Twenty-five years after Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs and a month after tennis teen Serena Williams threatened to "take out" Karsten Braasch at the Australian Open, the age-old question is too delicious to dismiss: Are the best female athletes as talented as their male counterparts?
Could Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, who Riled women's golf by winning a combined nine tournaments in 1997, hold their own on the PGA Tour? Let's start with sand saves, a stat that would seem to be gender neutral. The '97 sand saves leader on Tour, Jim Estes, got up and down 70% of the time while the leader on the women's tour, Caroline McMillan, succeeded on just 57% of her chances. Sorenstam and Webb were both under 50%. (The chart below shows final '97 stats.)
The top LPGA players might be more accurate, however. The women's leader in greens in regulation ( Kelly Robbins at 78.7%) outdid the men's leader ( Tom Lehman, 72.7%). Webb's 75.1% GIR rate helped her lead the women in scoring average—her tidy 70.00 strokes per round would have put her 16th among the men, a showing that would have meant more than $1 million in PGA Tour earnings.
John Daly, chivalrous for once, has claimed Laura Davies "would keep her card and probably win a couple of tournaments" on Tour. If so, couldn't Sorenstam and Webb, who outperformed Davies by the distance of a Daly drive in '97, do at least as well?
The best way to find out would be by experiment. No rules keep the top LPGA players off the guys' turf; all the women lack is a sponsor's exemption or two. If Casey can play with the best golfers on Earth, perhaps Annika and Karrie deserve a shot too.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]