the ANA Inspiration reminding people that the tournament at Mission Hills is the first major of the year, not the tournament at Augusta National next week.
For now, the ANA Inspiration just has to weather a storm of publicity this week for the ANWA, a very good thing for golf, and hope that this time next year the focus is on the LPGA major and not on the Masters course.