Old Tom had plenty to be worried about

 

Old Tom Morris had a lot to answer for when, in a decidedly sexist comment at St Andrews in 1899, he exclaimed: "I'll no' be licked by a lassie." Since then, there are male golfers who have quaked at the possibility of being outscored by a woman, while the notion of a lassie actually out-driving them, has been too grave to even contemplate.

The outburst from 77-year-old Morris came midway through a 36hole challenge match with Rhona Adair, who had been runner-up to her great rival May Hezlet in the Irish Championship that year. As it happened, he had to withstand a spirited rally before winning the match on the final green.

Curragh GC would have a number of male members, however, who were not quite so fortunate in friendly matches with Lillian Behan. And at the highest level of the modern game, quite a few male eyebrows were raised by Anneka Sorenstam's recent 59 on the LPGA Tour.

It is arguable if this country has produced a player, man or woman, more naturally gifted than Behan. Among her wealth of talents is an ability to work the ball in either direction, at will. As she explained to me recently: "I picture the shot in my head and my hands do the rest." There is no mechanical adjustment.

The 1985 British Women's champion then added proudly: "When I discussed this with Christy O'Connor Snr, he told me he did the same thing."

Stacey Shinnick from El Cajon, California, also enjoys her golf, especially when playing against men. "I played with a guy once and he told me GOLF stood for `Gentlemen only, ladies forbidden'," she said. "Then I outdrove him and he got real quiet."

At 6 ft 2 ins, Shinnick uses her physique to launch the ball impressive distances. Like in the recent World Long Drive Championship in Nevada, where she won the women's section with a shot of 249 yards into a 20 m.p.h. wind, having earlier hit a qualifying effort of exactly 300 yards.

Despite this impressive hitting, equality is still some way off. While the winning man received a cheque for $75,000, Shinnick's reward of $4,000 for winning the women's section was actually $100 less than the last-place male finisher. But she's not complaining. "I think we proved you don't have to be 300 lb to hit a ball far," she said.

And we shouldn't be surprised. The great Glenna Collett Vare recorded a 307-yard drive prior to the 1922 US Women's Amateur. And Babe Zaharias was through the green with a four-iron second shot at a 540-yard hole in the 1947 British Women's at Gullane Number I.

But what of Rhona Adair? She, too, was remarkably long, given the equipment of her time and the restrictive clothing she was expected to wear. On a trip to the US at the beginning of the last century, she drove a ball across the expanse of a river - a carry of 170 yards. No wonder Old Tom was worried.

"My colleagues in the press tent don't like the way Mark Brooks conducts interviews. They say he's cranky, condescending and always complaining. Sounds to me like he's got the three attributes it takes to be a sports writer." - Tim Rosaforte of Golf Digest, during last weekend's US Open.