Green’s golfing breakthrough strengthens case for mixed-sex sports

With a history-making victory in the Players Series Murray River tournament on Sunday, Hannah Green blasted her way into golfing folklore to become the first woman to win a 72-hole mixed-sex event.

It was a momentous moment within a sport that has twisted itself in knots trying to manage the rise of a power game fuelled by muscular male players and club technology that has outpaced course design.

Hannah Green with the Players Series Murray River trophyCredit:Golf Australia

Green’s four-shot victory, played off scaled tees to counter the distance discrepancy, levelled the playing field and put skill, iron play, short game and ability to execute under pressure at a premium. All things being equal, the former LPGA Championship winner was simply too good.

Since then, news of Green’s victory has made its way around the world, eliciting messages of congratulations from greats like Karrie Webb and Annika Sörenstam, as well as a wider discussion about the future of integrated competitions for female and male athletes.

On Monday, Green said it was yet to fully sink in but the nerves began to build on the back nine as she closed in on what she knew would be a significant moment across a host of sports and competitions.

“I was really nervous, I was creating history. Karrie sent me a few messages, Annika Sörenstam commented on my post saying congratulations. That’s really cool,” Green said.

“It was a bit different being tied with three other guys who had really good Saturdays [third rounds]. I just had to make sure I was staying to my own game and not worry about what the boys were doing.”

The integration of sporting events has increased in pace over the past decade, with golf one of the new frontiers. Even so, there are many steps left to take and not all sports suit direct competition between competitors of the opposite sex.

In some disciplines, the gap between female and male output has not just closed but the balance has been tipped in the opposite direction. In the gruelling field of ultra-marathon running, which stretches beyond the standard 42km marathon distance and goes up to 320km multi-day events, female runners are regularly beating their male counterparts.

In others, the divide is being closed via the introduction of mixed team or relay events, with both the Winter and Summer Olympics now a showcase for multi-sex events across a range of sports, including triathlon, aerials skiing and swimming.

The nature of some of those events means tactics are just as important as performance, with the running order of the mixed medley relay in swimming, for example, crucial to the outcome. And while every team must feature two female and two male competitors, stars like Emma McKeon and American Caeleb Dressel often find themselves in direct competition.

Power sports like singles tennis make rudimentary male-versus-female matches typically difficult at the elite level, although there are a host of other sports where there is little to no discrepancy when it comes to performance.

Horse racing is a prime example, with star jockeys like Jamie Kah rising through the ranks to emerge as one of the best in the business. Equestrian eventing falls into a similar category and the list is expanding, even if many, if not most, are still divided into competitions for the different sexes.

In table tennis, an Olympic warm-up event in China saw the women’s team beat the men in its version of the Battle of the Sexes, while sports like sailing, curling and badminton and mixed doubles tennis regularly see men and women in direct rivalries.

The next challenge for major sports like golf is how far and fast integration can be taken. Perhaps one day the green jacket at Augusta will need to be tailored to fit a female Masters champion.

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