Ever since the first event of The Players Series at Rosebud Country Club in late January, promising Australian female professionals have been dominating our TV screens.
First it was Stephanie Bunque and Kirsten Rudgeley emerging from relative obscurity to put their names up in lights at Rosebud before LPGA Tour player Su Oh pushed Elvis Smylie and eventual champion Brad Kennedy all the way on Sunday.
Then ‘Holey Moley’ happened, a million people tuning into the first episode featuring Montana Strauss and more than 500,000 viewers introduced to young Aussie golf pros such as Becky Kay and Kristalle Blum.
Following shortly after was The Athena, a made-for-TV special event shown live on Fox Sports that gathered 12 of the best young players in the land and provided an opportunity to showcase both their skills and personalities to a nation-wide audience.
This week will see 35 amateur and professional females in the field for The Players Series Sydney presented by Cisco Webex where they can again take advantage of widespread exposure on Fox Sports and Kayo and battle it out with both established and future stars within the men’s game.
As sports such as cricket, AFL, the A-League and NRL have significantly increased the profiles of their female athletes, now golf can highlight the athletic ability and marketability of its best female players.
“People that have been typical fans of men’s golf in Australia got to see a little bit of the women on TV or at Rosebud so that certainly has to increase the interest in the women’s game,” says WPGA Tour CEO Karen Lunn.
“From Holey Moley we had some of our members take part and got some good air-time and with The Athena the brief from Fox was to use it as an opportunity to promote our up-and-coming young stars so the Australian public get to know them more as people rather than just golfers.
“Leading into The Athena we said to them, you probably don’t know at this stage of your career what an incredible opportunity this is for you. They were guaranteed to be on television for four hours for two days and that just doesn’t happen in women’s golf very often.
“We made it really clear to them that this was a unique opportunity which they really embraced and I think they really do appreciate the opportunity.”
The most recent crop of talented Aussie girls was headlined by Minjee Lee, Hannah Green and Su Oh, all of whom are now established players on the LPGA Tour.
This next wave is headlined by US Amateur champion Gabi Ruffels, Ladies European Tour rookie of the year Stephanie Kyriacou, Japan Ladies Tour player Karis Davidson, Becky Kay, Robyn Choi, new professionals Doey Choi and Stephanie Bunque with Augusta National Women’s Amateur-bound Grace Kim destined to advance from the amateur ranks at some point in 2021.
Playing opportunities in Australia will be limited until early in 2022 so Lunn acknowledges that the next step is for these girls to take their talents to the world.
“We’ve got a really good crop of young talented players and hopefully they can take the step to the LPGA but that’s going to be tougher than at any time in history,” Lunn conceded.
“Steph Bunque will try and qualify for the LPGA or Symetra Tour to have somewhere to play next year but it’s not an easy journey to do that, especially in the world we live in at the moment.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Steph Kyriacou is the real deal. Great player with a great head on her shoulders. Grace Kim hasn’t turned pro yet but when she does she’s a huge talent. Doey is a great player and it will be interesting to see how she goes this week and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Karis Davidson try her luck on the LPGA Tour this year.
“Becky Kay may be the most talented of all of them but just hasn’t had the opportunities yet.
“Hopefully this time next year we’ll be watching Steph, Grace, Karis, Becky and Robyn Choi all playing on the LPGA Tour.”
The majority of playing opportunities of late for the women have been in tournaments alongside the men such as The Players Series and the Regional Series of the NSW Open.
Kyriacou and amateur Sarah Wilson will contest the Isuzu Queensland Open at Pelican Waters next week and Lunn has no doubt that men and women playing alongside each other in the same tournament could soon become the norm.
“If you look at the success of the Vic Open and also the reaction to The Players Series, it seems to tick a lot of boxes in terms of government support around inclusivity and diversity,” said Lunn.
“In Australia we have come up with some great concepts that the rest of the world has followed. The R&A are supporting us with the TPS events and they definitely see the merit in it. It could be a pilot for other countries to take on board, especially some of the smaller countries that can’t support big male and female events.
“If you had a crystal ball and looked ahead 20 years it wouldn’t surprise me at all if most of the major events down here featured both women and men.”