Tour Confidential: Will All-Male Clubs Follow Augusta National's Lead?

Tour Confidential: Will All-Male Clubs Follow Augusta National’s Lead?

Augusta National Golf Club admitted its first female members in 2012.
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, recently became the third woman member of Augusta National Golf Club after Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore blazed the trail in 2012. With the Royal & Ancient recently voting to allow women members as well, do you think there will still be all-male golf clubs in 20 years? Why or why not?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I think the real question is this: when will Augusta National get its first openly gay member. Asians? Check. Jews? Check. Women, check three times. Hispanics? Maybe. Openly gay? I don’t think so. Don’t stop now, Billy Payne — you’re on such a roll! Does Mr. Cook from Apple play golf? Does it matter? How is it that the LGBT community has not started to protest at the intersection of Magnolia Lane and Washington Road?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): There will always be a few cavemen left hiding out in the caves. Since there won’t be as many golf clubs still in existence in 20 years, I’d expect the number to be smaller. Maybe five or less.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): All-male clubs won’t go the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex or $1 gasoline, but their numbers will continue to decline. It’s become clear that clubs seeking the spotlight of major championships will need to open their memberships to both sexes as a statement for what they, and the game of golf, stand for. But lower-profile all-male clubs won’t feel the same pressure to revise their policies and will be slower to move.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): When talk turns to the stodgiest institutions in club golf, Augusta National and the R&A top the list. Now that both of those entities have opened the front door to women, I don’t see how or why any club would choose to remain segregated in the future. That model is dead.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): No doubt. Because as long as humans walk the earth, dinosaurs will roam among them.

2. Brooks Koepka won the Turkish Airlines Open over Ian Poulter for the biggest win of his career. Where does the 24-year-old Koepka rank among the talented group of under-30 American players?

VAN SICKLE: This guy has played his way into the PGA Tour, which is no small feat. Don’t forget, he contended at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, too. He now has as many wins as Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. It’s too early to tell how good he can be, but he’s pretty darned good.

BAMBERGER: Talent in professional golf is what you shoot, how much you make, what tournaments you win. This guy is way, way north and heading norther. Could have been, probably should have been, a Ryder Cupper.

PASSOV: For a guy I had never heard of 12 months ago, Koepka is astonishing. He has become an impressive, reliable force in big events. He’ll need a few more wins and top 3s against the game’s best to vault past Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Keegan Bradley, but at the very least, he’s in the conversation.

RITTER: Didn’t three of us pick Koepka as our up-and-comer to watch in 2015 in Confidential just a few weeks ago? I think we actually meant “2014-15.” He’s now squarely on the list of young American stars. On the under-30 set, I’d put him a notch below Spieth, Horschel, Fowler and Reed, but above Henley and English. Look out, Presidents Cup team.

SENS: This week, he’s the best of them. But too early to make any sweeping proclamations. I learned my lesson this year when I kicked off the season by practically handing Harris English the green jacket and the Claret Jug.

3. Ian Poulter missed a five-footer to force a playoff in Turkey. Why is Poulter, a Ryder Cup killer who won the 2010 Match Play Championship, unable to close the deal more in 72-hole events?

VAN SICKLE: His ball-striking is not on a par with his short game and putting. He’s a top ten in the world short gamer, but he’s not a top 50 in the world ballstriker. Johnny Miller made a similar comment a few years back that got Poulter all bent out of shape, but as usual Johnny was right on.

PASSOV: I wouldn’t be too hard on the guy. He shot 67 in the final round in Turkey. Sure, he missed that last five-footer to tie, but I can’t equate a 67 with being unable to close a deal. Bothered by nagging injuries, he hasn’t played great for the past two years, but he does have 12 European Tour wins, including two WGC titles. Just look at the records of his past and present English teammates, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood — or at those of most U.S. Ryder Cup team members. It’s hard to win.

SENS: Like any of these guys, Poulter can catch lightning, but he’s erratic, as we saw in the most recent Ryder Cup. If anything, given where he ranks in raw ability compared to so many others out there, you might say that he has overachieved, not the other way around.

RITTER: He’s the ultimate match-play assassin, but for some reason Poulter rarely flashes his best form in stroke play. The putts just don’t seem to drop for him the same way. I have no explanation. It must drive him nuts.

BAMBERGER: It’s a good question, one you could ask of Sergio, too. Maybe he just likes the team dynamic. Maybe he finds it comforting.

4. Christina Kim got her first LPGA win in nine years at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Kim, who has publicly acknowledged her battles with depression, is one of the biggest personalities on any pro tour. What was your take on her win?

VAN SICKLE: That’s a hell of a comeback by Christina. She’s been long gone for a long time, it feels like, and if she’d never come back and had another top ten, no one would’ve been surprised. To get a win is huge for her and huge for women’s golf, which could really use a bright personality like hers.

BAMBERGER: It’s moving, whenever anybody is willing to demystify mental illness. C. Kim is doing more good than she could likely know.

SENS: Good stuff and fun to watch. Sports are rife with hero worship. But athletes are more fun to root for when we see their imperfections, assuming they are the only ones who suffer from them. Less so when their flaws catch others in their wake (an important distinction when you consider, say, Bubba’s polarizing reputation compared to John Daly’s near universal Everyman appeal).

RITTER: Yet another great winner in what has been a banner year for the LPGA. Congrats to Kim for taking her struggles public, and for the victory. Would be great to see more of her next year.

PASSOV: I’m extremely happy for her — extremely happy. Whether you like her brand of cheer or not, she is a unique personality with plenty of game, not to mention a Solheim Cup stalwart. It had to be incredibly painful for her to confront her issues, as well as acknowledging it publicly. Too often we tie our self-worth to what we accomplish at work, and golf results are harshly black-and-white. She had already made a wonderful comeback in life. The fact that she’s again a champion is truly inspiring.

5. Sergio Garcia mentioned this past week that Miguel Angel Jimenez’s chances at a Ryder Cup captaincy could be jeopardized because his English language skills might not be up to the demands of the job. Fair point, or a red herring?

BAMBERGER: Oh, totally fair. Sergio was just being honest — and accurate. Jimenez’s genius does not extend to English as a Foreign Language.

SENS: Absurd. Last I checked, negotiations on nuclear disarmament are conducted in multiple languages. Maybe not as vital as the Ryder Cup. But I think Jimenez is up for saying, in English, “You, over there. Play with him.” If not, Sergio can translate.

RITTER: Never knew that English fluency was a requirement of the European captain’s job. Regardless, Jimenez has done his share of time in the media center, and I think his English is fine. He’d be a great choice as captain.

VAN SICKLE: I’m going to assume that everyone on the European PGA selection board is English-speaking, not Spanish-speaking, so it’s possible that language could be a factor in the selection. I don’t think Jimenez would have any problem at all. Sergio may simply be reflecting a commonly held view that Brits look down their noses a bit at non-English speaking countries.

PASSOV: Were Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, two past Spanish captains, that much more adept at the English language arts? I’m not buying Sergio’s argument. Maybe he’s trying to spare Jimenez’s free spirit from the rigors of endless exercises in B.S. Still, I can’t help but think the most interesting man in golf wants the job. He’d keep players loose for sure, and he surely seeks redemption for the time he was Seve’s assistant — well, stooge — in 1997. One of his tasks was to carry and distribute bananas to European team members. On another occasion, Seve summoned him to a 4:30 a.m. pairings meeting. After several mostly mute minutes, Seve said, “Now you can go to bed again. I have done the pairings.”

6. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came out in favor of legalized gambling in a recent New York Times editorial. Would legalized gambling help build interest in the PGA Tour? And what’s your favorite gambling game on the golf course?

BAMBERGER: Professional golf is made for gambling, but it’s made for fixing, too. You’d have to be very, very careful. It would be fun but dangerous. I’d vote against it. I like a straight match for $1, taking my inspiration from the Duke Bros. (See: “Trading Places.”)

SENS: Gambling has never diminished interest in anything. As they say across the pond, where golf was born and sports gambling is, sensibly, legal, everyone likes a punt now and then. On the course, I’m partial to a team game that we call Umbrella but probably goes by other names as well: 1 point awarded for closest to the pin, low ball and low total. If you birdie, the point values double. But even as I type that, it sounds too complicated. $5 nassau anyone?

RITTER: Doubt that legalized gambling would do much to boost interest in the Tour — face it, those who desperately want to bet sports are already doing it one way or another. The best gambling game on the course is the tried-and-true skins game. It’s perfect competition for mid-to-high handicappers like myself to cash in on our (fleeting) best moments during a round.

PASSOV: If Tim Finchem won’t let players wear shorts nor reveal their penalties for conduct violations, I can’t imagine we’ll see legalized gambling in my lifetime. Of course it would be huge — it would be an incredible boost to interest. Things have seemed to work pretty well across the Atlantic betting on golf. On-course, I’m a vanilla ice cream fan. Give me a two-dollar nassau and I’m perfectly content.

VAN SICKLE: No question legalized gambling might help golf. Nothing builds interest in a sport like rooting for your own money. My favorite gambling game? We play 18 holes, my score against yours, no strokes, no gimmicks, no handicaps. Old school.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.