Hey Augusta, how about hosting the Solheim Cup?
Every Monday morning in my 6-year-old daughter's kindergarten class, the school broadcasts a video feed of one of the older kids (usually third-graders and up) reading the news. There are always a few snippets about sports included, and this past Monday, the 9-year-old boy reading the news let everyone in the elementary school know that "Danny Willett had defeated Jordan Speff" in the final round of the Masters.
"Actually," my daughter Molly said, "his name is pronounced Jordan Spieth. He won the Masters last year."
Almost every day, something happens that reminds me what a blessing to have, not one, but two little girls (I also have a fiery 4-year-old) who are bonkers about golf. My girls know way more about Rory McIlroy than they do My Little Pony. They can identify Brandt Snedeker just by seeing his face on television. They certainly love dolls and Doc McStuffins and making art projects, but they also love teeing up their little pink driver at the range and trying to hit bombs like Lexi Thompson. The past few years, we've established a tradition unlike any other in our household: We eat pancakes for dinner and watch the final round of the Masters in full.
I couldn't attend this year, however. For the first time, I was at the actual tournament in Augusta, writing about it for ESPN.
It's hard not to feel totally in awe of the Masters when you walk the course for the first time. Television can't do it justice, especially the elevation changes. So many experiences in life fail to live up to the hype, but walking Amen Corner isn't one of them. But it's also hard, as the father of two girls, to feel so much reverence toward a place that's had a complicated -- and that is putting it mildly -- history when it comes to being inclusive.
I'm no absolutist. I think it's beneficial to wrestle with things in your mind before you start shouting your opinion. How do I, in good conscience, raise my girls to understand what a thrill it is to watch Spieth or McIlroy go for the green in two on Holes 13 and 15, and also explain that Thompson, Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko (their favorite female golfers) will likely never get that chance?
Augusta National has grown gradually more progressive in recent years. There are a handful of female members in the club now (the first were admitted in 2012), and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is one of them. The media even spotted her on the Sunday before Masters week playing a practice round with Bubba Watson and his wife, Angie. But those are private examples of progress, and crumbs at that. I have no illusions that my girls will ever grow up to play golf professionally. But it is nice to entertain the fantasy they could be CEOs or senators or even president, which, as a bonus, might mean they get the chance to play the course someday.
When I was chasing Ernie Els and Bryson DeChambeau and Spieth last week, I was struck by a thought: Wouldn't it be great if Augusta National offered, in the spirit of progress, to host a Solheim Cup there? At a time when the game of golf needs to find ways to grow, and especially increase female participation in the sport, can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen duel on the back nine, with Sunday roars echoing off the Georgia pines?
Whenever the idea of Augusta National hosting a women's tournament comes up, the rebuttals quickly quash any momentum for the idea: The members don't want another tournament at their club, and the course is already closed during the heat of the summer to ensure it stays in pristine condition from October through May. I'll even concede many of their concerns are valid. This is a private club, and membership is exclusive for a reason. No one can force them to do anything they don't want to do.
A Solheim Cup, however, could work for a lot of reasons. It involves no annual commitment. It is held every two years, played at a different venue each time and rotates back and forth between the United States and Europe. It would align nicely with the spirit of Augusta National's founder Bobby Jones, who played in five Walker Cups, and owes a huge portion of his legacy to how he fared against international competition. (Jones also had two daughters, by the way.) Plus, consider this: It would be a patriotic love fest. Imagine Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods -- who have seven green jackets and three daughters between them -- inviting Lewis and Wie to play a few friendly practice rounds in anticipation of the event, letting them in on a few of the course's subtle secrets?
The Masters, for all its complexities, now does a pretty nice job of inclusion when it comes to welcoming players from around the world. The British Amateur Champion, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion and the Latin America Amateur Champion all get invitations, and anyone ranked in the Top 50 in the world gets in, too. What happened in the past shouldn't be forgotten -- and players like Charlie Sifford and Lee Trevino were right to be furious with the way they were treated by Clifford Roberts, the club's longtime chairman and co-founder -- but understanding that history means you also have a chance to learn from it, and grow with the times.
The idea isn't such a stretch when you consider that Billy Payne, Augusta National's current chairman, convinced the club's membership to let the course host the golf competition of the 1996 Atlanta Games if the International Olympic Committee approved the sport returning to the Olympic program. The agreement fell apart, however, because the Atlanta City Council raised objections over the club's all-white membership. Augusta National decided, in the end, to not even ask the IOC to approve golf as a sport. Payne, at the time, called it "my biggest personal disappointment."
This doesn't have to happen immediately. The next open date for the Solheim Cup isn't until 2021, and clubs in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Oklahoma are reportedly jostling for the right to host.
Why not throw your name in the mix, Augusta National? My girls will be 11 and 9 by then. I'll start saving up for the trip now. If they got to hear the roars that I heard when Spieth nearly aced the 16th hole on Sunday, but hear them because a woman hit a shot like that, it would be worth just about every nickel I have.
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