David Leggat on sport
David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Marry a member and skirt around Muirfield ban

Golfer Danny Lee. Photo / AP
Golfer Danny Lee. Photo / AP

That Peter Alliss, what a card.

The most distinctive British voice of golf entered the Muirfield women's members debate with typical tact and diplomacy.

As the club again rejected allowing women as members - and finding itself dropped off the Royal & Ancient roster for hosting the British Open until it changes that rule - Alliss blundered in with the useful contribution that "if [a woman] wants to join, well you'd better get married to somebody who's a member".

Meantime, back to the kitchen.

Muirfield, a privately-owned links course run by, I kid you not, The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, requires two-thirds (432) of its 648 eligible voters to change the rule. The ayes got to 64 per cent, a mark that has been slowly rising, but not far enough to get across the line.

It is not the only club on the Open roster which doesn't allow women members. Royal Troon has the same policy. The Open will be played there this year, from July 14-17, but it is consulting its members to bring about a change.

St Andrews, the home of golf and the rule-making R&A, opened its doors to women in 2014, while Royal St George's in Kent lifted its ban on women last year.

One point which can get lost in this gender debate: not all women golfers want to join clubs with the G and T swilling, cigar puffing old chaps squashed into their overstuffed armchairs. But the point is, as it stands, they don't even have the option.

Alliss, again, has an answer. He claims to have chatted to women who wouldn't want to join their husbands' club as they prefer a degree of separation about their golf. Then there's the fees one would have to pay, so far better to piggyback on hubby's chequebook and simply 'do lunch' as guests.

This is the same Alliss, now 85, who dropped a clanger at last year's Open. With the camera swivelling to focus on American Zach Johnson's wife Kim, as the player hovered over a putt to win the title, Alliss said: "She is probably thinking - 'if this goes in, I get a new kitchen'."

Among the No voters are a group of 33 campaigners who had put up concerns about slow play from women holding them up and making women "feel uncomfortable". Seriously.

For a more balanced perspective, try BBC golf commentator Iain Carter who said of the latest Muirfield vote: "[They have] at best been left to look out of touch with modern thinking. At worst, they look like a bunch of selfish bigots who have no place at the top of the game."

There are suggestions the club will look at staging another ballot, with the gap between the Ayes and Nays steadily closing; and another that a simple majority, rather than two-thirds, might apply. Overseas-based members might be allowed to take part. They were excluded this time.

If the club waits long enough, the crusty older members will die. Younger, less hidebound members will take their place. And in case you'd forgotten, this is 2016.

Scorching 63 has Lee tied for lead with Garcia

Kiwi Danny Lee matched former champion Sergio Garcia as both shot 63 to open the AT&T Byron Nelson tournament in Texas.

Lee had a bogey-free round with seven birdies while Garcia, who has not won in the States since 2012, started quietly before he rattled home in 29 including an eagle from almost 20m on the seventh.

American Johnson Wagner matched the two overseas stars with a 63 on a day when 27 players were four under or better.

After missing the cut last week, Jordan Spieth opened with a six-under 64 as he returned to his native Texas.

Spieth covered his mouth in disbelief on the 16th green when his long eagle putt stopped short of falling in for a share of the lead. His group then rushed to complete the final two holes before dark.

Dustin Johnson and Freddie Jacobson matched Spieth with 64s.

Garcia finished his round with eight consecutive one-putts.

There was a loud cheer at No 1 when Spieth teed off, and another when he holed a shot from the intermediate rough for a birdie after missing the first green.

Spieth was three under through 10 holes before four consecutive holes without a par. He made a short birdie at 11 and holed a 6m putt at No 12 before his only three-putt, from 15m at the par-three 13th. He quickly got back that stroke with a 4m birdie putt at No 14.

Then at the par-five 16th, Spieth's 12m eagle chance was rolling towards the middle of the cup when it stopped just short.

The 64 matched Spieth's best round at the Nelson, where his best finish is still a tie for 16th in his debut as a teenager. He tied for 30th last year when he played after winning the Masters.

Garcia had a quick answer for what he changed midway through the round when all his putts started going into the hole. "The hole got in the way. Simple as that."

Garcia finished a stroke off his Nelson-best 62 he shot as a 19-year-old in 1999 in his first round at Lord Byron's tournament on the way to a third-place finish. He is back for the first time in five years.

- NZ Herald

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