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Surviving 18 Holes:
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."

Rosemary Sexton, 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 says.

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," she says.

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.

McNeil's golfing 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 feeling terrible."

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 ~

Source: Canadian Women Golfer, Spring 1999.


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