Posted by: Mike Cornelius | June 6, 2019

Just Shut Up, Hank

Winning one of our national golf championships requires a player to overcome adversity, demonstrate both patience and skill under enormous pressure, and ultimately persevere over a course typically made as tough as it can possibly be by the United States Golf Association. The USGA annually sponsors thirteen separate individual championships, and whether it is an open or an amateur contest, for men or women or seniors, any golfer who lays claim to the title of “national champion” is deservedly worthy of the highest praise. But those usual challenges were but prelude for the competitors at last weekend’s US Women’s Open. Thanks to the racist and misogynistic comments of well-known teaching pro Hank Haney, the 156 women who teed it up at the Country Club of Charleston also had to overcome bigoted stereotypes and outright disdain.

As most readers surely know, one day before the Women’s Open got underway last Thursday, Haney went on his self-named radio show, broadcast over the PGA Tour’s Sirius XM channel, to declare that he had neither knowledge of nor interest in women’s golf, and that he couldn’t name six members of the LPGA Tour. Apparently not content with this public disparagement, he then plunged into the old racist trope of being unable to distinguish members of some other group by suggesting that a Korean golfer would win and that she would undoubtedly be named “Lee,” apparently because in Haney’s world that’s the only name a Korean golfer could have. Both Haney and his co-host Steve Johnson found this repartee amusing, which is perhaps why they felt comfortable as Haney went on to disparage the second US Women’s Senior Open, played two weeks earlier at Pine Needles.

The PGA Tour and Sirius radio responded by suspending Haney, even as a tidal wave of negative reaction poured in from golfers of both sexes and various races. Foremost among them was Michelle Wie, the 29-year-old Korean American star who won the Open at Pinehurst five years ago. On Twitter Wie wrote, “As a Korean American woman golfer, these comments that (Haney) made disappoint and anger me on so many different levels. Racism and sexism are no laughing matter Hank…shame on you. I don’t ever do this, but you must be called out.” Wie later added, “Too many of these (golfers), Korean or note, have worked countless hours and sacrificed so much to play in the US Open this week. There are so many amazing players in the field. Let’s celebrate them…not mock them.”

Within a few hours Haney responded with an apology, which at least in the moment sounded slightly more sincere than the typical “if I’ve offended anyone” nonsense that we have all heard far too often in such situations. But the depth of Haney’s true feelings became clear four days later, when he responded both to the outcome of the Open, a victory by Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6, and to comments by Tiger Woods that Haney deserved his suspension, by attempting to take a victory lap for predicting the result and by slamming his former star pupil, who also happens to be the most recognizable and popular player in the game (good luck with that).

Neither Haney nor anyone else who follows golf is under any obligation to have an interest in the women’s game or the LPGA. But if that is the case and one has a radio show about golf, perhaps a good plan would be to simply not bring up the subject of the Women’s Open. By instead choosing to talk about it only to heap derision on women players, Haney joined a long line of defenders of the sexism that has longed plagued the sport, from private club restrictions on when women members can play to the country’s most famous club, Augusta National, only reluctantly agreeing to admit women as members just seven years ago.

As bad as that is, Haney’s jingoistic characterization of Korean players is even worse. It is true that the LPGA of Korea Tour started assigning numerals to players named Lee because of the number participating on that tour. Most Korean women drop the numeral when they transition to the US Tour, but Jeongeun Lee6 chose to keep it as a marketing tool, going by the nickname “Six.” She also died her hair platinum blonde, which doesn’t exactly sound like a player intent on being part of a faceless monolith of like-named and like-looking golfers.

Far more important, Haney’s supposed concern that players from one foreign country have overrun the LPGA Tour is inaccurate. Of the 32 tournaments played during the Tour’s 2018 season, an equal number – nine – were won by Americans and Koreans. But an even greater number, fourteen in all, were captured by golfers from a total of eight other countries, marking the LPGA Tour as what is truly is, the dominant place to play in all of women’s golf. That fact was reinforced at the Women’s Open, where the top ten finishers on the final leader board included six Americans but also representatives of five different countries.  That Haney should have a problem with such diversity, especially because some of those players don’t look like “us,” speaks loudly to an issue for Haney rather than one for the Tour. It’s also worth noting, not that facts ever stand in the way of racist views, that Lee6’s victory in Charleston was the first LPGA Tour win by a Korean named Lee since July 2017.

For both its members and fans of the LPGA Tour it would be great if women’s golf, whether it’s the national championship or this week’s tour stop outside of Atlantic City, drew more interest and, along with that, bigger purses. That economic battle is one that is being fought in many women’s sports, from tennis to ice hockey to even the highly visible and popular national women’s soccer team, about to defend its World Cup title. But whether financial parity is ever achieved, the one thing all women athletes deserve is respect. For the likes of Hank Haney, even something that simple was too much to ask.

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Responses

  1. You have taken a balanced look at an unbalanced situation, Mike. I was reminded of the ‘Jimmy the Greek’ fiasco of 25 years ago as I read this.
    Ω

    • Thanks very much Allan. At least after the fact Jimmy the Greek seemed to understand that he’d made a serious mistake.

      M-

      • You sparked a memory. I can hear my grandfather: “Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.” Happy Monday, Mike.
        Ω


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