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 that.'
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 toe 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, sc 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."