- Alistair Tait
LET season opener a cause for celebration
The British Masters at The Belfry is getting a decent amount of publicity this week. No surprise since it’s the first golf tournament of the 2021 European Tour season to be held in the United Kingdom.
There’s another first for European Tour golf this week that deserves as much attention, arguably more considering the circuit has been all but ignored for so long. The 2021 Ladies European Tour kicks off in South Africa today with the Investec South African Women’s Open at Westlake Golf Club in Cape Town.
That’s substantial cause for celebration.
While Europe’s top men have been playing tournament golf since January, many women professionals, like European senior tour pros, have been at home twiddling their thumbs, itching to play. Combined with a vastly reduced 2020 schedule compared to the men’s circuit because of Covid-19, no wonder our top women can’t wait to get back on the fairways.
Elite players like Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Mel Reid and others have had the luxury of playing on the LPGA Tour. Meanwhile many British women have had to make do with a couple of Rose Ladies Series events at West Lancs and over the Duchess Course at Woburn.
It might take a wee while for the rust to drop off those iron shafts in the South African heat.
Four and half months off without tournament golf isn’t ideal in a Solheim Cup year, as Dame Laura Davies told Global Golf Post’s Lewine Mair.
“They need to keep their chins up,” Davies said. “I can understand if they are feeling under pressure to begin with a couple of wins, but the clever ones won’t make that mistake. They’ll be looking for a run of consistency.”
Solheim captain Catriona Matthew has changed the way her team is comprised this year because of Covid-19. She will choose six wild cards instead of four, with the four leading Europeans on the LPGA money list and just two off the LET order of merit making up the rest of her team. That format will obviously make it harder for those players competing solely on the LET to make the trip to the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio in September.
“The LET girls need to understand just how good they are,” Davies added. “They’re playing to a higher standard than ever before and any one of them is capable of stringing a run of good results together. They’ve all got a chance, especially with the format as it is. Of course, it’s going to be difficult, but things are difficult for everyone at the moment.”
As if LET professionals haven’t been dealt a bad hand already, many British based ones can’t make the South African journey because of Covid-19 logistics. A Cape Town trip means having to quarantine afterwards, which would preclude many from next week’s Italian Open.
“We’ve got to accept how things are,” England's Felicity Johnson told Mair. “We’ve got tournaments and we’ve got a chance to make the team. What’s more, there’s always someone who comes out of nowhere to have a stellar season.”
Accepting things as they are is easier this season considering the record LET schedule announced earlier this year.
As I highlighted recently, four years ago the LET appeared to be headed for oblivion. Scroll forward to now and this week’s South African Open is the start of a 27-tournament schedule in 19 different countries worth a record €19 million. This week is the start of a 23-week consecutive run until October. That's almost unheard of: there have been seasons recently where two just two consecutive weeks seemed a bonus.
It’ll be a lot easier to keep chins up with this year's schedule. Hopefully it’s a harbinger of things to come because, whatever way you cut the deck, Europe’s women professionals have been dealt a tough hand in recent years.
Fingers crossed the mainstream media will start to take much more notice of the LET so our top European women can stand shoulder to shoulder with the top men. Maybe then we can start inching towards equal prize money, maybe we can even realise that dream of encouraging more young girls and women to get into this great game.
#JustSaying: “I was very upset with myself for taking that much time off, as we always say. Two weeks is something, but when you take off seven, eight months that's a whole 'nother ballgame right there, but it was nice to be able to get the club in my hands.” Paula Creamer on returning to competitive action after surgery on her left hand
Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour