For someone who stands 5ft 2in, I hit the ball pretty far. During my professional golf career, I was one of the longest hitters on tour. I averaged 270 yards off the tee, and I consistently outdrove competitors by 30 to 40 yards. When I played in pro-ams (mostly with men) I’d be told I “hit it far for a girl.” To which I would retort, “Yeah? Well, you hit it short for a dude.”
But the truth is, I did hit the golf ball far for a woman, and particularly for someone my size. Recently, PGA and Champions Tour veteran Fred Funk came under fire for comments about the length of modern courses. “I feel like I should be on the ladies tour right now,” he said. “I didn’t mean that in a derogatory sense, not at all. Just because Annika [Sorenstam) outdrove me [in a recent skins game], I’m a little bitter.” The USA Today columnist Christine Brennan called Funk’s comments sexist. In her article, she called into question Funk’s views of women, “This was a man who sounded quite comfortable delivering a snide remark about women’s golf.”
This sparked an interesting debate about the difference between men’s and women’s golf, and in particular, about female and male athletes. It’s tough to dispute that, on average, men are stronger and faster than women. Look no further than stats for driving distances among PGA and LPGA players. The women on tour swing their drivers on average at about 95mph. The men? 113 mph.
Let’s look at scoring average on each tour: currently LPGA player So Yeon Ryu has averaged 69.21 this season, compared to Jordan Spieth’s 69.41 on the PGA. Those figures are far from an anomaly – averages across both tours are comparable. And there is a case that women could be considered superior: Dana Finkelstein on the LPGA is ranked No1 in driving accuracy, hitting 88.2% of fairways this season. Her counterpart on the PGA, Steve Stricker, hits 72.85%. In addition, Lexi Thompson leads the LPGA with an average of 79.8% of greens in regulation this season, compared to Dustin Johnson, who is No1 on the PGA tour with 72.6%. Looking at these stats alone, women are more accurate than men. What they lack in power, they make up for in finesse.
The former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, said as much last year. “I especially like to see [women] hit shots with hybrids. It’s a joke how talented they are with those clubs. I’m actually prepared to believe that Lydia Ko is better than the vast majority of male pros from, say, 200 yards out. She is ridiculously good. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the top women players consistently hit closer to where they are aiming than do the top guys,” Ogilvy wrote in an article for Golf Australia.
So while Brennan found offense with Funk’s comments, I only saw him pointing out something that most of us know: men in professional golf hit the ball further. It’s not sexist, but a fact. Acknowledging what makes men and women distinct – for example, male players’ huge drives or female players’ unerring accuracy – should only highlight the very things that make professional athletes so extraordinary.
What we should take offense to is when people think that women are not elite athletes simply because their bodies do not perform in the same way as those of their male counterparts. And what most critics of women’s sports should take into account is that any weekend warrior, male or female, could never get close to matching the performance of a professional athlete of any gender.
As a sportswriter, I hate differentiating between male and female athletes. I feared that by writing this article I would only be playing into the internalized sexism I’ve been raised to believe about women in sports growing up: that women aren’t as good of athletes as men. But my case is that female athletes are just as exceptional as their male counterparts, but are skilled in ways that men are not. Accepting this and embracing this provides a foundation for women to continue to flourish in their sports.