… And I’m really, really excited!
But before I get into all the reasons why, I want to try to clarify a few things.
First off, I didn’t agree to do this right away. Let me just say that up front. This wasn’t an automatic yes for me. I had to really think it through and come at it from all angles.
When the opportunity first arose to play in this week’s PGA Tour event in Kentucky, most of my thoughts were about how much fun it would be. And how playing in a men’s tournament might help me improve by picking up a few pointers or seeing firsthand how PGA players attack a tough course. But I’d be lying if I tried to tell you I didn’t also think a lot about how this whole thing might backfire or cause some people to lash out toward me.
At one point, while weighing the pros and cons, I even sort of flashed back to high school, and how competing in tournaments with guys had caused a different set of problems for me back then.
There wasn’t a girls’ golf team at my school, so I played on the boys’ team for four years. My teammates loved me, but a lot of the guys on the other teams didn’t seem to feel the same way. They weren’t anywhere near as nasty as some Twitter users can be, but it was always like, Oh great, Lincicome’s here. I’m really not interested in losing to her again. I was never someone those guys were happy to see. Not to mention, the whole thing severely limited my dating pool in high school as well!
But you know what? I soldiered on. I didn’t let that stop me. I loved competing against the guys. It allowed me to improve more rapidly because I needed to work hard to keep up. And now, 15 years later, I make a living as a professional golfer. And in the meantime, I also managed to land and marry the love of my life. So the decision to ignore any outside distractions and just go play golf seems to have worked out O.K. for me after all.
The more I thought about whether to play in this event, the more I kept coming back to all the younger girls who I might be able to connect with and inspire by doing this. I thought about how an opportunity like this might be able to make a difference in how people think about our sport in the future.
In a lot of ways, little kids getting started in golf are conditioned to think that girls competing alongside boys is somehow improper, or that it shouldn’t happen. And for most golfers, the separation of boys and girls on the course starts super early. But I’m not so sure that always makes a ton of sense.
The LPGA’s Girls Golf program and the First Tee initiative have done an awesome job of getting more young girls into the game, but when I was a kid, there really weren’t all that many girls playing golf. And there was a much, much smaller group of girls who were really good at it. So it was just better for me to compete with the guys. It allowed me to progress and learn faster. And to this day I truly believe that if you’re a girl, and you’re good, you should practice, play and compete with the guys as much as you can. But that doesn’t usually happen.
In some places I’ve visited, the girls play in one season and the boys play in another, so they don’t even see each other. I’ve always felt that if everyone plays together, kids can learn from one another and help push each other to get better. It seems to make so much more sense.
I told myself that maybe me playing in this event, and talking about these issues, can encourage people to consider and question some of that stuff going forward. So I decided to just go for it. With the full encouragement of my family and friends, I chose to accept a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Barbasol Championship and become only the fifth woman in the history of golf to tee it up in a PGA event. To have a blast, enjoy the moment and not worry about any negative voices that may pop up.
Almost immediately after the news leaked out during the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, I started to hear some feedback.
Tons of my fellow LPGA tour players came up to me in the locker room and were so encouraging. They were all genuinely excited for me. And I’ve gotten so much love from people outside the game, too.
A few weeks ago, I met a dad and his young daughter at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Illinois, and the little girl was so excited about me playing this week on the men’s tour. It was really cool to see how happy she was. And since that time, I’ve talked to many other young girls who are looking forward to seeing what I can do out there against the men.
It’s been wonderful — in every way it has been like a dream. For example, get this, no one has been a jerk to me about my decision. Not one person has been nasty or sexist or anything. No one has cursed me out or told me to stick to the women’s game. Not online or anywhere else.
And that’s meant that I’ve been able to really sit back and kind of just focus on how amazing this week is going to be for me. On how much of an honor this is, and the insane amount of fun I’m going to have.
Don’t get me wrong. I have goals I’d like to achieve during this tournament — make the cut, shoot under par, that sort of thing. But in all honesty I’m not looking to make this into some big pressure-packed situation. As my caddie, Missy, has said to me probably a hundred times over the past few weeks: “If you miss the cut … so what? There will be 70 or so other players who miss the cut, too. You’re going to live. It will be fine. If anything, just go out blazing.”
It also helps that both Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie have done what I’m going to do, and I have no problem leaning on them for some advice. I have Annika’s number and plan on giving her a call to talk about how to calm any nerves that might pop up.
Beyond that, though, I’m not doing too much differently. I don’t really love to practice — it’s not my thing. I like to play. So I’m just going to play my game and see how it goes. I may be hitting more hybrids and 4-irons, but it’ll be fun to play that way. And I have a reputation on the women’s tour as a big hitter, so who knows? Maybe I’ll really get into a few and be able to outdrive some of the guys. But regardless, I’m definitely going to be swinging as hard as possible. You can count on that.
No matter how I play, I know the highlight of this experience for me is going to be the chance to meet and connect with all of the young girls who will be in the crowd during this tournament.
I want take photos with them and sign autographs and do everything I can to help inspire those girls to develop a love for the game. And if everything goes well, maybe by the time those girls are my age, there will be lots more opportunities for PGA and LPGA pros to compete and play against each other.
Because it really does seem like we’re missing out on something by keeping things so separate. And I can’t speak for the PGA guys, but I know the LPGA players would be all in for creating more opportunities like that.
Back when I was little, one of my favorite things in all of golf was the JCPenney Classic, which was a mixed team event with men and women that was so cool to watch. I used to be a standard-bearer at that tournament, so I’d carry the sign for John Daly and Laura Davies. It was an absolute blast for me, but I also think it was something that fans really enjoyed.
That event came to an end not too long after I turned pro, but so many of us on the LPGA tour would really love to get something like it back. I think it’d be wonderful for golf, and after I get done playing with the guys this week, I’d be more than happy to help lead the charge on the women’s side for bringing back an event like that.
I’m hoping that at some point soon maybe a few big names from the men’s tour will come out in favor of it as well. I think if we could just get a few guys to rally around the idea, and to start bringing it up when they speak to the media, we might have a real shot at making it happen.
For now, though, maybe one-off opportunities like the one I’m getting this week can help open up some eyes and get more people thinking that it might be cool to see women and men on tour teeing it up together more often.
For instance, even just the other day Bubba Watson tweeted something to our commissioner, Mike Whan, about him potentially playing in next year’s KPMG pro-am. In reality he was probably joking around, but it really would be sweet!
So if you’re reading this, Bubba, hit me up on Twitter and let’s talk. In the meantime, I’ll just be out here swinging for the fences and having the time of my life.