Ben Hogan's secret? Forget it. I've stumbled onto a better one.
In our eternal quest to shoot respectable numbers, we--the
duffers, male variety--go to remarkable lengths, because length
for us is always an issue. Offer a tip, we'll try it. Hand us a
swing thought, we'll embrace it. We'll spend whole weekends
entranced by the sorcery of Tiger, Sergio and Phil, praying if
not for our own transubstantiation, at least one for our swing.
We'll do almost anything...except watch women play.
That shouldn't be surprising, really. They're women. We're men,
and men, as the slogan goes, are from Mars, which makes us
warriors, right?--able to launch drives toward Alpha Centauri and
spin back wedges from 135 yards. Women? They're from Venus, which
means they get to hit from the forward tees.
On the course, as in life, the games we play are alien to each
other. But if we could only stuff some of our testosterone into
our bags for a bit, we might actually begin to understand this
maddening endeavor a little better. What we can learn from
watching Annika, Karrie and Se Ri may be golf's best-kept secret.
The men's game is out of reach for all but the anointed few.
Driver, wedge from 440? Muscular escapes from waist-high rough?
One-eighty-five with a seven-iron? Come on. Women play a
different game from the Tour pros, and so, if we'd let ourselves
admit it, do the rest of us male mortals.
All of which made itself macho-shatteringly clear with ABC's
recent back-to-back coverage of the Shell Houston Open and the
LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Championship. Somehow, I'd failed to click
the remote when the men's game segued into the women's. It must
have been witchcraft; what I saw cast a spell. Suddenly, what
came into focus was a game I'm relatively familiar with. So did
this epiphany: It takes a man to play like a woman. A man tough
enough to transcend his Martian swagger and approach his golf
through mascara'd lashes.
"There's a real advantage for the average male golfer to watching
a woman instead of, say, Phil Mickelson," says Jane Blalock,
holder of 27 LPGA titles. "We hit our clubs about the same
distance, and we're about the same off the tees. There's also a
lot more scrambling in the women's game. A man should relate to
And go to school on it. "No question," says noted instructor Jim
Flick. "Men are too aggressive in their whole approach. They
swing too aggressively. They use less club and try hitting too
hard. The women pros make better swings, have better control and
make better contact."
There's a reason. "We have to have great rhythm and wonderful
timing," says Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan. "We have to
concentrate on fundamentals to maximize the effects on the ball."
To which Blalock adds this spin. "The men pros are so strong they
can get away with the flaws in their swings. We don't have that
strength--and the average male golfer doesn't have the precision.
We need to have technically correct swings to compensate."
Male aggressiveness also translates into the way we navigate
courses, trying to overpower par-5s, taking greater risks--and
usually marking down fatter numbers. "The women know how to lay
up to their best shot," says Tour pro turned TV commentator Bill
Kratzert, "and they're smarter about taking their medicine. They
get the ball back into the fairway."
Male aggressiveness even has repercussions on the greens. Sports
psychologist Bob Rotella, who has counseled pros of both genders,
finds that "men worry a whole lot more about missing short putts
and what it means about their manhood than women do. Women simply
don't worry about this." Nor do they worry about what it says
about their manhood when they throw out their three-and
four-irons and replace them with seven-and nine-woods. But we
do, so we continue to see the women's game as something less,
rather than something different, leading us to seek inspiration
elsewhere. "If men could watch women as golfers rather than as
women golfers," Rotella says, "they'd say, smartly, 'I'd love to
play golf like that.' After all, the golf club doesn't know
whether a guy or a gal is holding it."
Ultimately, though, the way we approach the game is less a
reflection of who's holding the club than who we'd like to see
holding the club when we gaze at ourselves in the mirror. As long
as we believe that it's a Tiger or a Sergio or a Phil looking
back, we'll continue to play like Martians. Anything else would
be too, well, otherworldly.
And that's O.K. Personally, I'm happy to trade some testosterone
for a few nassaus. I'm just not ready for red shoes.
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY WILLIAM RIESER; PHOTOS: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA (3); ROBERT BECK
Women play a different game from the PGA Tour pros, and so, if
we'd let ourselves admit it, do the rest of us male mortals.