In 2003, two women golfers played in PGA Tour events. Annika Sorenstam played in the Colonial while Suzy Whaley teed it up with the men at the Greater Hartford Open. Michelle Wie played in her first PGA tournament, the Sony Open in Hawaii, in 2004. A few golfers, most notably Vijay Singh and Greg Norman, said that women shouldn't play in PGA events, just as men shouldn't participate in LPGA tournaments. But many others found reasons to applaud the women's attempts to compete on the men's tour.
Drawing Attention to Women's Golf
The novelty of women playing on the PGA Tour stirred headlines across the golf world. Prior to 2003, no woman had played in a men's tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias did so in 1945. An ESPN.com article said Sorenstam's presence at the Colonial "will be big news, front-page news. It will be a boost for the LPGA Tour." Tiger Woods said "it's great" that Sorenstam was competing, but added, "it will only be great for women's golf if she plays well. If she puts up two high scores, it will be more detrimental than good.'' Sorenstam basically agreed, saying her participation on the men's tour "would be more beneficial if I played well. If not, I don't think it would change anything.'' Sorenstam didn't make the cut, but she did play well enough to help pave the way for future competitors such as Wie.
Much of the money that sustains professional golf is derived from television coverage. Writer Mark Kreidler pointed out in 2003 that Sorenstam's participation in the Colonial would be "a guaranteed ratings booster for USA and CBS," the networks broadcasting the event. Sorenstam's play was credited with lifting the tournament's television ratings by 4.0 percent over the previous year, even though she played only two rounds. The USA Network televised the first two rounds and received its highest-ever golf ratings, an average of 2.1 for each round, representing more than 1.5 million viewers per day.
The attention given to Sorenstam and Wie seemed to catch the attention of young women and girls. ESPN.com's Bob Harig wrote that Sorenstam's efforts "could be inspiring to young girl golfers, who truly have issues of access" to the golfing world. LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw added, "It's a very empowering message for young girls to see someone like Michelle Wie, who doesn't see any boundaries in her athletic future."
While even the best woman golfer is likely to earn more prize money playing against women on the LPGA tour, the publicity gained from playing well against men could generate a large income off the course. Sports marketing executive Dean Bonham told "Golf Today" that a woman who can play competitive golf against men "is automatically a female superstar. That certainly qualifies her for a very high level of endorsement income."