The ninth at Royal Oak is a treacherously penal dogleg left with a pond on one side and OB on the other. The hole measures a stout 438 yards from the blues and only sixteen yards shorter from the whites. Danny told me he considered it "the best par four in the state of Florida." Given my nagging difficulties with the driver, I was more than a bit dismayed that there was a 20 m.p.h. wind quartering against us from left to right. As we waited for the group ahead to clear the landing area, something prompted me to ask Lorie what she found to be the biggest hang-up among the men she played with in LPGA pro-ams.
"It's how far we hit it," she said without hesitation. "The Japanese men have the best time because they don't think they have to hit it far—they just putt your eyes out. But in every pro-am in the U.S. or Canada, somebody's always trying to do their damnedest to bust it past me. And either they do or they don't." Then she added with a mischievous grin, "I'm always saying, 'Okay, swing harder and harder and harder.'"
Deafened no doubt by the howling wind and the plaintive whines of my macho inner voice, I failed to heed Lorie's words and attempted to wallop a drive around the corner of the dogleg. Instead, I snap hooked it into the water. Undaunted, Lorie responded with a picture-perfect draw that bounded up the center of the fairway. Although she hit an uncharacteristically poor seven-wood approach into the right greenside rough, she made a deft pitch to set up her par save, finishing the front nine with a one-under-par thirty-five and a four-up lead.
Upon making the turn, I decided to turn Japanese. I ordered my macho inner voice to shut up, retrieved my back-up driver from the trunk of my rental car and vowed that I would do my best to learn something from Lorie rather than trying to hammer it past her on every hole.
"I think the game we play on the LPGA Tour relates more to the average golfer, male and female, than any other game," Lorie opined as we waited on the tenth tee. "The tee ball is the big difference between us and the guys on the PGA Tour. They're great ball strikers because they're strong. But we're getting stronger. And we'll kill you with consistency. When we play from the same place in the fairway, we'll hit similar shots."
Of course, as my pathetic performance on the front nine illustrated, consistent play depends in no small part on hitting drives that are both long and straight. Lorie's drives are both. In 2001, she ranked twenty-fourth on the LPGA Tour in driving distance with an average poke of 252.5 yards. Number-one-ranked Wendy Doolan averaged 265.8. Even more impressive, Lorie ranked seventeenth in driving accuracy, hitting the fairways with a .774 batting average. Accuracy leader Donna Andrews averaged .853. By comparison, the average driving distance on the PGA Tour in 2001 was 279.4 yards, while average driving accuracy was .686.