As often happens when he and his tour are on the other side of the world, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan woke up Tuesday in Malaysia to a mountain of messages. One of the voice mails was from Mike Davis, executive director and CEO of the USGA.
“Mike and I talk a lot,” Davis told The Post. “So, when he heard my message that we were about to go out with this news, he was ecstatic.”
The news on Tuesday morning was that in 2023 the U.S. Women’s Open will be staged for the first time at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
“Mike knows what that means for women’s golf,” Davis said. “We all do.”
— USGA (@USGA) October 24, 2017
What it means is that women will showcase their skills in their biggest championship at one of the game’s most iconic venues, a place that will have hosted six U.S. Opens, one PGA Championship and 75 years’ worth of Crosby Clambakes by the time the best women in the game tee off there for the first time.
It also means that in the minds of players and fans, the women’s game will climb a notch closer to the men’s.
“It’s about time,” Juli Inkster, a World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, told The Post on Tuesday morning. “It’s great for women’s golf. It’s great for the USGA. It’s great for everybody. Pebble Beach has such a rich history with (Jack) Nicklaus and (Tom) Watson and (Tiger) Woods and (Tom) Kite (all winning U.S. Opens there), to be able to play a venue like that is incredible for women’s golf.
“We can showcase our talent. And people will tune in because they’ve watched so many Opens and (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Ams) at Pebble that they feel like they know the place.”
“You think about what a treasure Pebble Beach is, not just in the United States but worldwide,” Davis said. “They’ve been such great partners. So, I said to the CEO (of the Pebble Beach Co.), ‘You know, the biggest event in women’s golf is the U.S. Women’s Open. It would be great to see the world’s greatest women on Pebble Beach.’ They agreed.
“And, we all agree that these national championships are not just about the players who qualify; they inspire the game itself. When we’ve had the Women’s Open at places like Pinehurst and Oakmont, everybody gets excited about it. There’s something special about it. So, there has been a real effort to get the women on Pebble Beach because we know the fans will be anxious to follow it.
— USGA (@USGA) October 24, 2017
“Just think about the extra enthusiasm,” Davis said. “I think about Paula Creamer in 2010 at Oakmont and the back-to-back (men’s and women’s) Opens at Pinehurst, and I remember the excitement levels from the women who went there. We’re confident that we’ll see that again at Pebble Beach.”
There is a model for women playing at men’s major-championship venues. The Ricoh Women’s British Open became a big deal not when the tour deemed the event a major, but when they started playing courses on the Open Championship rota, especially the Old Course at St. Andrews and Turnberry, which fans recognize instantly.
“We’ve got the Olympic Club coming up (for the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open), another historical place,” Inkster said. “So, we’re getting there. It’s not like we’ve played bad golf at places like Oakmont. We’ve played really good golf. The USGA is trying to do it right, trying to get these venues.
“Don’t get me wrong, CordeValle (site of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open) is a great golf course, I love it and have played there a lot,” Inkster said. “But I had hoped that (when we went to Northern California) we would play Pebble or Olympic Club. Now that women’s golf is getting a lot more attention and notoriety, the USGA is stepping up and doing the right thing.
“Merion would be a perfect golf course for the women. But, really, women can go anywhere. It’s not like they couldn’t play Erin Hills. They could play Chambers Bay. They can play (U.S. Open) golf courses. They shouldn’t take a back seat to anybody or any place.”
Davis couldn’t agree more.
“Long term, one of our priorities is to continue to elevate the U.S. Women’s Open,” he said. “We have more junior golfers than ever before in the United States. For decades one out of six of those juniors was female. Now, it’s one in three. So, our strategy is to do everything we can to promote this championship because we know that if the game grows on the competitive side, on a recreational level you’ll see more females playing.”
The USGA exists to promote the growth and health of the game. And Davis sees the U.S. Women’s Open as having a far bigger impact than a one-week-a-year championship.
“We would love to see the demographics (of the game) continue to move closer to a 50-50 (split between men and women),” he said. “That would be great for everyone.”