Alto�( Calif.) High didn't have a girls' golf team when I was a student
there in the mid 1990s. I wasn't surprised, because I didn't know any girls my
age who played, but I didn't believe that should prevent me from representing
my school, so as a freshman I tried out for the boys' team.
I was the
shortest-hitting player by at least 30 yards, but the rules required me to play
from the same tees as the guys. That meant I had to work harder around the
greens to make up strokes. I didn't make the roster until my sophomore year and
didn't earn a spot as one of the six traveling players until I was a senior,
but the competition was only a fraction of the challenge I faced playing with
When my teammates
put together foursomes after school, I was rarely invited to participate. On
those occasions when I did join them, I had a sense that they perceived me less
as a teammate than as some kind of entertainment. Rather than suffer their
leering, whispering and laughing, I preferred to practice alone or play as a
single. When I played my way into matches by shooting good rounds in practice,
some of my teammates questioned my scores. I felt humiliated and demoralized,
but I endured because I loved golf and knew I had earned my spot.
Michelle Wie can relate. When she tees it up this week in Japan as the only
woman in the field at the Casio World Open, it's likely that she'll hear from
her chorus of critics. She has struggled playing against the men this year, and
the media has been clamoring for her to confine herself to LPGA events, in
which she has been a consistent threat to win. But why should Wie have to
settle for a tour that offers less visibility, money and competition?
Whether a woman
wants to pursue a career as an executive, an engineer or a comedian, she will
be in the minority. However, we would never suggest that she doesn't belong or
recommend that she limit herself to jobs more commonly populated by women. By
pursuing competition against men, Wie reflects the world as it actually exists
to a generation of young women: Sometimes you have to play with the boys,
either because it's your only option, as I learned in high school, or because
it presents the best opportunities, as Wie has proven.
In my personal
and professional life I have often found myself in situations in which I am the
only woman, but that's when I feel the most empowered and confident, due in
large part to my experiences playing high school golf. And I am never more in
my element than on the golf course.
This summer I was
playing a round with the men in my family when my dad proposed a long-drive
contest on the 18th tee. It was deeply satisfying to find that this time the
ball that landed farthest down the fairway belonged to the only girl.
is a client marketing associate at SI.
GOLF PLUS will
next appear in the Dec. 18 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.