Golf Digest WomanOctober 7, 2009

Why Are Men Better?

When sifting through my "Ask Stina" inbox the other day, I came across this e-mail from Sylvie in Canada:

"There's a question that's really puzzling me: Why is the average handicap so much higher for women than for men? Women: 80% of women who hold a USGA handicap have a handicap of 20 or more. Only 2.7% of women have a handicap of 10 or less.http://www.usga.org/handicapping/articles_resources/Women-s-USGA-Handicap-Indexes/ Men: 75% of men who hold a USGA handicap have a handicap of 20 or less. 25% of men have a handicap of 10 or less. http://www.usga.org/handicapping/articles_resources/Men-s-USGA-Handicap-Indexes/"

Sylvie then referred me to her own thoughts on the matter (some borrowed from "Gwladys Nocera's coach"), posted on her blog at stracka.com. Her possible reasons for men's higher handicap averages include the following:

   "*  Most golf courses are too long for women, which often means that a woman will need to hit a 5-wood to the green when a man hits a 6-iron. It makes a world of difference, because the ball trajectory and the accuracy are obviously not the same. It's true that I often see women hitting hybrids on par 3s when a man will use a short iron or even a wedge.    * Women are not educated in ball sports. They're pushed toward dance or yoga or that kind of things. So they don't develop the same abilities as the boys who play football or hockey or baseball from a very young age.    * Women have been raised to be nice and follow the rules. They end up having a less creative short game than men, which hurts their score.    * Women are more emotional than men and it hurts them on the course.    * This sport has been predominently male for a long time. There are more and more female players, but they're fairly new to the game, so they don't have as much experience as the men.    * Women often take up the sport because their spouse is a golfer and they just want to be with him on the course. They don't care about excelling at it.    * Women are busy raising children, working, taking care of the house and al. and so they don't have time to practice and play.    * They don't have time to train because they're too busy doing photo shoots in skimpy clothes (a personal rant, never mind :P)"

I agree with Sylvie on some points: Golf-course yardages are in many cases patently unfair to women. Women may not grow up playing ball sports to the same extent men do (although no one ever pushed dance or yoga down my throat as a kid -- on the contrary, my ultra-liberal mother took me to hockey lessons when I told her I wanted to try figure skating). And women in general have very busy schedules and can't allow golf to become a priority (probably because their husbands already have dibs on being the golf-obsessed spouse, and the kids would starve if both parents abandoned them on Saturdays and Sundays). I also agree that a lot of women are new to the game and thus still on the steep end of the learning curve.Â

However, I don't agree with the argument that women "don't care about excelling." That's pure hogwash. We care a lot, and while we may not throw clubs or drop f-bombs every time we miss a shot (okay, present company excluded), we are extremely competitive. Have you ever spent a few hours with the thursday-afternoon ladies' 18-holer group at your local golf club? I defy you to find a more cut-throat group of competitors in the world.Â

And there are some other simple answers to why the average handicap of women golfers is higher than that of men. For starters, we're more honest. We post every score, even the bad ones. I have yet to meet a woman with a vanity handicap, but I know many guys who prefer to keep their more unfortunate scores to themselves. I'm not calling them cheaters, but I think they're good at "forgetting" to post scores that might cause a blow to their Index. Women also count every stroke, hole out on every hole, and -- yes -- follow the rules. We don't hit a drive O.B., take a mulligan or a drop by the fence where the ball went out, then record a 4.   Â

Plus, there are fewer competitive opportunities for good women golfers. A lot of amateur men hone their skills in competitions and leagues where they play against similarly skilled players, while most single-digit-handicap women are not allowed to compete against the guys and have a tough time finding women's tourneys that challenge them.

As for Sylvie's dig about LPGA players posing nude in a national publication, our opinions definitely differ on that point. I say more power to them. But that's a different post.

--Stina Sternberg