There is nothing like a battle between the sexes to splash a bit of colour across uninterrupted stretches of soothing green. But for Annika Sorenstam, the women’s champion in golf, feminist passion was not the driving impulse when she accepted the invitation to play at the Colonial Classic in Texas. Her participation makes her the first woman competing with men on a Professional Golfers’ Association tour since 1945, and the storm of surprise, protest, criticism, and cold “no comments” seems to have caught her off-guard. Like any serious sportsperson, Sorenstam said she accepted the invitation because she wanted to test herself, it was a challenge to see how good she can be. According to her, she thought she would be representing herself, not women or women’s golf or the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association. Unfortunately for the women’s champion, gender is a decisive category in the perception of the world. It does not matter that golf is a game in which gender distinction on the field has little relevance, since physical skill and power are concentrated on a ball alone. It is not football or cricket. Sorenstam is not attempting the absurd. Her bewilderment is in itself a critique of gender-determined perceptions. Sports is for exceeding limits, for meeting newer challenges. To question a sportsperson when she aspires to excel herself, simply because she is a woman perceived to be challenging men, is to belittle the ideal of all sporting activity.
Among her more strident critics are a few male golfers. There is an almost primitive resentment against what is being seen as an incursion into an all-male bastion. If, as Sorenstam’s critics seem to imply, she is just not good enough, surely her male competitors have nothing to worry about. They have even less to carp about than Sorenstam’s female peers, some of whom feel that if she fails a certain standard, she will have disgraced women and women’s golf. This is probably not a burden Sorenstam had anticipated, but as the women’s golfing champion, it comes with her title. It is rather the men’s feeling of institutional maleness being violated, of assumed superiority being challenged on its own ground, that say far more about the tensions underlying gender differences even in the sports arena. In this context, the women golfers’ fears are purely reactive. It is therefore a comment on the pointlessness of extrapolated prejudices in the playing field that the men’s golfing champion, Tiger Woods, has welcomed and encouraged Sorenstam on the PGA tour event. The best do not think of gender, they think of the sport.