USGA should offer equal prize money in U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open
U.S. Open

USGA should offer equal prize money in U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open

USGA-FOX-Sports

For the good of the game, the USGA signed a 12-year contract to broadcast its championships with Fox -- who has no experience airing golf.

For the good of the game, the USGA reportedly received between $75-100 million per year from Fox for those rights, double its current rights-fee agreement.


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For the good of the game, the USGA gleefully announced its contract on the eve of the PGA Championship, knowing full well it would upstage the season's final major, the erstwhile Glory's Last Shot.

And, for the good of the game, the USGA should commit some of that newfound windfall of cash to offer equal purses for the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open.

Hear me out.

The USGA is a non-profit organization that derives most of its income from the rights fees it can negotiate from its broadcast partners. Well, beginning in 2015, partner singular.

Their new contract will net them somewhere in the area of an extra $445-755 million from 2015-26 compared against their deal with NBC and ESPN that ends next year. That's a lot of additional dollars to fund an organization whose mission is to further the sport of golf.

The U.S. Open purse is $7.5 million. The U.S. Women's Open purse is $3.25 million. The gap is $4.25 million. That's simple math. But the calculus in evening the prize pools for both events will pay out in such greater multiples.

The USGA would essentially be forking over no more than about 12 percent of its new-contract surplus to make a stand about how men and women, their golf abilities and stature, should be perceived.

Why do it? The U.S. Women's Open is already the most lucrative tournament on the LPGA Tour schedule, tied with the newly minted fifth major, the Evian Championship, for the distinction. Isn't that demonstration enough of their commitment to the game?

Women only make up 20 percent of the 26 million Americans that play golf. That's not even as many women as dollars in the U.S. Open purse. However, recognizing and treating women as equal might be great business for those 5-plus million female golfers.

Consider a 2012 Golf Digest story which sheds light on the struggle to attract and keep women interested in the game. This poignant quote explains the business sense in treating women equally.

"A course that treats women with respect creates a trickle-down effect to its members, and, overall, a greater sense of camaraderie and pride," said a surveyed female club member for the story.

When factoring in that women control 83 percent of all consumer purchases, the game's ingrained sexism surely deserves to be squeezed out if for no other reason than the almighty dollar.

Traverse a country-club property for what equal pay means for a game. Look at tennis.

Women and men have the same purse for all four major championships. It's been that way since 2007, when Wimbledon, the final hold out of the four majors, decided to level the prize money for both singles competitions.

Yup, men can play up to five sets in a major, while women play three at the most. So? The best players of both genders can steamroll their opponents in about an hour, and there are not that many John Isner matches in the men's draw.

The U.S. Women's Open was 72 holes, just the same as the U.S. Open (which, for the record, isn't limited to men). At its longest, Sebonack played 6,658 yards in the Hamptons. That's just 211 yards less than Merion was in the final round of the U.S. Open -- the smallest gap between the two layouts in recent memory.

Women's Grand Slam tennis, too, probably enjoys some benefit from playing their majors in the exact same venue as the men. Curiously enough, the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open will be played next year in consecutive weeks at Pinehurst No. 2. Critics of the move might charge that women are getting a divot palace for the Women's Open, but the USGA deserves credit for not being afraid to showcase the best in the women's game the week after a likely all-male field tries their luck at the old Ross test.

And, all told, equality plays out in how majors do with TV audiences. Depending on the players in the final on either side of the draw, the women can draw as well as men. They can even outdraw the men. Turns out that men and women being billed as exactly the same can mean equal audiences and appetites for both.

Imagine what that might mean for women's golf. The audience for the U.S. Open was approximately six times that of the U.S. Women's Open where, mind you, Inbee Park won a historic third consecutive major. Certainly, Phil Mickelson hunting for his first U.S. Open after a handful of runner-up finishes was a huge draw at Merion, but Park's triple was much more important and seen by so many fewer eyeballs.

But a move as bold as this shouldn't be done to bump a network's Nielsen numbers, pad the USGA's bottom line, help equipment manufacturers sell more gear to women or promote female membership at private clubs. It should be done simply because it would express that the USGA, the organization that governs golf in this country and in Mexico, values male and female players exactly the same.

That projection from the very top of the game could have a resounding, long-lasting impact on the well-being of the sport. If fans see that one of the game's governing bodies cut checks to men and women just the same, maybe that will translate in how women are treated on munis and gated clubs alike. That's something golf should aspire to do, and, while strides have been made, there's still a long way to go.

 

So why target the USGA? It's so easy to spend money that's not yours, right? Quite simply, the blue blazers in Far Hills are the only body in the game that can make this kind of statement.

Augusta National invited a pair of uber-rich-and-powerful women to join their exclusive club -- a calculated move that does more for business than it does for the game of golf. Perhaps Billy Payne will one day realize his Atlanta Olympic-era dream of hosting a women's event at the home of the Masters, but until then, we wait.

The R&A doesn't run the Women's British Open; the Ladies Golf Union does. They're not in a position of financial strength to equal the ante to the Open Championship. Meanwhile, R&A chief Peter Dawson is more than content with the approximately $45 million his organization has thrown at women's golf. That's good enough for them and, frankly, really all they can do.

And even if the Evian family, benefactors of the LPGA's newly minted fifth major, wanted to raise eyebrows and purses to never-seen levels for a women's event, it would seem almost as empty of a gesture as bestowing their tournament major status.

So, USGA, take a stand. The choice is yours.

Take a break from needed equipment regulation. Don't worry; no one's going to sue about that whole anchoring thing, so a legal fund isn't an issue.

Be the leaders you should be. Offer equal prize money for men and women in the Open. And, while you're at it, create the U.S. Women's Senior Open. It's time.

But even if creating a new championship is off the table, for the relatively small price tag of $4.25 million, you can do something unprecedented and fresh for the good of the game. And isn't precisely what Fox said they would do?

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