Why Do Most Women Fail At Golf? Don’t Tell Me It’s Our Fault!!!

I just came across an online article published in GolfDigestWOMAN, (dated May 2012) by Stina Sternberg, that asks the question: Women Golfers: Wired to Fail? It focuses on the recent research of British PGA Pro, Sue Shapcott that presents the fact that women golfers, especially those new to the game are convinced that they’re going to fail at golf!

Free Shipping On Orders Over $150 At Rock Bottom GolfWhat???!!! Tell me it isn’t so. It’s true that I’ve had my share of discouraging moments out there on the golf course. (My last round had me in the trees more than once.) But, like most of my golfing friends, I play for the fun, the networking and the chance to just get outside and play for a few hours in the sunshine.

Perhaps a lot of this expectation of failure has to do with the internal/external motivation for why a woman would even want to play the game. But this is just from my casual observation of women golfers with whom I’ve played. The golfers who keep coming back week after week do so for the love of the game, not for the scores. (Though it is always nice to win those token prizes or $ in the pro shop at the end of a round.)

What Sue Shapcott is doing is serious research. She is a doctorate student in Educational Psychology at ASU, and is using Attribution theory to study hundreds of golfers (men and women, both advanced and new) to determine whether they see their golf game performance as something they can control and improve; (adaptive attribution) or as something over which they have little or no control and improvement is just not possible; (maladaptive attribution).

That’s about as far as I want to go with presenting the scientific theory behind the study. You should read the article itself for more specifics.

The study is still a work in progress but the results so far are impressive. Here is just one factoid (the bold italic type is mine):

Shapcott’s study found that most men, even rank beginners, never perceive themselves as being unsuccessful, while most women do. “That alone is interesting, and from a motivational perspective speaks volumes,” Shapcott says.

Why is this true??? One possible explanation offered by Shapcott is what she calls “Stereotype Threat.”

“‘Stereotype Threat’ is when we belong to a group that’s expected to underperform, and when we’re reminded of that in either a conscious or an unconscious way, then we do underperform,” she says. “Studies have been done with women in math and science, with white men playing basketball, with African-Americans and academics, and it’s a real phenomenon. So, in my mind, women when they go and play golf are always under this stereotype threat, based on this culture and this environment.”

What should we do with this information? This study is very timely in light of the PGA’s emphasis on bringing more women and families into the game of golf. (Read one of our earlier posts from the PGA show this past January. Guess Who The PGA Is Counting On To Save The Golf Industry) How can this information help improve the chances that a woman who begins to play golf, will feel positive about the experience and want to keep playing? Not only that, but what about women encouraging their friends, spouse, kids to get out there and play the game?

Having been an instructor for Hank Haney’s golf academy in Dallas, Sue knows the importance of positive encouragement when it comes to teaching golf to women. “Women golfers take more lessons than any other percentage of the golfing population, so as golf instructors, we’ve got a really good chance of doing something about their motivation and the attributions they make.”

Sue is continuing her research and for the next year and a half is collecting feedback from golfers of all abilities. You can assist her by taking part in the short survey for her study by clicking here. Your answers are anonymous.

What do you think? Do you think women are predisposed to fail at golf? Does the “Stereotype Threat” really exist? Add your comment in the space below.

  8 comments for “Why Do Most Women Fail At Golf? Don’t Tell Me It’s Our Fault!!!

  1. April 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Isn’t the golf industry partly to blame for this by portraying golf as a sacred institution rather than a fun game? TV commentators and books rhapsodize about the traditions, about honor, instead of the fun to be had by spending a day on the fairways with friends. I admire my mom and dad for being SO over that — 77 and 79, they emailed the other day to say they’d played nine, walking. They are happy just to be able to play, heck with the scorecard!
    Great post!

    • Pat Mullaly
      April 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Good for your parents. One thing about golf is the fact you can play the game and thoroughly enjoy the experience no matter your level or your age.

  2. Rian
    April 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I don’t see it as black or white based on gender. SOME women may be predisposed to fail, maybe because they don’t have natural athletic talents, or the men in their life try to teach them, or they don’t have the time or opportunity to play. Golf is hard. It takes a long time to learn to play it well, and until you can, it is more frustrating than fun. The rest of us stuck with it until we got good enough to enjoy ourselves out there.

    I do think the “stereotype” exists to a certain extent, mostly with older guys. The younger ones, not so much. The older ones seem to want to find fault and tell you what to do. I think your own confidence level has a lot to do with how much stereotyping is perceived.

    • Pat Mullaly
      April 25, 2012 at 9:28 am

      I totally agree with your comment that Golf is hard and takes a long time to get good at the game. Some women are just naturally gifted, others have to really work at it. I’m one of those. But the more you play, the better you get and the more confident you become. And the more confident you are, the more you listen to your own inner voice about what to do next and you stop listening to the critics! Thanks for your insight.

  3. jennMer
    April 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    I ran into the same problem when I tried to play golf with my boyfriend. He takes the game very seriously. I finally gave up trying to be a perfect golfer for him and now I only play with the guys from the office who play for fun not blood. Much better.

  4. G23Carver
    April 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Why would anyone want to play this game when it is so hard to do well and so easy to make a fool of yourself. When I first started to play golf I would go out with my husband but all he did was yell and tell me what I was doing wrong. It was no fun. I almost quit till I found a couple of other wives with the same problem. Now we play once a week and just enjoy ourselves. No pressure. And I am actually getting better.

  5. April 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I get the feeling that many women think being aggressive is not feminine on the golf course, but in other avenues in life, they do not have this issue (mostly sports). Enjoy the game and do not be afraid to attack the sport as you do other areas of your life. I like the analogy of standing on the first tee, afraid of hitting a poor tee shot. Step back 30 minutes and watch what the golfers ahead of you did. You have no reason to feel inadequate or fearful. Trust your swing and enjoy the game.


    • Pat Mullaly
      April 14, 2012 at 7:49 am

      Thanks Denny. Wise words. Everyone, both men and women have good and bad shots. Even the pros are not perfect. And they spend every day practicing. Those of us who play once a week or once in a while should stop being so hard on ourselves and as you say, “trust your swing and enjoy the game.”

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