First class women golfers still neglected by Australian media


Lee Minjee. Photo: TravisPhd Chen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Australian world No.4 Lee Minjee made for an exceptionally overqualified caddie, trudging around Augusta for her younger brother Min Woo in her first ever Masters experience.

Soon after Lee – that’s Minjee, not Min Woo – won her seventh LPGA title.

Just a few weeks on from helping her brother to tie fourteenth at the Masters, Lee will tee off at the U.S. Women’s Open where she’ll have the opportunity to immortalise herself as an Australian golf legend by claiming her second Major championship on the LPGA.

Only two other Australian women – Jan Stephenson and Karrie Webb – have won at least two Major championships on the LPGA tour.

Even if Lee doesn’t win at the U.S. Women’s Open, it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before the Western Australian is championed as an all-time great.

But despite Lee’s unique talent – having been ranked as high as second in the world – she has yet to garner any significant recognition in Australia.

Indeed, it seems as if her parent’s home nation, South Korea, is more intent on parading around Lee’s heritage than the country where she was born; as Lee attempts to memorialise herself in Australian sport records she will don a hat that reads “Hana Bank,” an endorsement from the Korean financial giant.

Lee is a part of group of young, talented, Australian golfers who have shown the ability to compete with the very best including Hannah Green (also from Western Australia) and Korean-born Oh Su-Hyun (Su) who is based in Victoria.

These women have represented Australia at the highest level for years – Oh and Lee even competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics – yet they would sparsely be recognised on the street, unless passing by a particularly dedicated golf fan.

Blame can easily be put on Australian sports media and their lack of care about women’s golf.

Imagine my shock when I sit down to watch the Palos Verdes Championship and read Kayo’s description that we should all eagerly tune in as Hannah Green trails “fellow Aussie Lydia Ko” by one shot.

Of course, Ko, who is currently ranked third in the world, is famously a golfer from…New Zealand.

I can only imagine that some writer was told to write a pithy descriptor of the round and in a panic, hurriedly googled the current leaders.

“Perfect, that Australian flag is just below that other Australian flag,” the writer must have thought, neglecting to look and notice they were not the same.

The media doesn’t care about some sports, and it shows.

Talking to the Sydney Morning Herald about the support she gets from home, Lee was quick to point out that Australian golfers are rarely sponsored by Australian companies.

“If you think about it, all the successful Australian players, I don’t think any of them have Australian sponsors,” she said.

“I guess it’s pretty poor in that sense.”

Lee is right, in that of the three Australian women ranked in the world top 100, only Green has an Australian sponsor, while Oh and Lee do not.

Like Lee, Oh is primarily sponsored by companies from South Korea, the country in which she was born.

Once again, South Korea does a better job at supporting Australian female golfers than Australia – a trend which also extends to male golfers in Australia.

Cameron Smith, Jason Day, Adam Scott, and Min Woo Lee all have predominantly foreign sponsors.

But there is a much larger discrepancy in media coverage of women’s golf compared to men’s golf.

This can be seen by simply scrolling through Fox’s golf section…surely something as significant as Lee Minjee potentially becoming one of Australia’s greatest at just 26 years old would be all over the place?

Alas, what Justin Thomas thinks of the beer prices in Tulsa is considered more newsworthy.

In an attempt to bring equality to women’s golf in Australia, men and women will compete side-by-side for an even split of $3.4 million at the Australian Open set to begin on the first day of December.

Lee Harrington, former player and current Director of Development at the WPGA of Australasia is excited about these efforts.

“It sends a very important message…that at the most prestigious golf tournament in the country that women and men are rewarded equally for their efforts,” says Harrington, adding that “working more closely with the PGA of Australia and Golf Australia will strengthen the WPGA Tour.”

“We are already seeing the benefits of this with new partnerships with Adidas, Webex and Coca Cola in the past 12 months.”

These are important steps towards equality, but it belies a greater cultural issue: women’s sport is still being disrespected and anyone who has attempted to engage in discourse about women’s sport online can attest to this.

Derogatory comments about how “nobody wants to watch” – undeniably driven by the lack of coverage – are common.

Those comments are demonstrably false, with women’s sporting events including some of the most attended in Australia in recent years, but this won’t translate into coverage if the media is more interested in covering non-stories about male athletes rather than celebrating the brilliance of female athletes.

Undoubtedly, the Australian Open will roll around and Lee Minjee will be promoted as one of Australia’s finest before she is once again relegated to an afterthought for her country’s sports media.