Column: There’s A Place For Women to Play Golf With Men, Not Against Them

Lexi Thompson missed the cut by three shots on the PGA Tour in Las Vegas, and expectations are only going to get bigger the next time she plays.

Not against the men, but on the LPGA Tour.

While she played remarkably well in the Shriners Children’s Open — especially her 69 in the second round when she had social media buzzing about whether Thompson might make the cut — it raised one question about the state of her game.

How can someone that talented go more than four years without winning on the LPGA Tour?

Perhaps her inspiring week in Las Vegas will provide the spark she needs. It was all the more amazing that Thompson could handle the spotlight and the TPC Summerlin course amid a season so difficult she might have only one tournament left.

Thompson is No. 87 in the CME Race to the Globe — she was outside the top 150 until a pair of top-10 finishes after the Solheim Cup — and will need to finish fourth or better at The Annika tournament on Nov. 9-12 to qualify for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

If she doesn’t make it, that certainly won’t take the shine off a year that will be remembered for her respectable showing in Las Vegas, where she drove the par-4 15th green and rolled in a pair of long birdie putts to temporarily get inside the cut line Friday morning.

The golf was good, and her messaging was even better. Thompson spoke all week about the chance to inspire young children to chase any dream no matter the challenge or the doubters. Even through turmoil — and Thompson has endured plenty of that — her interaction with kids is a priority.

What also emerged from her short week in Las Vegas is the missed opportunity to get men and women together more often.

This is not about women playing against the men, but playing with them.

It’s not about how many men Thompson beat over 36 holes. That’s not how to keep score in golf, and it misses the point. It’s also nothing new.

Michelle Wie, the closest any female player has come to making the cut on the PGA Tour since 1945, shot a 68 in the Sony Open when she was in the ninth grade. She missed the cut by one shot. Among the players who finished behind her was Adam Scott. A few weeks later, swing coach Butch Harmon taped a picture of Wie in Scott’s locker.

Golf is one of the few sports that allows for men and women playing together, and the PGA Tour is just now getting up to speed. The tour was trying to make the World Cup of Golf mixed teams until the COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans.

The focus shifted to what is now the Grant Thornton Invitational in December for PGA Tour and LPGA players (Thompson will be playing with Rickie Fowler). The event used to be known as the Shark Shootout, and Thompson was among the few women who played in that version.

The Grant Thornton is the first mixed-team event on the PGA Tour since the old JC Penney Classic ended in 1999, the last edition won by John Daly and Laura Davies.

The Australian Open and Women’s Australian Open now are held on the same course at the same time for equal prize money. In Europe, the Scandinavian Mixed in Sweden is sanctioned by the European tour, Ladies European Tour and LPGA. Men and women compete for one prize (the women play from a shorter set of tees). Linn Grant won last year, becoming the first female to win an official European tour event.

Surely there is room for something similar on the PGA Tour.

There was chatter several years ago about combining the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua for winners from the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour. But then the LPGA found a sponsor for its own edition in Florida.

The idea of mixed teams at the Presidents Cup has been around for some 20 years and it’s not a good one. The Presidents Cup, while certainly not close to the level of the Ryder Cup, sells out wherever it goes. Creating a new atmosphere after 30 years would feel forced.

But one idea that has been percolating over the last several months is a Presidents Cup for women that would be held the same week on the same course. There is room for that. The competition might be just as compelling. And ultimately, it’s all about the stage.

And speaking of stages, the Olympics is a big one. Golf is pursuing a team medal for 2028 in Los Angeles, and it would be the perfect occasion for mixed teams to avoid having multiple medals awarded from one competition (the IOC is not a fan of that).

The Youth Olympics has a mixed team competition over 72 holes — an 18-hole score for fourballs and foursomes, two 18-hole scores from singles. The logistics might be too complicated during the short window of the Olympics. It’s worth exploring.

Otherwise, the PGA Tour has a mixed event in the silly season. That’s it for now.

Meanwhile, Thompson or another woman — Nelly Korda comes to mind — might take an exemption in another PGA Tour event and people will watch, behind the ropes or in front of the TV. It’s nothing new, but it doesn’t get old. That much was obvious in Las Vegas.