Open door left ajar for women, but few will be tempted

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The Independent Online

After proudly declaring that from next year the top five in each of the four women's majors will be allowed to try to qualify, this most traditional of all-male governing bodies must have been awaiting the flood of tributes for its act of enlightenment. Instead the news was greeted with cries of " cock-up", "big deal" and "why?".

At least the R&A was able to quieten the first lament by admitting it had committed a howler and would be rearranging the original Monday 3 July date for the regional qualifiers so that those such as Annika Sorenstam would have time to travel over from the US Women's Open, which finishes on the Sunday. "We could stand accused of making it totally inconvenient," said the R&A's red-faced chief executive, Peter Dawson, "so we are going to put it back to later in that week."

But as that week just happens to stage one of the richest events on the women's calendar, the $2m (£1.14m) World Match Play Championship in New Jersey, it might still prove too "inconvenient" for the majority to bother making this pioneering trip. "It would be good fun to have a crack," said Laura Davies. "But it might cut into too many of our tournaments that I wouldn't want to miss."

Especially when this self-confessed gambler considers the odds. To earn the immortal tag of "first female to play in a male major" she would have to survive regional qualifying and then local final qualifying and, seeing as this year only four of the 1,600-plus who teed up at 16 courses throughout the United Kingdom made it to St Andrews, that is a ratio of one in 400.

Never mind the obvious insult that brackets Sorenstam and Davies with hundreds of unheralded male amateurs, it is hard to imagine many of them forsaking a guaranteed cheque for such a remote shot. "I would have no interest in it whatsoever," said Trish Johnson, England's Solheim Cup player. "It wouldn't even register to me."

Indeed, that was the gist of the feeling emanating from the Samsung Women's World Championship in California, where it was beginning to emerge that perhaps only Michelle Wie would be gunning for Hoylake. The 16-year-old barrier-breaker is making her professional debut this week but is already too experienced and too wise to expect a unanimously warm reception if and when she arrives at the qualifiers.

Since the R&A let on in April that it would be opening the door to women ­ if only ever so slightly ajar ­ the arguments have been raging and still are. In the Spanish capital yesterday, Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, spoke for a large proportion of the men's locker-rooms when saying: " Does that mean we're allowed into the regional qualifying for the Women's Open then?"

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