Our country’s most prolific major champion reflects on how she became the sporting hero she never had growing up.
What a world! I think it’s great that today’s young girls – and boys – have female role models in the sporting arena. Girls especially need female role models. I never really had any growing up, besides our female Olympians. They were really the only female role models that ever made it on TV in Australia when I was a kid – the various athletes competing in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics every four years.
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I remember playing golf with the boys on Friday afternoons growing up. We’d all pick a player we wanted to be in the final round of the Masters and go play it out like it was real life. I was always Seve Ballesteros or Greg Norman. I was never a female professional golfer. I was always a guy. Sadly, I wasn’t exposed to the Sam Kerrs and Ash Bartys of Australian sport back then, let alone the Minjee Lees and Hannah Greens like today’s generation are. I can’t tell you how great it is that this is the new norm. Soon, it won’t be young men saying, “I don’t want to watch women’s sport.” They’ll just grow up with it and it’ll just be sport. It won’t be, “I’m going to watch women’s soccer.” It will be, “I’m just going to watch a soccer match.” I can’t wait to see where the world is with sport in 20 years from now. I hope the next leap is such a seismic one that the financial commitment behind all these sports played by women matches the surge in their popularity.
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The momentum shift for women’s sport in Australia has been really inspiring. I always felt golf needed to play catch-up a little bit, to ride on the coattails of some of the other sports that were doing incredible things providing more opportunities for women and putting them on bigger platforms. Sports like soccer on the back of the World Cup, cricket on the back of the Ashes and, more recently, rugby league and AFL on the back of full seasons, have made heroes out of their top female players. As a result, the next generation of girls now have something to aspire to. We all suffered through COVID, but one of the bright spots for us in the golf world was that our sport, globally, enjoyed unprecedented growth during the pandemic. As such, the popularity of our top golfers boomed. The time has come for us to take advantage of that like these other sports have.
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Make no mistake, golf needs to continue evolving. I think as a sport we’ve always been a little behind the social norms. I think we still get very stuck in our traditions. Some of these traditions are awesome and that’s why we love the game. But some of them remain only because, well, that’s just how it’s always been. That doesn’t mean that’s how it needs to continue to be. I think there has been a very big push at Golf Australia with Vision 2025. I’ve been part of this new strategy and trying to change the culture in clubs. I think if I was sitting here with a group of people made up of, say, 50 percent men and 50 percent women, the women would be looking over at the men thinking it was all the men’s fault. But I think some of the biggest culture change needs to happen within the women that make up our golf clubs today. Just because it was difficult for them when they first chose to join clubs all those years ago – because they were made to feel uncomfortable by both men and women – it doesn’t mean they have to continue to make young girls and young women starting the game today feel uncomfortable in their new environment. They should be making them feel extra-welcome. We also need to relax dress standards. Young girls can aspire to be the next Minjee Lee, Hannah Green or Nelly Korda but they can’t wear some of the clothes that they see them performing in on TV, athletic attire that is performance-driven in its design. Most clubs still won’t allow young women to wear some of these clothing styles. Those are the sorts of things that really need to change and really aren’t that big a deal for the longevity and survival of the sport. Those are the sorts of “traditions” – I say that in air quotes as we don’t need to hold onto them – that aren’t the most precious things about the game.
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I love the Karrie Webb Scholarship. I love not only what it gives the recipients but also the joy it gives me just to follow everyone’s career. I feel like I’ve benefited just as much by getting to know each winner, being around them and now watching their careers unfold in all corners of the globe. I appreciate the concept because I was actually fortunate enough to be the girls’ winner of the Greg Norman Junior Masters many years ago, the final event of the season. The year I won, Greg had the winners over to his house in Florida for a week. That experience, as a young kid, was just incredible, and really was the catalyst behind what I wanted to do with my scholarship. I wanted to be able to give back like that. For me, it made me see that behind this person (Norman) that I help put on the pedestal, there was a husband, a dad – just a normal person. What I wanted my scholarship recipients to see was not only coming to either the US Open or the Women’s PGA – the grandest events that we play – to aspire to want to play in them one day but to also see how I prepared for a big event. Importantly, I wanted them to see how we really were away from the golf course. Truth be told, I have probably enjoyed the past couple of years just as much when I haven’t been playing because it has allowed me to spend more quality time with the girls. That beats winning any trophies.