Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 7, 2019

A Reminder Why Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

A NOTE TO READERS: Some unanticipated long-distance travel may disrupt the coming week’s posting schedule. The intent is to post next Thursday and Sunday as usual, however one or both of those dates may be impacted. Thanks for your understanding, and as always, thanks for your support.

On the surface this would seem to be a great weekend for women’s sports. As this is being written the final round of the ANA Inspiration is in full swing in the California desert, with the best female golfers in the world trying to win the LPGA season’s first major. Just yesterday the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur concluded on the world’s most famous golf course. In Aqaba, Jordan, women and men played against each other in the Jordan Mixed Open, co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, the European Senior Tour, and the Challenge Tour (the developmental level of the men’s European Tour). If all that weren’t enough millions of television sets were turned to ESPN, as the women’s basketball teams from Baylor and Notre Dame played for the NCAA Division I national title.

But as is too often the case when the subject is women’s sports, progress is not a straight line; steps forward are accompanied by backsliding and doubt. The Women’s Amateur, announced one year ago by Augusta National chair Fred Ridley, was designed to promote interest and participation in women’s golf. Seventy-two of the top women amateurs in the world played thirty-six holes on Thursday and Friday at Champion’s Retreat Golf Club, a half-hour’s drive from Augusta National. After the first two rounds the field was cut to the low thirty players, who played a single round at the home of the Masters on Saturday, complete with live coverage on NBC.

The imprimatur of Augusta National ensured the success of this event and made it instantly one of the most coveted women’s amateur tournaments in the world. But Ridley and his fellow members appear to have paid no attention to the LPGA’s schedule when scheduling the Women’s Amateur. They wanted it as a lead-in to their main attraction, which tees off next Thursday. But that meant stepping on a LPGA event that has been played since 1972 and has been the first women’s major of the year since 1983. It also meant ignoring the fact that the ANA Inspiration has a long history of inviting several leading amateurs to join the field every year, giving future members of the Tour the opportunity to tee it up alongside their idols.

Top-ranked amateur Jennifer Kupcho struck the first tee shot Thursday and wound up winning the tournament Saturday when she played the final six holes in five under par to fend off Maria Fassi. But Albane Valenzuela, fifth in the amateur rankings, opted to head west and acquitted herself well at the ANA, making the cut and finishing tied with Women’s British Open champion Georgia Hall and two shots ahead of former world number one Inbee Park.

The power of the male establishment in golf, embodied nowhere more fully than among the overwhelmingly male green-jacketed membership of Augusta, was displayed most explicitly by the three hours of network coverage of young amateurs, unknown beyond their families and college coaches. Meanwhile the first women’s major of the year had to be content, as usual, with broadcast coverage on the Golf Channel. The Women’s Amateur is absolutely a good thing for women’s golf. But it would be so much better if Ridley and company had picked up the phone and consulted with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan on scheduling.

Scheduling also hurt the Jordan Mixed Open, which had a relatively weak field of women players given the enticements in Palm Springs and Augusta. But England’s Meghan MacLaren had no problem keeping up with both the over-fifty set from the European Senior Tour and the young up and comers from the Challenge Tour. MacLaren led after two rounds and eventually settled for second place behind Challenge Tour player Daan Huizing. Mixed events like this one are also a fine way to promote the women’s game. But the Jordan Mixed Open will be little more than a sideshow without a better spot on the calendar.

The NCAA title game was a reprise of the 2012 championship contest and is also the first time since that year that both coaches of the two finalists are women. Most casual fans would attribute the latter fact to Geno Auriemma, the male head coach of the University of Connecticut. But while Auriemma remains the best-known coach in women’s college basketball, the Huskies haven’t played in the national title game since 2016, losing in the semifinals each of the past three seasons, this year to Notre Dame.

Others might question why the coaches’ gender matters. To that Muffet McGraw, coach of the Fighting Irish since 1987, gave a searing and eloquent answer at a press conference on Thursday. McGraw has said she would hire only female assistants, and she was asked about that and being a voice for women in sports.

McGraw replied, “Did you know that the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in 1967 and still hasn’t passed? We need 38 states to agree that discrimination on the basis of sex is unconstitutional. We’ve had a record number of women running for office and winning, and still we have 23 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate.”

“I’m getting tired of the novelty of the first female governor of this state, the first female African-American mayor of this city. When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?”

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models, we don’t have enough visible women leaders, we don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender roles are already set.”

“Men run the world. Men have the power. Men make the decisions. It’s always the men that is the stronger one. And when these girls are coming up, who are they looking up to, to tell them that that’s not the way it has to be? And where better to do that than in sports? All these millions of girls who play sports across the country, they could come out every day, and we’re teaching them some great things about life skills. But wouldn’t it be great if we could teach them to watch how women lead? This is the path for you to take, to get to the point where, in this country, we have 50 percent of women in power. Right now, less than 5 percent of women are CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.”

“So yes, when you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? Maybe it’s because we only have 10 percent women athletic directors in Division I. People hire people who look like them, and that’s the problem.”

On Sunday McGraw’s squad staged a stirring second half comeback against Baylor, overcoming a double-digit deficit to tie the game late. In the end Notre Dame fell just short, losing 82-81, giving Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey her third title. But Muffet McGraw had already won, by reminding fans everywhere of the fundamental reason why true progress for women’s sports means no more half-measures, no more backsliding, and no more settling for good enough.

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