On the Links, Women Match Men. At the Bank, Men Still Come Out Ahead.
Growing up, I was always athletic. Since I could walk I’ve been involved in some type of sport. When I turned twelve, golf became my favorite sport the day I picked up a golf club. Since then, I have won a few tournaments, competed through high school, and now play collegiate golf for Idaho State University. If it hasn’t been made clear yet, golf is my life. I grew up idolizing Paula Creamer, who remains my absolute favorite athlete. As odd as it may seem to some, I completely adore watching golf on TV. This love has also lead to noticing that something isn’t adding up between the PGA and LPGA tours. That something; a pay gap in tournament winnings.
To illustrate, Inbee Park won the Women's British Open in 2015 and received a check for $474,575. Meanwhile, Zach Johnson won the 2015 Men's British Open and was paid $1,794,690. In fact, Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen tied for second at the 2015 Men's British Open and each was paid $834,262; or nearly twice what Park was paid for actually winning. Yes, men who lose still do better than women who win in golf. At the 2015 U.S. Women's Open it was a somewhat better story with champion In Gee Chun being paid $810,000. But that still was not close to the $1.8 million payout Jordan Spieth received for winning the U.S. Men's Open. Plus, the two golfers who tied for second still received $877,000. So again, the men who lose in golf do better than the champ in women's golf.
This history of paying women less in golf isn’t a recent occurrence however. As noted by ESPNW, between the U.S. Men’s Open and the U.S. Women’s Open, there has been a significant pay gap dating as far back as 1964.
So what explains the gap? Let's first eliminate something people often think about when comparing men and women in sports: athletic ability. It often seems easy to say that men deserve more money in sports because they obviously play better. But, this is completely inaccurate in golf and actually offensive when we talk about any sport (since we only bring this up in talking about men and women, not when talking about something like college and professional sports). Among the top 10 players on the LPGA tour, the average score is 69.76 and the birdie average is 4.36 per round. Among the top 10 on the PGA tour, the averages score is 69.34 and 4.61 birdies per round. So the numbers are nearly equal. While it's true that the men hit off of a longer tee, women are more accurate and hit more greens in regulation. Everyone plays the same number of holes, regardless of gender. Both genders work equally as hard at the sport they love. As an aside, in college I play from the men’s tees and further back so the distance is the same as the men.
Women are every bit as athletic as men, and are every bit as good as the men. So why the large pay gap? One key factor is differences in media coverage. The LPGA tour is televised for all three major tournaments by Golf Channel and NBC, and Golf Channel said they would cover all of the events in 2015, totaling nearly 400 hours of coverage. This is great because it is a 10% increase in coverage since 2014. This coverage, though, is primarily located on the Golf Channel. Only the major tournaments for the women finish on NBC. In contrast, the men’s tournaments receive nearly 590 hours of television coverage. And many more men's tournaments end up on a network.
So when we get to those major tournaments, the men golfers have received significant network coverage all year. So many more golf fans are familiar with these golfers and have been able to develop a rooting interest. In contrast, unless you watch the Golf Channel, The women in the LPGA are not well known before the majors. This has to impact interest in these events.
All that is unfortunate. Coverage of women's golf isn't just about promoting the game today. Better coverage today means more 12-year old girls -- like me a few years ago -- get to see how amazing women golfers can be. All that means even more people will see how amazing the game of golf is. And that can only make the game of golf better for everyone!
You can follow the author of this article on Twitter at @katieeliselee.