Secrets to get you
to the 18th green
by: Maureen Littlejohn
A lofted iron, a sense
of humor and a song in your heart are just some of the
suggestions these women have for getting through 18
holes of golf.
The rolling greens, the
sunny sky, a soaring ball--golf is a beautiful game. Or
so you thought, until you hit the 12th tee. Now, your
legs ache, your throat feels like sandpaper, your
stomach is rumbling and (tsk, tsk) your temper is on
fire. By the time you finish the 18th hole, it's all you
can do to clean off your spikes and lug your clubs to
the car. Yet others don't seem to feel this way. They
look cool, refreshed, even revitalized, after their
game. How do they do it?
Seven women golfers
between ages 30 and 65 share a few secrets:
"At first it took
loads of physical endurance and mental
preparation," says Gaylene Dempsey, a
Winnipeg music industry executive who has been golfing
for three years. "I have a back problem, so
stretching is extremely necessary for me," she
explains. The mental aspect is her most important focus,
however. "You need to know how many yards you will
be walking, and what kinds of hazards are out
there." Clock watching is strictly taboo, she says.
"Accepting that golf takes time--around five
hours!--is one of the life lessons I've learned. It's
helped me calm down and achieve balance elsewhere in my
life, like when I get stuck in traffic."
To avoid getting
flustered at the start, Julie Gillespie, a
Toronto-based golf novice, says a little prayer. "I
always hope I don't get a foursome of men behind me.
That can be intimidating," she admits. Checking in
with the starter when she arranges her tee time, helps.
"I like to pick an early tee-off time, or sometimes
twilight," she says. Another component she holds
dear is humor. "Be a good sport," Gillespie
says. "If the other people you're playing with are
having a bad time, be encouraging. Compliment them on a
good shot." Above all, Gillespie believes in
staying calm. "If I hit the ball and it goes only
10 feet, I'll pick it up. Every hole is a new hole and
you can feel good about starting fresh. Don't be hard on
yourself," she says.
For Keely Kemp,
another Toronto-based novice, the size of the course is
key. "I prefer to go to an executive course,"
she says. "It's easier to get through. I know if I
go to a really professional one, I'm going to hold
everybody up behind me."
Accouterments such as
sunscreen, bottled water, gloves, shell, hat/visor and
lots of extra balls are musts. "I like to wear
something comfortable," says Kemp. "It can't
be too short, and you want to wear something that's not
going to get all twisted up as you walk and swing."
a 51-year-old Toronto author wasn't worried about
clothing when she started playing four years ago.
"The first day, I cried on one hole and on another
I gave up, lay down on the grass and closed my
eyes," she admits. Now, Sexton takes golf vacations
around the world with her husband and plays whenever she
gets a chance. How did she transform the tears to
triumph? "I learned to connect with the ball,"
she says. "I practised a lot and I taught myself by
reading everything I could. My favorite books are by
Harvey Penick." One of Sexton's tricks is to repeat
a mantra just before a stroke. "Penick suggested,
'Take Dead Aim,' but I say, 'Hit the ball,'" she
To prepare herself
before a game, Sexton slows down. "On the way to
the course, I try to start thinking about golf. I walk
slowly and talk slowly. Golf is a thinking person's
game. You can't be hyper or nervous or excited."
She's also found that a baseball grip, lofted irons
(5-9) and her woods make her game enjoyable. "My
seven-wood is the most important club in my bag,"
she confides. "I also have a nine-wood that's
perfect for shots 120 yards from the green."
Partners can also
enhance her golf day. "Don't be intimidated when
other people are better than you," Sexton advises.
"It's good to play with better players, it teaches
you and there's always more to learn in golf."
Sexton's daughter, Stephanie
Black, a broadcast journalist at Global Television,
has recently picked up the game and has her own set of
survival rules. "First of all, you have to invest
in a cute golf outfit," she says. "And make
sure it's breathable. If you can't play well, at least
you can look good trying." Other Black tips are not
to keep score the first few times you go out.
Kathy Mallett, a
Toronto golfer in her 60s has been playing the game nine
years. Her secret is not to chant before she hits, but
to sing a tune. "Your backswing and downswing
should take the same amount of time and be at the same
tempo. The tune I hum in my head is 'The Skater's
Waltz.' It helps keep the momentum going and it keeps
you from getting tense." To conserve energy,
Mallett avoids taking practice swings ("I've found
they don't help me much," she says) and she doesn't
worry if she doesn't hit a wonderful shot every time.
"I used to be too hard on myself. That doesn't make
you a very nice person to play with," she says.
"The more upset you get, the more you wear yourself
out." Sleep and exercise are also key to Mallett's
game. "I have started a program to strengthen my
upper body to give me flexibility and more energy,"
June McNeil, a
42-year-old manager of a Toronto sports club, took up
the sport four years ago. She gets upset when she can't
play 18. "I'm bored if I can play only nine holes.
I always want to see if I can do better. I'm a little
competitive," she confides. McNeil finds the game
invigorating and admits she loves it "when somebody
watches me hit the ball."
McNeil keeps a cool
head when she plays and watches herself for
inconsistency. "I try to make corrections off the
course," she says. "If I'm not hitting well, I
stop thinking about it and just hit it. If you think too
much, you'll just make it worse." McNeil, who
started playing the game when her children were
teenagers, finds it a great stress reliever.
partner, Kate Bush, a Toronto food stylist, takes a very
different approach. "I hate it when someone is
watching me, I'll pick up the ball and walk to get away
from that pressure." To avoid feeling pressure from
those waiting to tee off, Bush keeps her eyes only on
the people ahead of her. "That way you know your
pace is OK," she explains. Her other survival
methods include creative scoring. "A pro told me,
when you start, just try to get on the green in par and
then two-putt. It's a way of achieving something and not
Above all, these women
believe the best way to survive 18 holes is to be
relaxed and comfortable. Smell the flowers, listen to
the birds, and don't be afraid to whack that little
white fellow just where you want him to go.
~ Maureen Littlejohn
is a Toronto writer and broadcaster ~
Women Golfer, Spring 1999.