For as long as I’ve covered the golf – which is three times longer than Twitter has existed – I’ve heard from male amateurs who say they could beat the average LPGA player. Those claims used to come in letters to the editor at Golf World magazine. Now they are amplified on social media.
I say let’s call their bluff.
The refrain goes something like this (and this is an actual Tweet from someone whose convictions are so strong he hides behind anonymity):
“There are thousands of men who could win weekly on the LPGA tour. Anyone with a 4 handicap would likely shoot mid 60s from forward tees.”
Here’s my idea: Let’s have a contest in which three male amateurs with single-digit handicaps win the right to take on an LPGA player on an LPGA course set-up. For added interest, one of the men could be a celebrity. Peyton Manning comes to mind.
The notion that any male with a 4 handicap could win on the LPGA not only severely underestimates the talent of women who play golf for a living, but it also grossly overestimates the proficiency of those men whose handicaps are established in a Saturday morning two-dollar Nassau.
Let’s begin with this. As Bob Jones said: “There is golf and then there is tournament golf.” In tournament golf, there are no mulligans; there are no gimmes; the ball is played down; the game is governed by the Rules of Golf.
What Joe 4-Handicap is underestimating is the choke factor.
Imagine standing on the first tee inside the gallery ropes with thousands of eyes watching, ready to pass judgement on your game, TV cameras zooming in on your technique, announcers whispering in the background, still photographers laying on the ground in front of you clicking away and an opponent who has done this a thousand times before standing across from you.
It might be about then that the thought of the artificiality of your 4 handicap crosses your mind. How many times did you end a hole with the ball in your pocket? How many of those posted scores that determined your handicap were rounds of giggle golf? How many times has absolutely every shot you hit mattered?
LPGA players are not only enormously talented, but their skills have been honed over years of competitive golf. They are not only better than the 4-handicap in terms of ability, they are tougher mentally. They do this for a living.
I’ve seen a lot of golf shots hit under pressure and among the most impressive was the first drive by Annika Sorenstam in the 2003 Bank of American invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, the first time a woman played a PGA Tour event in 50 years.
My heart was racing; I could only imagine the intensity within Annika. At stake was her reputation, the reputation of women’s golf and the possibility she’d give those who go out of their way to denigrate women’s sports ammunition to do so.
Sorenstam played the back nine first on that Thursday and No. 10 is a position par-4 that requires a lay-up club off the tee. She chose her 4-wood, which normally goes about 225 yards. That day she hit it 252, such was the adrenaline that coursed through her body.
Yet she controlled all those emotions. She split the fairway then won the hearts of the thousands on hand by leaving the tee with a fake wobbled-kneed walked that admitted to the nerves he tamed.
Sorenstam’s 71 that day was a masterful round of golf whose brilliance was measured by more than the mere numbers on a scorecard. She putted for birdied on every hole, but just as assuredly she aced her emotions.
As she walked to that first tee, she told her caddie: “Wherever this ball goes – and it could go anywhere – we are going to find it and hit it again.”
Later, when I asked how she controlled her emotions, she told me: “I said my myself, ‘No matter what I shoot today, Nelson [her cat] will still love me.’”
What Annika proved that day was not that she could compete against the men but that she could handle the magnitude of the moment. She had not only the skill – a relentlessly repeating swing as reliably precise as her Rolex – but the emotional toughness and mental discipline to handle the unique challenges of tournament golf.
Fast forward now to 2019 and Suzann Pettersen standing over a 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th green of her singles match against Marina Alex in the Solheim Cup. If Pettersen makes the putt, Europe wins the Cup. If she misses, the United States, as defending champion, keeps the Cup on a tie.
Pettersen curled it into the center of the hole. Put that on the short list of the best pressure shots I’ve ever witnessed.
What Sorenstam and Pettersen proved is that they had not only the game but the heart to be more than the match for the moment. That’s a pressure no 4-handicap guy is every going to experience – but I’d sure like to see them try.
Come on TV networks, find a few men with gaudy handicaps and a glorified sense of grandeur and put them on camera against an LPGA player under tournament pressure.
Maybe even Sorenstam or Pettersen.
I know who I’m picking to win.