Date: February 06, 2020
Author: John Huggan @ 13th Beach

The mutual admiration society

One of the most interesting aspects of the Vic Open — maybe the most interesting aspect of all — is the rare opportunity to watch top women and men professionals playing alongside each other. There is much to compare. And much to learn from both sexes.

Maybe more from the women than the men, of course. Especially these days, the power game played by the male members of the species bears little or no relation to the amateur golf seen at clubs anywhere and everywhere on the planet. It is all but impossible to enjoy any degree of intimacy with someone who routinely hits drives over 300-yards, especially when your own tee-shots typically travel as much as 75-yards less.

Still, the lucky spectators are not the only ones paying close attention this week. Many of the more observant men and women competing here are 13th Beach Golf Links are taking advantage of a rare opportunity to see how the game is played on the other side of the gender divide. While the similarities are many and obvious, there are differences, subtle and otherwise. Many are worthy of close study.

“Last year at this event, all I wanted to do was watch the women and how they went about it,” says former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. “Some of them are just machines, they just don't hit bad shots and they hit hybrids on to ten-feet all day. When I hit a hybrid, I'm happy to hit it within 30-yards of the green. It's just a different style. There's something to be learned from both sides and there's enjoyment in watching both styles of play.”

As ever, the erudite Ogilvy’s point is well made. And he is not alone in noticing something in the women that could benefit his own game.

“What I notice and what I like about watching the women pros is that they play golf ‘traditionally,’” says 2015 Vic Open champion, Richard Green. “By that I mean they play the percentages, they have a predetermined strategy and they plot their way round. They can’t overpower courses, the range between the shortest hitters and the longest much smaller than it is in the men’s game.

“All of which means that the women play holes and courses in the ways they were originally designed to be played. In contrast, so many of the men stand there and just blast away. They can ‘destroy’ courses with their raw power. In contrast, the women are more interesting tactically. You can see the thought they put into each shot. I really enjoy watching the women play. They play what I think of as ‘proper golf,’ a style of play that has to be much more relatable for the average golfer.”

Okay, but what about the other side of this mutually advantageous coin? What are the women seeing in the men’s games?

“The distance is the biggest difference between them and us,” says Green’s fiancee, Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord, who also won the 2015 Vic Open. “But I have also noticed differences in the body language. With the men, it is a lot easier to tell who is playing well and who is not. That is one aspect of the game I work hard on. Even if things are not going too well, I try to stay focused and positive.

“That doesn’t make much difference — at least competitively — on a Thursday or Friday. But coming down the stretch on Sunday with negative body language is only going to provide a boost to your opponent’s confidence. I see that a lot in the men and not nearly so much in the women.”

As Skarpnord was quick to indicate, the most obvious difference between her and Green is the clubhead speed each is able to generate. Which is a common theme.

“The men definitely take more aggressive lines off the tee,” concludes Australian Katherine Kirk.

“Part of that is how far they hit, of course. But another aspect is that they generally have more confidence in their ability to pull-off shots. We are maybe a little more conservative. I think we could learn from them in that respect.

“That they are stronger is undeniable, but that helps with the short game as well as off the tee. There are bunker shots, for example, where their forearm strength allows them to create more speed through impact – and therefore more spin. That same thing gives them an edge from a really crappy lie. So I like to watch them hit those sorts of shots.”

More technically, Western Australian Brett Rumford is a fan of what he calls the “softness” he sees in the action of so many women professionals. By that he means they never seem to ‘over-hit,’ their “activation” through the transition from backswing to downswing always smooth. Rumford, a six-time winner on the European Tour, struggles with that, so loves to see it done well.

“What I also see in so many women is the generation of power through their lower bodies,” says the Perth-native. “They move their pelvises so quickly and get their hips more open (aligned left of target) through impact. That is so good aesthetically. A nice, fast lower body – with arms that match up – creates that ‘soft’ look I like so much.

“I played nine holes in practice with Madelene Sagstrom, who won on the LPGA Tour just last month. She was really impressive. And so consistent, because there was no huge fluctuation in swing speed, no matter what club she had in her hands. That is something I strive for. My swing speed can vary wildly from shot to shot. But the best women all seem to have the same rhythm with a 9-iron that they have with the driver. There is no ‘jumping’ at the ball. And they all hit every shot with every club on the same trajectory. Even if they might feel as if they are swinging way faster, the difference might be only one or two mph. So it all looks to be in sync. Their ability to repeat, shot after shot, is something I really envy.”

It all works both ways of course. The Vic Open is golf’s mutual admiration society.