Jewish World Review May 22, 2003 / 20 Iyar, 5763
Taking her game to the men's level
The top women golfer in the world, Annika Sorenstam, is set to play in a PGA (i.e., men's) professional golf tournament this weekend. She'll tee-off with the guys at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.
It's the first time a woman has competed in a PGA tour event since Babe Didrickson Zaharias did it in 1945.
So, is this another attempt at a feminist takeover of an all-male golf bastion, as when a few weeks ago a handful of women railed against the Augusta National Golf Club, home to the world famous Masters Tournament, for not having women members?
Well, no. Sorenstam arrives at the event having been properly included - she was invited to compete via a "sponsors exemption" after she let it be known she'd like to play in a PGA tour event. PGA rules do not prohibit women from playing in its tournaments.
When asked why she wants to compete with the men, Sorenstam has typically given a most interesting answer: she says she wants to make her game better, and that means competing with the better players - the men.
It's clear that Sorenstam is far ahead of the ladies on the LPGA tour, and she wants to push herself to another level still.
She isn't asking for any special favors - she'll tee-off from the men's tees, and compete on equal footing with the guys. And she's not suggesting that "crashing" the men's tournaments is going to be a habit. Nor does it appear this is all about PR for her, and certainly not for any cause.
That's what impresses me about Sorenstam. She is not on a feminist jihad, going into the tournament with a chip on her shoulder. In fact in acknowledging that the men are the better players, she's actually made an admission that has certainly ruffled a few feminist feathers.
This is no replay of the famous 1973 tennis match in which world champion Billy Jean King, at the peak of her game, defeated, aging player Bobby Riggs who hadn't played competitive tennis in years.
In contrast, Sorenstam has no illusions about winning on a truly equal playing field with the guys. In fact, since the men are so much better than even the very best women golfers, it will be a major achievement for her just to make the cut, the score needed to go from the preliminary rounds to the final two days of play. But still, Sorenstam is essentially saying, "I admire superior play, that superior play comes from the men, and I want to push myself by learning from that."
I like it. It's a refreshing change from so many women athletic advocates who argue that if only women's sports weren't "discriminated against" - particularly, the advocates have long alleged, on college campuses - they would be as popular as the men's. They've suggested that with enough resources, for instance, women's basketball would have the same following that men's basketball does. Correct answer: Not a chance.
Some women's advocates even go so far as to suggest that women could be as good as men in sports competitions.
They point to the fact that women have closed the "sports gap" in recent decades (women swimmers now beat Mark Spitz's Olympic times). And remember the women's silver-medal winning Olympic soccer team? A feat the American men's team did not duplicate. These are awesome women athletes.
But of course today's male swimmers beat Spitz's record by far more than the women do, and a decent men's college soccer team would have crushed the American women's Olympic team.
And so what? Of course men and women compete at different levels, yet they each have their merit and their followers.
In fact, some women's sports are more popular than men's, like women's gymnastics and figure skating, thanks to the grace involved, and now even tennis, largely because of the long rallies of the women players and the ironic fact that the men's powerful serves often overpower the game.
Anyway why do these differences apparently gall so many so-called women's sports advocates? Why, instead of truly celebrating women and women's sports achievements on their own impressive terms, do they essentially insist that women aren't really good enough if they can't, or don't, compete like men at the level of men?
Instead of resenting the excellence one finds in men's sports, these advocates should honor excellence wherever it comes from, as Sorenstam is doing.
Sorenstam is setting a great example. I wish her well at the
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