What Golf has in store for 2022 is looking good – Nick Rodger

I THINK it was the celebrated American poet Emily Dickinson who said something about reading a book that “makes my whole body so cold, no fire can warm me.” 

Or were they just the tortured mutterings of my sports editor as he peered at the Tuesday column while a jowl-shuddering shiver hurtled down his spine? Like everything these days, we just have to grimace and bear it. So, let’s warm the cockles by starting with some good news …

US WOMEN’S OPEN PURSE BREAKS NEW GROUND

There seems to be so much money flying about in golf at the moment, announcements of prize fund increases should be accompanied by a shout of ‘fore’.

The latest financial fillip was unveiled by the USGA at the weekend with the US Women’s Open purse doubling from $5m in 2021 to $10m this season. Over the next five years, the plan is to grow it to $12m.

All of this comes at a price for the traditionalists, mind you. With a new sponsor on board, the championship will now be known as the US Women’s Open presented by ProMedica in one of those awkward looking titles than can be as clumsy as Rod Hull and Emu at a Ming vase exhibition. 

Nobody will be complaining, of course. Every other major in women’s golf has a title sponsor – there’s a difference between title sponsor and presenting partner but let’s not worry about all that – and this latest injection of cash adds further momentum to the female cause.

Last August, the R&A and AIG made the Women’s Open on this side of the pond the richest event in women’s golf for a spell at $5.8m. It will go up again this year.

At the time, Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, said, “we hope this will inspire other events to follow our lead and help us to take a collective leap forward for the women’s game.” 

The latest leap by the USGA – or the “monster step” as its chief executive Mike Whan called it – has propelled the US Women’s Open into new financial territory as the race to elevate the female game gathers pace.

Of course, simply throwing money at showpiece events at the top level doesn’t guarantee sustainability. Getting young girls into the game at the grassroots, and nurturing a flourishing amateur scene, will always remain the prime objective for golf’s custodians and, to his great credit, Slumbers in particular has been highly pro-active on that front.

That said, record-busting prize funds certainly have a role to play in terms of exposure, profile, aspiration and inspiration. “I don’t know that people know the impact of something like this for women, women’s sports and young girls,” said LPGA Tour commissioner, Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “An announcement like this gives girls something big to dream about.”

Hopefully, the ripple effects continue to be significant for the growth of women’s golf.

SMITH STANDS FIRM IN HAWAII TURKEY SHOOT

There were so many birdies and eagles blasted in the Sentry Tournament of Champions over the weekend, you half expected the greens at Kapalua to be splattered with the debris of feathers and beaks.

In the first PGA Tour event of the new year, Australia’s Cameron Smith won with a jaw-dropping 34-under tally – a tour record although preferred lies were in operation– and showed just what a steely competitor he is to stave off the relentless advances of the world No 1, Jon Rahm. The Spaniard made a record-equalling barrage of 32 birdies over 72-holes but Smith refused to buckle.

With soft greens, barely a breath of wind, those preferred lies and fairways as wide as the Pacific, the vulnerable Hawaiian resort course could’ve done with the kind of defence that Novak Djokovic’s lawyers put up to save it from an absolute pummelling.

As drives boomed here, wedges were flung in like darts there and putts dropped everywhere, you could hear the anguished howls about a winning score of 34-under being an affront to the game of golf. 

For those in the ‘rein back technology’ camp, this particular turkey shoot added more fuel to the fire. Whatever your views in golf’s distance debate, you’ve got to take your hat off to the surging, stoic Smith. He still had to execute the shots, hole the putts and withstand the pressure of a loaded field. These fellas are bloomin’ good so let’s give credit where it’s due.

CELEBRATING GOLF’S CACK-HANDERS

Watching John Gallagher cack-hand his way to the final of the Amateur Championship back in 2005, then win the Scottish Amateur title two years later with his unusual, left-hand-below-right grip, was a joy to behold. The first time I saw the Edinburgh man unleash a drive, I genuinely thought my eyes would dislocate. Or at least Gallagher’s arm would.

To celebrate these unique golfing specimens, the well-kent Alan Tait is set to stage the 36-hole Cack-handed Scottish Amateur Championship this summer. 

It should be an intriguing, fun-filled and keenly-fought affair and one that gives us the tenuous excuse to use that  mischievous observation from Peter Alliss who once said, “I haven’t seen a grip like that since they closed the gents at King’s Cross station.”

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