Lana Lawless with her trophy
TV golf-watchers in the US sat aghast over Christmas when it was revealed that the winner of the RE/MAX world long driving championship for women - shown on the ESPN network - was a former male policeman who used to play off a plus one handicap.
The new women’s world champion is 55-year-old bartender Lana Lawless from Palm Springs, California whose longest drive into a 40 mph headwind at the Mesquite event travelled 254 yards to beat reigning champion Phillis Meti (21) from New Zealand by four yards.
The rules governing transgender golf competition allow for those like Ms Lawless, who have received a 'sex-change' operation to take part in such events as long as they provide mandatory doctor reports, lab results within normal female limits and onsite testing.
“I am a woman,” insists Lawless, who adopted her new name from movie star Lana Turner but refuses to discuss her previous name. “This is who I am. This is my life. That other person, that 245-pound SWAT cop I used to be, he’s gone. He’s not coming back.”
She told Golfweek: “I’ve lost muscle mass. I don’t have big guns (biceps). They give you a drug that stops you from producing testosterone and in about seven months, I went from 245 pounds to 175 pounds.
“Sure, I used to be a man. For 18 years, I was a cop for the city of Rialto, one of the most violent cities in Southern California. I worked the gang unit. I had a very tough and mean exterior. People didn’t want to mess with me.
“I had a hard exterior, but I was compassionate inside. I always let the gay guys go; they had enough drama in their lives.”
Speaking of the long-drive drama, Lawless concedes that her chief opponent was foiled by the conditions. "She [Meti] hits it higher than I do, and that wind just knocked her ball out of the sky.”
Lawless was apparently drawn back into golf after watching the 2006 broadcast of the RE/MAX Championship and crushed a 295-yard regional win using a stock 45-inch Cobra driver then switched to a 48-inch Bang Storm driver this year with 5.5 degrees of loft and with 'Heartbreaker' sewn into her headcover. Her longest drive of the week was 335 yards.
It remains to be seen whether the world of long driving will fully accept her crown as Queen of the big-hitters. Former women’s world champion Lee Brandon is not convinced: “In 2005, the USGA approved transgender involvement in competition, so I don’t see how we can dispute this. However, if a woman has the knees, hands and feet of a man, she has genetic real estate that is more gifted.”
Annika Sorenstam has left the stage of women's golf with no immediate successor. Maybe the LPGA and the European Ladies Tour has found the answer in a former policeman, gift-wrapped for TV at Christmas!