The home favourite discusses her battles to get more exposure for the women's game. By Harriet Shephard
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“It's an absolute honour for us, but I don't think it should have taken until 2020 to get Muirfield on the women's Tour."
Mel Reid has nailed the issue with women's golf in one sentence.
Because while we should be super grateful for the opportunities we've had this summer, I don't think it's outrageous to ask that the female players are given all the same privileges as the men.
Intelligent, articulate and funny (particularly when making fun of herself) the Derby-born golfer is one of the best personalities in the women’s game.
When she speaks out, the world sits up and takes notice, and this year has been no different. In fact, I'd argue that she's partly responsible for making 2020 such a great year for women's golf. We really have a lot to thank her for.
For instance, is it coincidence that after she spoke about how she'd love more male golfers to show support for the women's game, golfers like Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood tweeted about the Women's Open? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
One thing’s for sure, the fact that American Golf now has her "blonde mug" (her words, not mine) on the shop walls instead of another male golfer is 100 percent her doing.
The LPGA star has also been playing better than she has in a long time.
Since the Tour restarted, she finished as one of the highest ranked Brits at the AIG Women's Open and then went on to earn two top-10 finishes in the space of two weeks; T7 at the ANA Inspiration and most recently T5 at the Portland Classic.
At the latter it even looked like she might win. She took a two-shot overnight lead after the second round (also her 33rd Birthday), but of course it was eventually Georgia Hall who beat her to it.
Now living over in Florida, I caught up with the home favourite via the powers of video conferencing to discuss this crazy year.
How was being back over here for the AIG Women’s Open? Was it strange not being able to see your family?
It was so great and such a privilege to play at Royal Troon, it was kind of weird not having fans but it was an incredible place to play. It's been on the men's Open rota for a while so it's so great to have it on ours too.
I haven't seen my family since Christmas and I was desperate to go and see them even for just for a day or something but I wasn't able to. However, we're all just so grateful to be able to play at all. At the start of the year we didn't think the event would even happen.
Are you excited about the next five venues - Carnoustie, Muirfield, Walton Heath, St Andrews and Royal Porthcawl?
Absolutely, and it just goes to show the gains we are actually making from an equality standpoint. I mean, I don't think it should have taken until 2020 to get Muirfield on our rota but I'm excited it is, it's great for women's golf.
Did you think you’d see the day that Muirfield would be hosting a professional women’s event?
I honestly did. When I was younger I thought we were going to play Augusta - that was my mentality.
Playing on the same courses as the guys is something that I've always wanted to do because when I was growing up all the golf I watched was on the PGA tour. As time has gone on I’ve probably found that in reality it’s harder to do than I might have first imagined, but I think it’s great that we have a venue like Muirfield who is willing to change some of its old-fashioned traditions, without losing all of them. It's an honour for us.”
Some of the male players Tweeted their support for the women’s game during the Open. Would you like to see more of that?
I was actually interviewed about this earlier this year. I said that living in American I had seen the huge impact that Kobe Bryant [the legendary basketball player who passed away in January] had on women's basketball and that I wanted to see more male golfers supporting the women’s game. They have much bigger platforms than we do and we talk about watching them all the time in the Masters, British Open and all these big events. I just mentioned that it would be nice if they did the same for us. Because I knew they were watching us anyway, they would just text us individually rather than saying it publically. They have listened and they are doing that now and I think that Justin and Kate Rose did with the Rose Series was so fantastic.
Do you think this summer been a good time for women’s golf in general?
I think the world stopping for COVID has helped the women's game. I think it was a good opportunity to get things moving for us, for organisations to revaluate some things and for people to stop and think about the kind of impact they can make.
The one thing I want now is more TV coverage. I would love that but it's a catch 22 isn't it really - we need more money to be on TV but we need TV for us to make more money. The more exposure we get the more girls and women of all ages are going to want to take up the game. I want to show people how strong the LET and LPGA are. If you look at the stats it;s incredible how good these girls really are. I think 70 players had a better green regulation stat than Rory last year. I wan to see more girls in the golf commercials, too.
Have you had any bad experiences as a girl in golf?
When I was younger I would get in trouble for playing off the men's tees because the women's were too short. Or I would be playing at these high-end clubs and my dad wouldn't be able to come in and watch me because he didn't have a jacket and tie. He hates that kind of stuff, so it’s not just attitudes towards women that are the problem. I respect these traditions to a degree but I do think clubs need to be more encouraging towards the next generation.
However, golf is moving in a different direction now. Some of these clothing companies are making it so you can go off the golf course and straight to a restaurant and nobody will even be able to tell you've played golf. It’s all moving towards a more streetwear style.
Speaking of, you helped design the new ellesse range. It looks brilliant and you must be happy with it?
It was a great opportunity and I feel very privileged that they got in touch with me. I just gave them a few tips about what I thought was missing in women's golf clothes and they listened. It’s a totally new space for them and for a first collection I think they’ve done a fantastic job. At the Women's Open I must have had 15 of the girls come up to me and ask about the clothes. I think that's always a good sign.
And, after you spoke to American Golf about the importance of having female pros up on the walls, they’ve now got you up there! How does that feel?
I think it’s awesome, I'd love to see more women on shop walls. As I always say growing the game is all down to exposure and we do struggle a little bit with that compared to the men. It’s really nice that they listened, did something about it and made that kind of statement. I'm just very grateful and hopefully it will help get more people attracted and interested in the game.
Do you think merging with the LPGA will help the LET?
100 per cent, when I first came out on Tour the LET was doing really well and it was a great place to start your career. I still stand by that it is today. But obviously, it’s had its struggles over the last few years and although we have to take this year out of the equation as it’s been so strange, I think in the forthcoming years it will become much stronger. I’m very happy that they merged and I think they had to, to be honest with you.
And finally, can we look forward to welcoming you back to live in the UK anytime soon?
My heart will always be with England and England will always be my home.
I’m not saying I wouldn't ever move back but there are just more opportunities here in America for me at the moment.
I do miss most things that involve my old English life. I miss Sundays - having a roast dinner, going for a walk and to the pub. But it’s not too bad here with sunshine every day, so I can’t complain!