Why can't they all be like Mary Ann?

May 22, 2008

In Atlanta recently, I played a round with Mary Ann, a friend of a friend, who came very close to my conception of the ideal woman, golf-adjusted: She was my age (early 50s), was happy to play from the same tees as the rest of the foursome, hit the ball a long way, had a low handicap (5 from the regular women's tees, 12 from the regular men's), carried her bag, and was playing her second 18 of the day. She was attractive, too, although that's beside the point. The crucial fact is that she shared all the basic, middle-age male fantasies about the game: that a 2 nassau, for as long as it lasts, is as important as the Masters; that rules like the one against grounding your club in a hazard are not "silly" (the opinion of the wife of another friend, loudly expressed in a mixed-foursome event last year); and that the only reasonable topic of conversation during golf is golf.

Mary Ann started playing late, in her mid-20s, after getting a job in sales. While she was learning, she beat so many balls that she often had trouble straightening her fingers in the morning. Through a series of lucky accidents, she met a former PGA Tour star who was hoping to pull his game and his life into shape for a run at the senior tour. He offered her lessons in exchange for exposure to her enthusiasm, which he hoped would reawaken his own.

She shared all the basic, middle-age male fantasies about the game'

Nowadays, Mary Ann plays almost all her golf with men. She is the only woman in a regular weekend group at her club, so she is well-situated to observe the male golf-playing species, like Jane Goodall among the apes. She told me that men who are skeptical about playing with her almost always come around after a hole or two, and that they are then often extremely curious about the contents of her golf bag, because they figure that a 140-pound woman who can hit long drives and back up pitch shots must have access to information they've been denied.

She also said that most men treat her like one of the guys, although she has been told by various informers that some of them act differently when she's in the group. "Some of them don't swear as much, apparently, and a couple of them supposedly suck in their stomach for all 18 holes," she said. I asked her what she would change about male golfers, if she had the power. "I'd have them walk, and not take carts," she said. "And I'm not real keen on the cigars."