After the euphoria of the Women’s Euro 2022 final, another example of sport’s evolution arrives at Muirfield in the AIG Women’s Open. If England’s Lionesses provide hope that a page has been turned to a new chapter in women’s football, then women’s golf has been galvanised by the opportunity to finally shine in this East Lothian corner of Scotland.
Restricted to men-only until 2017, it took Muirfield being deprived of the opportunity to host future Men’s Open Championships to belatedly see sense and catch up to reality. After allowing women members following a second ballot, Muirfield is back on the men’s Open rota and in contention to hand out the Claret Jug for the first time since 2013, but first the golf world gathers for the sport’s final major of the year.
It’s been a turbulent year for men’s golf and the unsavoury squabbling between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, which makes this week even more refreshing. Money remains pivotal to elevating the women’s game’s level, with this week’s winner set to pocket $1.1m (£904,000), while the total prize fund up is up to $7.3m (£6m), a 26 per cent increase on 2021, but the mentality refuses to waver from the significance of this week’s host. Make no mistake, unlike Bedminster last week, this golf truly matters.
“I think everything is always moving forward, and now Murfield have got women members who are allowed to come and play here,” Muirfield local and 2009 Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew says. “I think you just have to look forward rather than look backwards.”
A first-time host of the men’s Open in 1892, with 16 editions hosted in total, the arduous wait to grace the same hallowed turf as the men is not lost on some of the game’s finest players.
“It’s a beautiful golf club, beautiful golf course, and so far everyone has been really welcoming,” Nelly Korda remarks. “I think it’s going to be a great test to see how the weather is going to be but I saw that they [Muirfield] have hosted 16 Open Championships, so it’s going to be special to finally host a Women’s too.”
Korda has grown in form since recovering from a blood clot in her arm earlier this year, but the 2020 Olympic gold medalist and 2021 Women’s PGA Championship winner is trending nicely after an eighth-place finish at the Evian Championship, won by Brooke Henderson.
The Canadian, now a two-time major champion, solidified her status as one of the game’s dominant figures two weeks ago in Southeastern France and is one of the favourites alongside Korda, Lydia Ko and Hyo Joo Kim to triumph at Muirfield.
England’s Georgia Hall, a British Open winner in 2018, also finished in a tie for eighth in Evian-les-Bains and is relishing the grand stage this week.
“It’s a great time for women’s golf,” Hall told The Independent. “It’s good to be in the middle, I’m quite young and part of it. To play in the biggest events in the world and compete against the best.
“The standard of women’s golf has improved so much over the last three years, people can see our talent and how good we are as players from all over the world. The AIG Women’s Open, everybody can see us in person, it’s fantastic, they don’t get to do it a lot, Muirfield is very special. They’ve done a fantastic job to get us to play there.”
So as golf’s brief visit to the UK and links golf specifically nears an end, it feels important to savour this art form of the game, particularly when the elements become a factor. The men were spared at a baked-out St Andrews last month as Cameron Smith raced past Rory McIlroy to victory, but this could yet become a wildcard in Gullane, making the experience even more satisfying for Hall.
“I really enjoy playing Links golf, how natural it is, it’s proper golf, contending with a lot of things,” Hall adds. “There’s not one way to hit a golf shot, you can hit it in many ways.
“Using your imagination, keep the ball under the wind, mentally it’s very important. Playing in the British Open is so good for me being from England.
“We don’t play a lot here, and the support, not many people watching me personally. I thrive on that. It makes you want to play even better.”