Golf experienced its greatest renaissance in the mid-1990s when Tiger Woods turned professional and turned the PGA Tour upside down, popularizing the game like none other in history. He made the sport cool for everyone and helped people find peace and serenity – and insanity – that come with the game.
Memberships at private clubs reached their peak. Public courses became more crowded. Equipment sales and instruction soared through the roof while amateurs who had casual interest in the game – aka weekend hackers – made a concerted effort to improve their scores.
Tiger’s impact was immeasurable, really, but many mid- and high-handicappers erred when watching his every move. They became enamored with his length off the tee, how his hips and torso came through the ball with brute force in a perfectly timed swing that usually ended with flawless contact.
It was unrealistic for most amateur players to duplicate his swing or that of anyone else on tour. Rather than watch Woods rack up 79 tour victories on the men’s side, they should have been studying players like Annika Sorenstam while she won 72 tournaments on the women’s side.
Guys: If you’re looking to improve your game, don’t take cues from the best men in the world. Watch the women, who hold weekly clinics on the LPGA tour when it comes to tempo and control.
“Yes, you should play like a girl,” world-class instructor and playing professional Cindy Miller said. “But it also depends on the girl. The catch is we (women) have to have almost a better swing sequence correctly to get the most out of what we have. It makes it better to watch women because they aren’t going to powerhouse it, with (a few) exceptions.”
Take Michelle Wie, for example, who threatened to take over the LPGA after turning professional at age 16, three years after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. The child prodigy seemed destined for greatness in part because she displayed the power often associated with the men. But 12 years later, with five tournament victories and a major, she fell well short of expectations.
For decades, women have shown that it doesn’t matter how far you hit the ball, but it does matter how often. It’s why amateurs should take notes. The length common on the LPGA tour applies more to amateur male golfers who play a few times per week than the distances you see on the PGA tour.
But there are other parts of their game worth watching. Professional women generally are more disciplined, more accurate, more consistent, smoother and less egotistical than amateur wannabes on weekends. Never mind hitting it 330 yards off the tee. Time and energy would be better spent polishing your swing and your short game.
Sorry, I’m talking to myself again.
“The first thing someone says when they go to an LPGA tournament and they stand on the range is ‘Oh my God,’ ” Miller said. “And everybody plays better the day after the tournament because they have that vision of the (controlled) swing in their head. And they realize, ‘I’ve been trying to kill it, and I don’t need to do that.’ “
The translation begins where golf does – on the tee.
This year, the median driving distance among the top 150 longest players on the LPGA Tour was 261 yards. This year, there were 115 women who averaged 250 yards or longer off the tee with leader Sung Hyun Park averaging more than 280 yards. Sixteen players this year averaged 270 yards or longer when hitting driver.
According to a story in Golf Digest published last year, the median average for amateurs with a 4-handicap or better was 250 yards off the tee while players who had handicaps between 5 and 10 had a median of 231 yards. The median for amateur men between the ages of 20 and 30 was 238 yards.
If you’re wondering how 5-foot-4, 125-pound women can outdrive bigger and stronger men on any given Sunday, it’s because the best ladies are technically superior. Their mechanics are sound, allowing them to generate more club speed while hitting the ball square with more frequency, leading to purer shots and more distance.
“People really should watch more women play because of the sequence of the swing and the lack of strength,” Miller said. “I’m not going to say they’re weak. I’m not saying that they’re not strong. They work out like crazy. But everything has to be better. The timing has to be better.”
Let’s not forget accuracy, either.
Last week, Ken Duke was the most accurate driver on the men’s tour, hitting the fairway with just more than 77 percent of his tee shots through the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The same percentage was good for 39th on the women’s tour. Dana Finkelstein led the LPGA in driving accuracy at 86.7 percent, which is remarkable.
The biggest disadvantage for women is length off the tee, of course. But amateur men are neutralized once the ball is on the fairway inside of 200 yards. The best women are deadly with their irons, in part because they’re more likely to play a club longer and swing easier rather than swing harder with a shorter club.
“I’ve never been in a locker room when a tournament was over and heard someone say, ‘I could have won today if I could have hit my 5-iron 10 yards further three times or my driver 10 yards further four times,” said Allen Miller, a former PGA tour member and Cindy’s husband. “All I hear is, ‘I could have won today if I hit three more greens and two more fairways.’
“Take baseball,” he said. “The home run hitter is also often the strikeout king. The difference between them hitting a home run and striking out is the timing. In golf, it’s the same thing. You have to have timing. The women have good timing.”
In many cases, men are more likely to take a bigger rip with the shorter club and hope they catch it clean. Invariably, someone in their group will ask which club they selected from 150 yards, for example, as if hitting a 9-iron somehow makes them a bigger hitter and better player from 150 yards than using a 7-iron.
However, there’s greater risk with swinging too hard and therefore failing to hit the ball toward its intended target than swinging easy and hitting the ball straight. Cindy Miller said it often comes down to personality traits regardless of gender.
Some people naturally are more aggressive while others are more cautious. Some love to take risks and opt for low-percentage shots with high rewards while others consistently take the safe route in an effort to protect their rounds. In the end, it comes down to whether they’re playing to mash or put up a good score.
“Do you want to be consistent or do you want to kill it?” she said. “If you can learn to swing within yourself and score better because you’re hitting it straight, that’s the name of the game. It’s scoring. Girls plan shots. They inspect their options. They figure out yardage and acknowledge stupid. In other words, where do I not want to hit it?”
If men are looking to hit the ball out of sight, they can continue swinging too hard and catch a good drive a few times in a round. All it takes is one shot, as they say, to keep them coming back. But if you’re looking for lower numbers on the scorecard, you would be wise to control your tempo and play within yourself.
In other words …
“You’re definitely onto something,” Cindy Miller said. “Should you play like a girl? The answer is ‘Yes.’ “
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