LPGA players give men a run for their money at GolfSixes
ST ALBANS, England -- The name Gloria Minoprio has been lost to the mists of time, and yet, 85 years ago, she struck an audacious (and brilliantly idiosyncratic) blow for women's golf.
A complete unknown when she entered the 1933 English Women's Amateur Championship, everything she did on her debut was guaranteed to cause an exceptional stir.
The 26-year-old arrived at the course in a bright yellow chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, and when she emerged from the backseat, onlookers gawped in astonishment: Minoprio was 6 feet tall with a whitened face and lips painted scarlet. She was wearing a roll-neck, close-fitting sweater, kid gloves and a turbanlike hat.
Those men present who hadn't yet suffered palpitations were pushed toward medication by the sight of her midnight blue trousers and the realization that she was not expecting to change out of them. Indeed, she went nowhere near the clubhouse, the range or the putting green, instead marching straight to the first tee, where she had just minutes to spare before her tee time.
The chairman of the Ladies Golf Union would later issue a statement: "I much regret that there should be this departure from the usual golfing costume at this championship."
The crux of the matter? Gloria Minoprio was a maverick and a ground-breaker: the first woman to ever play golf in trousers.
This past weekend's GolfSixes event was not, perhaps, quite so daredevil, but in their own way, the arrival of the two women's pairings of Charley Hull and Georgia Hall and Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda onto the first tee at the Centurion Club, down steps fogged with dry ice, high-fiving an audience of thunder stick-cracking children who would then dance and clap their way through the opening tee shots, was every bit as cataclysmic as Gloria's attire to viewers of a certain type.
There is no doubt (indeed Twitter proves it) that some of those at home were reaching out, not for inflatable fan engagement tools, but for the blood pressure pills and/or the whiskey bottle instead. "This is golf," folk repeated giddily to one another all weekend, "but not as we know it." It had nonstop noise, it had only six holes, it had women -- and it was like a breath of fresh air across the sport's landscape.
It was bold of the European Tour to introduce the women's pairings this year (Catriona Matthew also played, joining Thomas Bjorn in an alliance of Solheim and Ryder Cup captains), but any doubts were demolished within minutes of the action starting.
Whether by accident or design, the European women (Reid/Ciganda) opened the day against the Americans. With its echoes of the Solheim Cup, they looked immediately at home. An hour later, the England women took on the England men -- a High Noon clash that drew the largest on-course galleries and set the tone for the day.
Englishmen Eddie Pepperell and Matt Wallace, both European Tour winners this year, hit their tee shots at the par-3 first, and then the noise rose, children screamed themselves hoarse and the rhythmic thump of unified clapping bounced off the bleachers.
The reality of what happened next was that Hull struck a 7-iron. More fancifully, she actually struck a blow. The shot sailed into the blue sky, and she turned away. Some thought she hated her effort, but she later revealed: "Oh, yeah, I knew it was good. I was just getting on with it."
The ball settled inches from the hole, and the place went nuts. Pepperell and Wallace ran back up the steps toward the clubhouse in playful mock fear of what they had let themselves in for. The tone was set, and it never relented. Pepperell later tweeted of the experience: "Haven't had that much fun on a golf course for a long time. Brilliant to get the women involved."
The all-England clash ended in a 1-1 tie, with both teams completing brilliant eagles on the par-5 final hole. Hull and Hall would go on to smash South Africa 4-1 and draw 2-2 with Sweden, easing their progress to Sunday's knockout stages.
Elsewhere, Reid and Ciganda were toppled 2-1 by the Americans but earned a 1-1 draw with defending champions Denmark and then downed Thailand 3-0. It left them needing a playoff with the Danes, which they won.
Yet the bare facts don't tell the story. If the first edition of GolfSixes 12 months ago left one thinking it might have something, the second left everyone wanting more.
Beyond the razzamatazz of the first tee, the course experienced a soundtrack like no other. Behind every tee, and sometimes within the trees, were loudspeakers that never ceased, with a playlist of hip-hop, dance, rock and pop. On first encounter, it was a little mind-boggling, but it quickly felt normal.
In fact, infants cried, toddlers shouted, adults dropped drinks and cell phones rang -- incidents that in a normal golfing environment would have prompted stern looks and five minutes on the naughty step. But at GolfSixes? No one noticed nor cared. As Hull said: "If there's lots [of] noise, you don't hear little noises."
And then there was the golf.
The greensomes format allows both players to drive, select the best shot and play alternately from there. It was quick and dynamic. The group stage caused a little confusion because the scoring system is inherently volatile: With each hole won by one team, the future of the other three is often radically altered. Turbulent, yes, but also exciting.
What also emerged was a truth. Hull had lit the fuse with that fearless first shot, proving that under pressure women golfers can deliver. Ciganda added explosion, often outdriving her opponents (the women played from a forward tee, yet the gap was often greater after the opening shots when the Spaniard was involved). Reid offered passion (there was a rumor doing the rounds that Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat was somewhat in awe of her steely glare). And Hall displayed nerve. Her 20-foot eagle putt to close the first game came under the greatest of pressure; it proved that behind her smile is a rock-hard will to win.
Without any question, there were more families, more children and more women at this tournament than at others. Moreover, the children went from watching to playing. Emma Anderson, 21, from England, was working for The Golf Foundation at the GolfSixes Academy in the middle of the course and confirmed that numbers had exceeded all expectations, that the participation of girls was unprecedented and the player they all wanted to be? "Charley!"
The eventual winners, Ireland (Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan), had downed Hull and Hall 2-0 in the quarterfinal, but after receiving the trophy, Dunne made a point of adding: "That English team, they're not just any female golfers, they are world-class golfers. I think there's a difference between a great player and a special player. The two of them proved they are special by hitting shots you don't expect, the type that turn matches."
Nor was it only Aphibarnrat who noted Reid's resolve. Her words all week revealed a determination not to waste this week's opportunity.
We're here to prove a point that women's golf doesn't get as much exposure and coverage as it should do. We've just competed against the men, and we've beaten them.Mel Reid on competing in the GolfSixes
The administrative state of women's golf in Europe is currently forlorn, cursed with a ravaged tour schedule, and Reid said: "This week is exposure, and that's what we need. We don't get that. So it's been really, really good for women's golf. Hopefully it helps, because it needs help."
In her blog for the European Tour, she discussed sexism in sport, but a more subtle and telling point was made elsewhere. "In my opinion, Inbee Park is the best putter on the planet," she wrote. "If people saw how good she is on the greens, they'd be talking about her rather than Jordan Spieth."
After Saturday's success, she enthused: "We're here to prove a point that women's golf doesn't get as much exposure and coverage as it should do. We've just competed against the men, and we've beaten them."
On Sunday, she added: "Loads of the LPGA girls are saying how much they've enjoyed it, and Lydia Ko has already messaged us saying she's absolutely desperate to get on a team next year. Maybe mixed format, maybe do men and women on a tee, I don't know, but this is really good for golf. I think they can really expand this and create something quite clever."
After defeat in the quarterfinals, she couldn't help but express regret: "I'm so gutted because I felt like we could have done something very, very special here. We played our absolute hearts out, and the guys just played a little better than us today."
If her zeal was ultimately a little punctured, she should take heart from Minoprio who didn't just flout dress rules, she also brilliantly ignored convention, playing that debut with nothing more than what would today be called a 2-iron (she did have a second club, but it was another 2-iron; a spare in case of emergencies, the most perversely inspired detail in the history of the sport).
Inevitably, perhaps, she lost her match, but she achieved something greater: She became a nationwide sensation. GolfSixes did the 2018 equivalent and went viral. Admittedly, it was mostly within golf. But it was worldwide, and it's a start.
Minoprio, alas, is forgotten, but her legacy is not. Women's attire has changed, and as of last weekend, thanks to Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda, they've proved they can compete with anyone, too.