Why shut the 'Open' to half the world?

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The Independent Online

The performance of Laura Davies at the ANZ Championship, finishing last but one of the non-qualifiers after two rounds, added little to the debate about whether women should play in men's tournaments. It told us more about the 40-year-old Englishwoman herself.

She will never change. Loveable Laura, up for a game of golf, anywhere, anytime. Not played for two months? Up against the men? Don't worry, just give it a go. But the timing was all wrong for the former world No1, a trend coming too late in her career.

But Davies's appearance in the event added ticket sales and increased media coverage, which may be a gimmick to Greg Norman but makes business sense to ANZ. Ironic that sponsors seek women for their men's events but don't support the women's tours to anything like the same extent. To their credit, however, ANZ do also sponsor a women's tournament, and why should the winner not take on the men each year?

Wild cards to women will always be controversial, as will any invitation to anyone not on the perceived pecking order - starlet amateurs and good blokes who are trying to get their tour cards back rank highly. We may only be talking about a handful of spots out of a field of more than 150 but the pros just don't like their "invites" being handed out willy-nilly.

"When will it all end?" say the male pros of women playing in their events. The only answer is never. The main tours should be open to the best players, regardless of sex. It might take generations for a woman to earn her way on to one of the main tours, but there should not be rules to prevent it. Unlike the Open Championship, which is unashamedly male only. Honestly, you call it "The Open" and you go to great lengths to introduce pre-qualifiers in all corners of the globe to make it even more Open but, sorry, that only applies to half the world's population.

It may take a fairy tale of Ben Curtis proportions but one day a woman may win the Open. It may not be imminent but if a woman is good enough to qualify now then she should play and enjoy the experience along with other qualifiers like the unheralded amateurs and club pros. Of course, the Royal and Ancient are terrified of the media storm that will apply initially, but let's take the long view.

Another missed cut will mean more failure to some but the way Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie were not disgraced has already forced many of the doubters to rethink. Now a 14-year-old South African girl, Ashleigh Simon, will play on the Sunshine Tour, raising different issues about children being rushed into adult sporting professions.

Fabulously talented, Wie, also 14, should be subject to the same considerations. Following the Sony Open she has had offers of invitations from seven other US Tour events. Her priorities this year should be: a) school; b) amateur events such as the Curtis Cup; c) getting experience at the women's majors.

Intriguingly, this debate touches on two other hoary old golfing issues. One is golf in the Olympics, possibly of little interest on the men's side. But not only would the prize be more valued by the women, the funding and development that Olympic status brings would significantly increase the general standard and participation rates of the women's game.

Then there is the issue of drug-testing in golf, which is non-existent. Drug taking in golf may have been non-existent once, but with the emphasis on fitness, training and strength as players try to gain extra yards, it needs to be shown to be clean. The Royal and Ancient have finally come up with a proposed protocol but it still needs to be implemented by the tours.

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