In my role with the LPGA, I spend many hours on planes. This story began innocently with a woman name Susan seated next to me on a flight noting the LPGA logo on my jacket. Susan commented, “I tried golf, but I wasn’t good enough to actually play.”
Me, of course being curious, asked her, “Many golfers who play the game aren’t very good, in fact, only about 8% of all golfers ever break 100. Why did you think you weren’t good enough to play?”
She laughed and said, “I was so bad at golf that I never actually made it past my first lesson.”
She must have seen the look on my face, so she proceeded to share her story with me.
Her boyfriend at the time was a good golfer and gifted her a series of lessons with the pro who helped him with his game. For the purposes of this story, we’ll refer to him as “Mr. Pro.”
So, Susan’s boyfriend schedules the lesson for her, and this was her experience:
First up, a Dress Code Violation
Susan arrives at the golf course in what she thought was appropriate golf attire. Like some new golfers, she assumed athletic wear was appropriate. But, when she arrived at the pro shop, she is told by the female attendant that her running shorts were too short. However, since she was only going to the range, they would (somewhat reluctantly) let her go to the range for her lesson in her “too short” shorts.
Feeling a bit uncomfortable, and now out of place, Susan heads outside to meet with Mr. Pro for her lesson.
Wandering the Range
While the attendant was quick to tell Susan about her shorts, she didn’t provide any direction for where she should go for her lesson. Susan leaves the pro shop and heads toward the driving range to look for Mr. Pro. After scanning the range for a few minutes, she goes over to a middle-aged man who looked like he could be Mr. Pro. The man chuckled and said, “I wish I was Mr. Pro, he is the tall thin man at the end of the range hitting balls.”
Thankful for the guidance, Susan heads over to Mr. Pro and introduces herself. Mr. Pro quickly greets Susan before he asks, “You don’t have clubs with you?” Susan explains that her boyfriend didn’t tell her she needed clubs. She’d never played golf before and wasn’t sure where to get clubs from. Mr. Pro replies, “No worries, you can just use my clubs.”
Now, as a teaching professional, this is the part of the story where my discomfort level goes from a five to a ten. I can only assume that Mr. Pro’s golf clubs have heavy steel shafts given his height and playing ability, which, for a woman learning the game for the very first time, are totally inappropriate.
Imagine being asked to run a mile in sneakers that are three sizes too big for you. You may get lucky and finish the race, but you’d certainly be uncomfortable, a little bruised, and not in for much fun along the way. The same sentiment is true for golf equipment.
EVERY golf course and instructor should have access to women’s right- and left-handed golf clubs and should offer them in the pro shop as an option to women without clubs of their own…but I digress.
Now, onto the Lesson
Mr. Pro starts the golf lesson by telling Susan that her goal by the end of their session is to learn how to hit a 7-iron up in the air approximately 100 yards. Susan had the 100-yard sign in her sights, so she starts off with an, “I can do this” attitude. After all, she was an accomplished collegiate softball player, and the 100-yard marker didn’t seem that far away.
Susan takes the 7-iron that Mr. Pro gives her and waits for instruction. Mr. Pro tells her to swing the club to loosen up. Susan gives him a bit of a blank stare before taking her familiar softball grip and swings the club, mirroring the other golfers on the range she had seen earlier. After watching her for a few seconds, Mr. Pro comments, “Your boyfriend never told me that you weren’t athletic.”
Now, completely embarrassed, Susan feels her face starting to turn red. She’s frustrated but continues on with the lesson. It was a gift she wanted to take advantage of, and she was motivated to learn so she could get comfortable enough to play with her boyfriend.
Mr. Pro watches on as she struggles to make contact—whiffing and topping the ball. He gives her a few “tips” here and there, but there are so many terms that confused her (a club face, pivot, and wrist cock are all words that were a mystery to her), and she didn’t want to ask him to explain for fear of being thought of as stupid.
Susan’s lesson eventually ends.
She never did get the ball up in the air, even though she did her best to keep her head down and brush the grass with each swing.
Susan shared that since she couldn’t accomplish the goal of her very first lesson that she gave the remaining two lessons to her boyfriend. Her assumption was that the goal that was set for her was what every “golfer” should be able to do before moving on to the next lesson, which is a sad takeaway for a first-time golfer.
I, of course, encouraged Susan to give it another try and explained that her first experience didn’t mean she wasn’t good at golf. I could tell, though, that Susan was going to be a tough sell to give it another try. I gave her the contact information of a fellow LPGA Teaching Professional in her area that I knew personally. She was a wonderful instructor who I’d hoped could give Susan a few lessons and help change her mind about golf.
Susan never made that call for lessons.
While I’d like to think Susan’s story is a rare experience for women trying to enter the game for the first time, my years of experience in the golf industry tell me otherwise. I am, though, proud of the strides many courses and golf professionals are making to embrace a more welcoming culture for new golfers through programs like LPGA Golf 101, Get Golf Ready, Women’s Golf Day, and the #inviteHER initiative.
Beyond the work that’s happening in the golf industry, you too can make a difference. If you just so happen to meet another woman with a story similar to Susan’s (or have a similar experience yourself), encourage her to try again, and point her in the direction of a course and teaching professional who’s ready to welcome her in. There are also leagues and communities of women who learn and play side-by-side, like the chapters LPGA Amateur Golf Association, Women on Course, and more.
They’re out there, I promise!