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Playing from the Red Tees

Tim Bower Illustration

Photo: Tim Bower

Let me step forward—quite literally—and admit this from the get-go: I like to play from the ladies’ tees. I offer this confession freely and proudly. I’m neither a traitor to my sex nor a denier of my gender, just another golfer looking for an edge, and one willing to go to any length (and isn’t length always the issue?) to discover it. I found mine by learning to give an inch and enter a place I’d always seen as no-man’s-land.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy. At first, my tactical advance felt like shameful retreat. But reducing the length of the course has so enhanced my enjoyment of the game that I come before you today with the passionate conviction of a true believer who is anxious to pass on nothing short of revelation.

So, please, join me. It can get lonely for a guy up here.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me step back and state the obvious: For male golfers other than the most skilled, the markers we pick to play from tend to have less to do with the reality of our games than with the ideal games we imagine we possess. Sure, the tips are beyond most of us, but we opt to play from them anyway. Co-conspirators in so many acts of flagrant golficide, the back markers massage our egos nonetheless, abetting the fragility of our hopes even as they reveal how misguided our measurement of ourselves may be. In our minds, then, moving up becomes a sad concession to core-rattling masculine truths: advancing age, decreasing skill, diminishing power. And who wants to concede all that?

Jane Blalock, winner of twenty-seven LPGA events, told me how at pro-ams she’d marvel when male partners trekked to distant outposts while she teed off more sensibly from the middle whites. “If we switched, I’d still be twenty yards beyond most of them,” she shrugged. “It’s a shame that men make a difficult game more difficult for themselves.”

But what if we reframe that observation?What if it’s not about hard or easy?What if it’s about shaking things up every now and then to make the course a little different and the good walks we take on them more interesting?

That said, I’d better admit this, too: My revelation didn’t come pain free. Indeed, pain—gnawing, nagging and crippling—forced my great leap forward in the first place. When my hips began dissolving to talc ten years ago, my game disintegrated so quickly I was ready to consign my clubs to eternal storage.

A sports psychologist I met at a dinner party reversed my dive. His prescription, in retrospect, seems simple. Until I could play seriously again, I’d have to change my expectations. Check your ego at the bag drop, he counseled: Play a shorter golf course, forget about score and just enjoy the experience.

“But what about my handicap?” I countered.

“Well,” he suggested, “either you accept the one you hadn’t bargained for . . .”

He didn’t need to finish. Protected by a medical excuse, I figured I could accept this apostasy to my Y chromosome. I’d still be playing golf, albeit an abridged edition. So what if my friends teased me?They wouldn’t begrudge me, and anyone else I might tee it up with would doubtless applaud my grit to soldier on. At least that’s what I tried to convince myself as I entered into this interregnum in my golf life, relegated—until I received a pair of artificial hips two years later—to surveying the landscape from (pick one) the ladies’, the women’s, the forwards, the reds.

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