Mickey Walker: A search for a British superstar
AS a studio guest for the recent women’s HSBC Champions tournament at Sky Sports I had a number of conversations about the state of women’s golf with the presenter Sarah Stirk.
Having worked in golf and the golfing media for most of her professional career Sarah seemed an ideal person to ask about what she thought about top women’s golf. Her thoughts were that the standard and presentation had improved quite dramatically over the last several years.
Sarah compared watching a Ricoh Women’s British Open several years ago with what we were witnessing at the HSBC women’s tournament.
Although that is also my opinion, I was heartened to hear the same thoughts from someone very much involved in women’s golf.
Looking much further back I’m sure some fans will recall the disaster of the 1984 Ladies’ British Open sponsored by Hitachi!
Before the event started it appeared to have all the ingredients that would launch women’s golf into the public eye and encourage many more sponsors. It had huge prize money relative to the time, a global field and it was the first time that the BBC was to broadcast women’s golf since the days of the Colgate a decade earlier.
What could possibly go wrong? In a word – everything! The weather was vile, wet and windy, and in those days the selection of women’s waterproofs was either navy or black, so it was extremely difficult to identify players and did nothing to enhance the attributes of women.
The pace of play was so slow that the matches from the 1st tee arrived at the 11th (the other starting hole), with almost an hour’s tee times still to tee off. This meant that when the BBC came on air, they were showing the middle of the field rather than the leaders, who were all scoring well above par. Only the winner – Ayako Okamoto from Japan – was under par and she won by about 12 shots from Scotland’s Dale Reid which was probably the one high point for the then fledgling WPGA (now LET) Tour. Understandably, it took several years after that for the BBC to cover women’s golf again!
Move on another eight years to 1992 and Europe were winning the Solheim Cup at Dalmahoy – I remember it well as I was the captain!
At that time I was also the head professional at the Warren Golf Club in Essex, and as such had a lot of support from the women’s section.
Something in the region of 20 couples came to support Europe, with the women coming on all three days and the men going off playing golf on the first two days before making a token appearance on the final day.
Well, the standard of golf and excitement generated on the final day made everyone from the Warren a fan of women’s golf for life. The men couldn’t get over the standard of play, they just hadn’t realised how good top women’s golf was.
Move on 19 years to the 2011 Solheim Cup victory at Killeen Castle and the standard and excitement has again increased dramatically.
The head of golf at Sky Sports, the host broadcaster, said he thought that it was every bit as exciting to watch as a Ryder Cup.
Part of the problem in getting men to appreciate it is in getting them to see for themselves. Every male golfer that I know who has attended a women’s tournament or watched top-class women’s golf on TV enjoys it as much, if not more that men’s golf.
One of the reasons that we sometimes can’t identify with the top female golfers is that we don’t get to watch them enough on television.
If you are a golf fan and have Sky Sports, there are usually two if not three men’s tournaments shown every week, so fans get to know the stars and their personalities.
Sky are big supporters of women’s golf.
Sadly, although we have many really good British players no megastar seems to be emerging They show weekly highlights of both the LET and LPGA Tours, and three of the women’s Majors live, aswell as the Solheim Cup and several other women’s events, but that’s not the same as seeing live women’s golf on a weekly basis.
I’m not criticising Sky Sports – without them, the women’s golf that we see on TV would be limited to the British Open shown on the BBC.
Lady golfers often ask why we don’t see more women’s golf on TV. Well first of all, it is a very expensive sport to cover. To do a full outside broadcast costs hundreds of thousands of pounds – and someone has to pay that bill.
If we had a British superstar contending on the world stage week in week out, that would help a great deal rather in the way that British and European male golfers have caused massive media attention and TV coverage.
We do have some great British players – like Scotland’s Catriona Matthew and for years Laura Davies was one of the top players in the world. Sadly, although we have many really good British players no megastar seems to be emerging. These days the majority of the world’s best female players are from Asia. I have mixed feelings about this. On the plus side, it is good in that apart from the exceptions of Annika and then Lorena Ochoa, they are now dominating women’s golf and setting incredible standards. As women’s golf is so big in Asia, that area of the globe sponsors an increasing number of events. On the minus side, the over- riding characteristics of Korean players are hard work, discipline and not showing emotion. While these traits certainly make for successful golfers, they do not tend to endear themselves to fans in the western world.
So, the standard of play has most definitely improved, as has the dress, fitness and the way that players present themselves – it is chalk and cheese from the start of my professional career. And the world is cottoning on.
Mickey Walker, Lady Golfer’s consulting editor captained Europe in the first four Solheim Cups. She regularly appears on Sky Sports as an expert summariser