Monday, September 26, 2016

My Arnold Palmer Moment

Watching The Golf Channel’s original movie presenting the life and career of Arnold Palmer had me riveted. I was not around in the middle and late fifties as Arnie caught the attention of everyone. Nor did I witness the birth of Arnie’s Army. I was amazed at his ability to transcend the sport and “rule” over many aspects of the modern-day sports figure and celebrity: televised sports, fan base, owning and flying a private jet, IMG partnership, golf course design and infrastructure support, endorsements, The Golf Channel, Arnold Palmer Hospital and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. I smiled when I saw the picture of him with Olympic champion-turned Hollywood movie icon Esther Williams and then Supermodel Kate Upton. Little does Mr. Palmer know that he caught the attention of another “covergirl” twenty-two years ago.

              It was 1992 and the seniors were playing at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course in Bethlethem, PA. It was July and I had completed my first year teaching physics at Delaware Valley Regional High School in Frenchtown, NJ.
            A friend of mine had dropped by to chat on his way over to the Senior Open. He happened to be a sports editor of a local and at the time largest weekly newspaper in NJ.  “What’s the Senior Open?” I asked.

            He proceeded to explain that it was a golf championship put on by the United States Golf Association. In this case, men of a certain age (50-years plus) and skill level were competing for our national championship.

            It sounded interesting to me.  I enjoyed sports but growing up on a farm left little time for after-school activities. Actually, no time for sports, organized or otherwise, were part of my upbringing. In my own mind, I lettered in manure shoveling and hay baling. But still, the Senior Open sounded pretty exciting and the event was being held in my own back yard.

            “Name three professional golfers and you can come with me,” he said.

            Now I was in trouble.  I sat down on the couch and thought a bit before I answered. This was an all-or-nothing type deal. I closed my eyes and thought hard.

            “Arnold Palmer,” was my first answer. I paused, still thinking, trying to remember news stories about golf earlier in the year. Some of my students were on the golf team and would talk about it. I know that I asked them who their favorite golfers were just like you would ask about a favorite color. Think, Lydia, think!

            “Okay, Arnold Palmer,” I started again.

            “You already said him,” he interrupted, ”you are running out of time.”

            And then I remembered, they were talking about the U.S. Open earlier this year at Pebble Beach, who won? What was his name? It was near the end of the school year and some teachers had it on in their rooms. Got it!

            “Tom Kite!” I declared.

            “Name one more,” he said,” and I need to get going soon just a couple more minutes.”

            I was blank. I kept going back to my students talking about it at school. And I had seen bits and pieces on television. Just one name. I just needed one name.

            “I will give you a hint.” he offered,” Think about good ole St. Nick.”

            Sounded familiar. Writing this now is so funny because I could name golfers male and female in bunches. But back then, I did not golf myself and did not follow the sport.

            “Nicklaus?” I said thinking it sounded something like that.

            “What is his first name?” he challenged.

            I really did not know. As I sit here typing this story it seems impossible, but truthfully I did not know Jack Nicklaus’ first name.

            I did get to go to the Open championship that day. And I got to see a lot of golf. But the biggest thrill for me was following Mr. Palmer.  It was so cool how he played. He really cared and tried and played with heart and gusto.

            Near the end of my day there.… a huge crowd was following him… I cannot tell you who his fellow-competitor was. But I can tell you, that when I perched myself up on a large rock and waved madly at him, Mr. Palmer pointed at me, smiled and waved.

            And I was hooked! That was it. It was all it took.  My friend (now husband) and I watched that “other golfer” - Jack Nicklaus - on our way out. He proceeded to hit both flagsticks on the last two holes we watched. Pretty cool.

            But what stuck in my memory, even as I write 22 years later?

            Arnold Palmer pointed, smiled and waved back at me that day.

            Thank you, Mr. Palmer.  You hooked me on a sport for life and ten years later I would be lucky enough to land the cover of the United States Golf Association’s 2002-2003 edition of The Rules of Golf. I am the unidentified female golfer perched above a bunker looking at a ball with a horrible lie.

            The excitement of that day at Saucon Valley, along with plenty of help from my husband, spurred me into a golf career. Becoming aware of the game in the early 1990s while teaching physics in high school, I later became a serious player, started the first high school varsity girls’ golf team program in Hunterdon County, NJ, continued coaching for seven record-breaking seasons (the final two, winning the NJSIAA TOC state championship) along with creating and directing a Girls Go Golfing junior program for girls ages six to 18.

            I also traveled to Lithuania (I am a dual citizen) in 2004 and played in their National Championship (though the country was in the rudimentary stages of the sport). I won the event (beating all the men as well), but more importantly put on golf clinics at the country’s only(in 2004) golf course.

Later that year I represented Lithuania in the World Amateur Team Golf Championship in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, I became ill early that week, could barely walk and failed to play the final two rounds. And to this day am still battling a mysterious disease that has significantly limited my play.

            However, I continued to support the sport and ran a Girls Go Golfing program in New Jersey for four years until my illness forced me to step down.  

I still blog occasionally ( and remained a volunteer albeit electronic mentor/coach to the high school girls golf team through the 2014 season.

I am the lone female member of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Golf Committee (tenure 2008 -2018.) My husband and I direct the NJSIAA’s north sectional qualifying tournament forhigh school girls golf teams at Stanton Ridge golf and country club in Whitehouse, NJ.

I am a member of the French Creek Golf Club in Elverson, Pennsylvania the layout designed by Gil Hanse in 2004. Of course, Hanse is now linked to building the 2016 Olympic Course in Argentina.

            I am determined to learn how to manage the latest iteration of my illness (systemic exertion intolerance disease) and soon return to full time supporting the sport, especially for girls and young women.

            Thank you Mr. Palmer!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

2016 USGA Mid-Amateur:Doak, Hanse Courses A Wedge Apart

Just 140 yards.

That’s the distance from the 12th hole at French Creek golf club in Elverson, PA (my home course) to the 12th hole at Stonewall (the site of this week’s USGA Mid-Amateur for men).

Pretty cool.

While I haven’t been able to play much at all since my traumatic accident on Dec. 27, 2015 I continue to work daily on returning to some semblance of fitness along with appreciating the fact that I AM ALIVE. And presently, that includes enjoying the fact that a serious amateur golf championship is in “my” neighborhood.

As you probably know, French Creek was designed by Olympic Course designer Gil Hanse, who was recently at the club to check out his latest improvements. Hanse also had a hand helping Tom Doak design the North Course at Stonewall, where the green complexes are everything.

Doak designed the Old Course at Stonewall, a top-100 layout of amazing beauty and simplicity. Truly a masterpiece.

This week’s competition begins when the Mid-Amateur field plays Saturday and Sunday, one round on each course, attempting to make the 64-player field. Then it’s the round of 64 on Monday, two more match play rounds on Tuesday and the same for Wednesday, breaking down the field to two finalists.

An interesting note is that the 36-hole final will be played over both courses, very unusual for an event of this nature. Talk about being prepared… we’re talking about 36 different holes.

Of course, the personal experience makes this extra fun in that I’ve played both courses a number of times over the past 10 years (my sister and brother-in-law belong to Stonewall). 

Most recently, I ventured out with nephew Michael and husband John Siipola and played the North Course (of course, I didn’t last very long due to a slow recovery from the accident). Still, always enjoy playing with the boys Mike and Johnny!

Grounds staff working hard on pre-tournament course
preparation in anticipation of MidAmateur Championship

USGA measuring green speeds on Stonewall's North Course
par 4 10th hole on Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nephew Michael Leasure tees of par 3 6th hole
at Stonewall's North Course 

Post-accident "punch-swing" to par 3 6th hole
at Stonewall's North Course.

Teeing off North Course 6th hole with
par four uphill 7th fairway in background

Practicing a "putt to win" at Stonewall's North Course
 with nephew Michael Leasure on !8th green

Friday, September 2, 2016

2006 Red Devil Invitational Champion , Vanderbilt University & Wayne Hills High school Alum Jersey Girl Marina Alex shoots 64 in Round 2 of the MANULIFE LPGA CLASSIC IN ONTARIO, CANADA.

CLICK here to watch Marina's Round 2 highlights 

CLICK here to read about Marina's round two

Hi, everyone: Its been awhile since I have posted. I've been a bit busy the last eight months or so.

Doing what?

Marina Alex 
Recovering from the traumatic injuries I received on December 27, 2015.  An SUV ran me down and then ran over me whilst I was riding a bike in a low traffic, residential area.

Thank you to the Trauma OneTeam at Memorial Hospital in Savannah, GA: they called me their Christmas miracle. Two broken clavicles, a skull fracture, jaw-wired shut, the most severe facial fractures you can get and broken ribs.

Eight operations later, my husband and I are focused on recovery and happy to be spending quality time with each other. Hopefully the double vision will resolve along with all the aches and pain.

My husband, family & friends (near & far, old & new) have provided much love and support.

I am so happy for Marina Alex. She was the champion at the third Red Devil Invitational tournament  and food drive I had started while I was the head coach of the Hunterdon Regional high school's varsity girls golf team.

At the time, it was the ONLY 18-hole golf tournament for high school girls besides the NJSIAA state championship. Fast-forward: the RDI will be in its 14th year in April, 2017.  Whoo-hoo!

I always wear a helmet and suggest that you do too.

See you around sometime!

"Mira" short for "Miracle"