This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
I've changed my mind regarding 16-year-old golf phenom Michelle Wie and her apparent obsession for playing against the men. I've been somewhat haughty in my disdain for Wie almost casting the women's tour as less than a worthy challenge. I haven't understood why she doesn't go out and prove herself dominant against the women, then go to the men's game and discover where she stands there.
But last weekend, as Wie attempted to become the first woman ever to qualify for the men's U.S. Open, I changed my mind. Or I should say, she changed my mind. Wie finished 59th in a field of 153 male players, about a third of whom play regularly on the tour. She didn't make it into the top 18 and hence didn't qualify for the Open, but as Wie was slamming her 300-yard-plus tee shots, I realized I've been carrying on with some faulty reasoning. In terms of gender differentiation, I've been lumping golf in with track and tennis and swimming. In sports where brute strength, sheer muscle mass and explosion are key factors, men and women can't and don't compete head to head. We're different animals, structurally and hormonally.
With golf, it's always been the power tee shots that have substantiated that different animal case. The finesse of fading a 9-iron shot toward the pin, the dead eye of putting over the contours of the green, those skills have nothing to do with pure power. Nothing to do with gender. But those tee shots. That's where testosterone gives a male golfer the edge. At the Open qualifier, Wie of course played from the men's tees and her now-famous long ball off the tee is quite clearly not a weakness of her game. It was Wie's putting that hindered her from making history at the men's Open.
When the men's Professional Bowlers Association tour rolls into action this fall, a woman for the first time will play full time. And why shouldn't Kelly Kulick compete with men in bowling? It doesn't take muscle mass to face those ten pins, frame by frame.
Danika Patrick just finished 8th at the Indy 500 over Memorial Day. Some of the men on the Indy circuit express their annoyance with the constant media spotlight on Patrick, but nobody seems to protest her driving abilities. She proves herself on the oval, a place where it's the muscle power of the motor, not the man, that counts.
Men, on average, are going to get around a golf course in fewer strokes, by virtue of their strength off the tee and the long fairway shots. But when speaking of the top women players, average is not germane to the conversation. Michelle Wie's 6-foot frame, her exceptional talent in striking the ball, the whip in her stroke, and her intense desire to compete side by side with the best in the world... the entire Wie package renders her entirely capable of playing world-class golf, on both the men's and women's tours.
What really won me over was Wie's comment that if she had to choose between having made the men's Open cut last weekend or winning the LPGA Championship this weekend, the teen said ---I would choose winning this week.--- Ah... there's the respect for the awesome women players I was looking for. So go get 'em, Michelle. Get 'em all. Gender be damned.
Oh, a quick French Open comment before I leave you. On the men's side, complaints have mounted over the recent years of boron/Teflon/monster racquets. Some feel the power feeding off these materials has made for serve-heavy, one-note matches. But on the red clay at Roland Garros, power gives way to finesse. And conditioning brings an unfit player to his knees. The rallies are long; the drop shots a work of art. And we're heading for a classic duel in a possible final on Sunday between the fire of Spaniard Rafael Nadal and the cool of Swiss Roger Federer. Vive la terre battue or Long Live Clay Court Tennis!
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.