As the first Major of the women's golf season tees off, Editor Emma Ballard discusses what success looks like in women's professional golf, unicorns and Caitlin Clark

Success in many areas of life, on the surface, comes down to numbers – the more money you earn, the number of cars you have, how many holidays you take in a year. If the numbers are greater than someone else’s then many would believe you to be more successful.

The same can be said in sport – prize money, viewing figures, social media followers – the higher, the better. There is so much that is based on numbers that even if a record is broken or a new height reached in your own field, it’s still not deemed a success until you have the highest number.

Women’s professional golf is a great example of this. Women’s golf is not believed to be successful because the men have more – fans, viewers, social followers and the big one, larger prize funds.

What’s even more unique to women’s golf is that it does not seem to be able to “win” in the women’s sport arena either. Comparisons are continuously made and questions often asked about how women’s golf can ride the wave of other women’s sport successes.  

Two years ago it was the success of the Lionesses in the UEFA Women’s Euros, today it’s the NCAA women’s basketball final four and Caitlin Clark. It’s worth noting, before I proceed, that the viewership for these basketball finals was up 90% to 18.87 million viewers (500,000 more than Tiger Woods’ 2019 Masters victory).

When Nelly Korda, arguably the greatest player on the planet, male or female, at this time was asked whether women’s golf could go on a similar trajectory as women’s college basketball, she said:

“I feel like we just need a stage. We need to be put on TV. If we have a stage we can show up and perform and show people what we're all about.”

Defending champion Lilia Vu was asked a similar question:

“I think it's happening right now with Nelly. She is bringing so much to the table just win after win. She's done such a good job. So well liked and loved out here. She brings a big following. She's a great person. So just her, and she's kind of our Caitlin Clark out here.”

Even Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley was asked last week about the Caitlin Clark effect and women’s golf, saying “we need more unicorns in that regard”.

What is the measure of success?

This all leaves me wondering when we’ll feel like women’s golf has really achieved success? Is it a particular viewing figure? Breaking a certain prize money barrier?

Because in my mind women’s golf has had so many successes in recent years and the trajectory is continually on the rise.

A case in point is the LPGA prize funds which have increased by 78.6% since 2019 and the Majors this year will award at least $45.4 million which is a 97% increase in just three years.

As Lilia Vu perfectly put it, women’s golf already has a Caitlin Clark (and Nelly Korda needs no comparison) and as for unicorns (something that is highly desirable but difficult to find), they’re not as rare as you may think, just look at Vu, Celine Boutier, Charley Hull, Jin Young Ko, Brooke Henderson to name but a few. All extremely talented, successful, popular and needle movers in women’s golf.

This leads me to a quote from an article I read in The New Yorker by Louisa Thomas about the rise of women’s college basketball:

“The lack of resources devoted to the women’s game wasn’t an inevitable consequence of the game’s popularity – it was a choice. And that, in turn, suggested that it was possible to make a different choice: that, if the women’s game were treated with the same level of promotion and investment and hype as the men’s game, people would watch it, too.”

So in the end, although there are plenty of success stories and we’re not actually chasing a unicorn in women’s professional golf, there’s still a choice that needs to be made. A choice to give women’s golf the stage, as Korda puts it, and media coverage it deserves and to stop using the men’s game and other women’s sports are the measure of success.

This week it's The Chevron Championship, the women's first Major of the season, where Nelly Korda is aiming for her fifth straight win and second Major title. Here's all you need to know about this week's Major.