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Battle of the Sexes: Shootout at Royal Oak

"I'm fortunate that I have a nice smile, but the smile doesn't tell the whole story," Lorie confided. "I'm very competitive. I'm not going to be mean, or be something that I'm not. But I'll try to put my ball inside yours and make birdie."

That prompted me to escalate the preround psychological sparring. I told Lorie that I'd grown up in Texas playing against the brother-sister duo of Johnny and Mary Lou Dill, whose second cousin Terry Dill is now a stalwart on the Senior PGA Tour. Johnny had gone on to play on the 1972 NCAA championship golf team at the University of Texas with Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. Mary Lou had gone on to win the U.S. Women's Amateur at age nineteen, then retired from competitive golf to pursue a career as an industrial video producer.

"The bottom line is that I've been accustomed to getting whipped by a girl on the golf course since I was eleven years old," I said.

Lorie flashed another of her "Miss Congeniality" smiles and suggested that we head over to the first tee. On the way, we settled on the format: eighteen holes, match play, loser buys the beers, winner keeps the pride.

I quickly discovered that I was entering a foreign enclave that was Lorie's home away from home. Royal Oak is the semiofficial winter headquarters of professional and amateur golfers from all over Canada. From 1976 to 1996, the semiprivate course was actually owned by the Canadian PGA. It was subsequently purchased by a group of investors mostly based in Ontario. Royal Oak's frequent visitors have included former PGA Tour star George Knudson and the eccentric ball-striking legend Moe Norman. Red-maple-leaf flags were flying in front of at least a half-dozen homes within sight of the clubhouse.

Lorie was welcomed onto the tee box by a small but enthusiastic throng of fellow Canadian snowbirds. Among them were our playing partners, Linda Shephard, a wispy-thin associate golf professional who owns a course outside Toronto with her husband, Greg, and Danny Sharp, whom Lorie calls her "director of golf operations." A stocky former Canadian Tour pro in his early forties whose career was cut short by an injury in a car accident, Danny doubles as Lorie's caddie and swing coach.

"I'm really lucky to have Danny with me because he's a player, and he understands what it's like to compete under pressure," Lorie told me as we waited for the foursome in front of us to clear out. "A lot of times when I've got a tough shot during a tournament, he'll say, 'Hold the bag.' Then he'll walk me through the shot I need to make."

All things being unequal as they were, I figured that it made sense to stick as close to Danny as possible. We agreed that Lorie and Linda would play from the white tees, as they usually did, while Danny and I would play from the blues. "That way," I said under my breath, "we'll have a built-in excuse if the girls kick our butts."

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