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Why women's golf is having a moment

DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

One of the biggest events in women's golf begins today - the U.S. Women's Open. And it's a significant year. The tournament is happening for the first time at the iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links. It's amassed a record $11 million in prize money, and for the first time, NBC is broadcasting all four rounds. Now, this level of attention to the women's sport was not always there. And Betsy King knows that well. She's a retired professional golfer. She's won multiple LPGA titles. Hi, Betsy.

BETSY KING: Hi. How are you doing today?

ESTRIN: I'm great. So you're in Pebble Beach right now. What's the vibe over there? What's the energy?

KING: It's great. It's very positive. The players are enjoying the opportunity to play at Pebble Beach. I haven't heard anything but positive things about the golf course, about how the USGA is running the event and how all the players are being treated this week. It's phenomenal to see. I played in 30 U.S. Opens and nothing that, you know, touches this in terms of the purse money, the way the players are being treated and, of course, getting the opportunity to play Pebble Beach, one of the iconic golf courses available to play. And not only is the course phenomenal, but the views - you know, it's along the ocean, the Pacific Ocean. So it's just a special week for everyone involved.

ESTRIN: Beautiful. So let's talk about some of those changes. I mean, you've been playing professionally from the '70s to the early 2000s. And when you look around at all the attention women's golf is getting today - the media, the fans - how do you reflect on the growth of the sport?

KING: It's amazing, particularly in the women's game. I think the biggest change is that it's really become a very international game. You know, the LPGA Tour is the best tour in the world to play as a woman player. And so literally all the best players in the world come to the LPGA to play. And, of course, the U.S. Open is part of the LPGA tour. It's the biggest event in women's golf, both as a purse and just the attention that it receives. It's always played on a very challenging golf course, and I think that adds to the importance of the event. But the growth of the women's game, particularly internationally - it's just been amazing to see it. Golf has really become a world game, and the women's game is a part of that.

ESTRIN: Is it fair to say that it's taken longer for women's golf to gain the same popularity as men's golf?

KING: Yeah, I think so. You know, as you mentioned, I played on the tour for 28 years, and we were always, you know, fighting that a little bit. You kind of have to have a certain niche. You know, we're not going to hit the ball as far as the men. You know, strength is still a factor. I mean, the women today - they really are amazing, right? They hit the ball further than - certainly than I did and the players in my era. The equipment is so much better, plus just the physicality of the players. And so they do play a game that people I don't think realize until they come and watch the tournament. But at the same time, they're not going to be hitting it as far as, say, Tiger Woods and the top players on the men's side.

But it is a great game. But we have to have that niche that we're not exactly the same as the men. I do get a lot of comments that - when people come out and watch us play, they're surprised by how far the players hit it. And they enjoy watching the swings, you know, because we have to keep the ball and play a little bit more. We don't have necessarily the strength...

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Yeah.

KING: ...To hit the shots out of the heavy rough.

ESTRIN: Golf champion Betsy King. Thanks so much.

KING: Well, thank you. It's been great to be part of the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIL' MO SONG, "SUPERWOMAN (FT. FABOLOUS)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Tinbete Ermyas
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.