Women’s Golf Is Alive And Well On Campus
On a day when describing the weather as perfect would be to short-change it, I arrived at the Stanford University Golf Course for the Western Regional of the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships.
The Stanford Golf Course is a rare gem, providing truly memorable vistas, especially from the back nine, when on a clear day from the 18th tee box, San Francisco and the whole Bay Area reveal themselves. It is a bit quirky though. For example, the tee shots on three of the first eight holes require a decent carry over a sizable waste area of thick underbrush – in other words, a “don’t even bother looking for your ball” zone. What’s more, on the first tee you are teeing off on a bluff and driving over a fairly major thoroughfare road that lies below you. If you’ve never played there before you don’t realize that this is the case until you have traversed the path down to the fairway. If the average hacker like me knows it’s there however…let’s just say I’d be loading up on extra golf balls before that round – and checking the small print on my umbrella liability policy.
I focused the day on contrasts, as I am fond of doing from time to time. There were 24 teams playing in this regional, with UCLA at the top of the heap based on its national #1 ranking. Team #24 in the draw was Portland State, with a national ranking of #125. I decided to ascertain exactly how big a gulf there was between the elite and the…not elite?
Part one of this experiment found me following a morning pairing that consisted of the #1 players from each of the three top-ranked schools in the draw: UCLA, Alabama and Arizona. In a nutshell, this was every bit like following any random pairing on the professional level – the Futures Tour certainly, and perhaps even the LPGA. Each player had long, beautifully flowing swings devoid of fear. They carried themselves with confidence and dressed like they were right out of a golf fashion magazine. And one other thing – they had certainly long ago been schooled to, ummm…shall we say, “take their time”. The pace of play was just like the pros, and by that I mean glacial. I noticed this throughout the morning as I bounced around the course to view players from the top teams in the nation. It made me wonder how far back in the development of their game did these golfers first receive the advice to sloooooowwwww down, and whether it was possible to ban the individuals that uttered these words from ever coaching again.
The afternoon wave of tee times brought with it the second half of my “field test,” which had me following players from the three teams that occupied the final three spots in the draw: Texas State, Pennsylvania and Portland State. These players had swings that were a little less perfect and dress that was a little more casual – and thankfully a pace of play that was decidedly less casual than what I witnessed from the top half of the draw. But the one thing that made all of the athletes that I saw throughout the day indistinguishable from one another was their grace under fire. Good shots or bad, I did not see a single display of negative emotion. No outbursts, profane or otherwise. No slamming of clubs into bags. I saw class from one end of the draw to the other. And after about six hours of this, it occurred to me how ironic it was that this was Tiger Woods’ home course in college.
Since I know that you are dying to hear what my experiment revealed, here it is. The state of women’s golf in America is on a big-time upswing. It wasn’t too long ago that there weren’t 72 schools that even offered women’s golf as a varsity sport. Now there is a legitimate March Madness-like “bubble watch” as the regular season draws to a close. And of course there is the requisite controversy over whether the teams that were left out of the 72-team tournament perhaps should have been included. Example A is Minnesota. Ranked 57th at the end of regular season play, they were left out of the festivities.
The pipeline of players from high school and junior golf across the country is definitely full, and that depth of talent was revealed to me in person. To what do I attribute the healthy state of competitive women’s golf in America? Well, I’m no expert (in keeping with virtually everything on which I comment), but I think it boils down to three things. First, Title IX works. The landmark decision that a generation ago redefined gender equality in collegiate sports played right into the hands of golf. Comparatively speaking, it is a low-cost sport to offer, making it an attractive option for athletic departments striving to maintain their balance of men’s and women’s sports without breaking the bank. Savvy parents have picked up on that, which leads to Reason #2: a good golf game can pay much of the freight for a quality college education. As recently as ten years ago, if your daughter could break 85 on a regular basis, you were potentially off the hook for budget-busting tuition costs.
But each of these pales in comparison to Reason #3, which I must attribute to my better half, The Bird, who informs me that “Golf for girls isn’t dorky anymore”. She points out that the clothes are a lot trendier now, and that the guys that play high school golf have evolved in the dating pool to “good catch” status. Who knew? It did not escape me that she referred only to recent developments in male high school golfer attractiveness – evidently when I played high school golf I was still in the “flee from at dances” category.
To be continued…