PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Men generally don’t watch women play golf.
This weekend, though, they should.
Not all of those men will tune into the U.S. Women’s Open for the right reasons, mind you, but it could turn out to be a win either way. In spite of themselves, some might actually learn a lot. It’s what happens pretty much every time you send women out to do a man’s job.
Calling the tournament that begins Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 the latest installment in the “Battle of the Sexes” would be a stretch, not to mention a little stale. Yes, the women will be playing the same course the men played last week in the U.S. Open, but it will be some 900 yards shorter. The tees will be up, the flags will be easier to get at, the weather will be different and so on. There’s a dozen other variables that make it an apples-to-oranges comparison. But the comparison will be made nonetheless.
So let’s get the most important one out of the way first: unless you play golf for a living or on scholarship, you couldn’t break 100 on either course.
Most of us can’t hit two good shots in a row, let alone as many as five. Pros of both sexes struggle with that, which is why they call golf a game of misses. But instead of trying to overpower a golf course, most women work their way around it. There are exceptions, of course, long-hitting Lexi Thompson to be sure. But what anyone can learn by watching most of the women play is how to miss a lot better, not to mention a lot less.
You’ll notice that from the very first tee shot. Unlike most men, nearly all of the women will try to hit the ball only as far as they can hit it straight.
“You could make the fairways as wide as this,” said two-time men’s U.S. Open champion and ESPN analyst Andy North, pointing down one of the aisles inside the press tent at Pinehurst, “and some of them still wouldn’t miss a fairway for the entire month.”
You’ll see the same thinking applied to every other shot on the course. When they miss fairways and wind up in the scruffy, beach-like patches of sand lining the fairways, instead of attempting the hero shot, they’ll chip out and cut their losses. They’ll rely more on their wedges and putters – clubs that don’t require much strength – to score. That’s what teaching pros tell every male golfer, from mid-handicappers to retirees, but the message rarely gets through all those thick skulls.
Maybe four days of shining examples will make a dent.
“That’s the thing,” said Missy Jones, the only women among the 20 rules officials who will be working the U.S. Open this week. “If you watched the men play this course, you saw all of them throwing approach shots high up in the air, trying to get them to stay on the greens. Only so many women will be in a position to do that. Our game is played along the ground a lot more. … But that’s true for most men, too.
“And if they thought about it that way, if they thought about where to leave the ball so the next shot was a lot easier,” she added, “a lot of `em would be a lot happier when they played golf.”
Whether that lesson gets through to a lot of men this weekend could depend in large part on how the USGA’s experiment turns out. The stated goal in setting up a course is to “identify” the best golfer that week. Only three men finished in the red last week and only winner Martin Kaymer really played Pinehurst like he was up to the test. No matter what happens in the women’s event – whether someone like top-ranked Stacy Lewis tears it up this week, or a dozen players you’ve never heard of manage to – judgments will be rendered and comparisons made.
What men should do instead is pay attention to why women plot their way around the shortened course. What they lack in testosterone, they will make up for with smarts. And every man who owns a set of golf clubs would benefit from a little less of the former and a lot more of the latter.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://www.twitter.com/JimLitke