One might think, at the dawn of the Tiger Woods era, that golf has come a long way, baby. But consider these numbers: Of the more than 23,000 members of the PGA of America, only 642 are women, and just 230 of those are head pros or directors of golf. In other words, while one out of every five golfers in the U.S. is female, only one out of every 100 is at the game's top teaching level. (More than 900 women belong to the Teaching and Club Professional Division of the LPGA.)
One of the women who has bridged golf's gender gap is Mary Hafeman, a former LPGA player who's director of golf at the Radisson Ponce de Leon Golf and Conference Resort in St. Augustine, Fla. Although there were fewer than two dozen women head pros in the U.S. when she took the job, in 1989, Hafeman never considered herself a pioneer, not even four years earlier when, as a PGA apprentice, she showed up in Columbia, S.C., for her first business school class—club pros are required to pass a series of business courses—and was the only woman there. Arriving early, Hafeman sat at a table with eight chairs. Then the men began to filter in. "Nobody was going to sit next to me," Hafeman says. "That was one of the most brutal feelings I've ever had. It was like I had the plague. I was so embarrassed. When there were no other chairs left, someone was stuck sitting with me." After that, Hafeman entered the classroom at the last minute and grabbed a chair at an already occupied table. Still, she says, two days of classes went by before she was invited out to lunch with the guys.
At the time, Hafeman was an assistant at San Jose Country Club, near Jacksonville. After being hired by Ponce de Leon, which was looking for a pro who would put the resort's guests ahead of his or her own game, she felt a sense of d�j� vu when she attended her first North Florida PGA meeting. "Initially, no one would sit next to me there, either," Hafeman says. "After that I dragged my assistant, a male, along just so I'd have somebody to talk to."
Hafeman had intended to be a player, not a teacher. She was a nationally ranked amateur growing up in West Bend, Wis., and while in college at the University of South Florida and later at Florida played against Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel, among others. After graduating in 1980, Hafeman won the '81 Eastern Amateur and then turned pro. She'll always remember her first LPGA tournament, the 1982 Boston Five Classic. "When I walked into the locker room, everybody looked at me, but nobody said a word," Hafeman says. "There was no, 'Hey, glad you're out here.' I went to the 1st tee and thought I'd jump into a foursome for a practice round. Well, I stood there for six groups. Nobody invited me to play. They'd say, 'Oh, we're going to play two,' or 'We're going to play three.' Finally, my caddie said, 'I think we should just tee off.' So I played a onesome. I was used to amateur golf, with a lot of camaraderie and sportsmanship. The pro game was a business."
She wasn't in the business for long. A car accident in the spring of 1983 in Tucson brought her LPGA career to a premature end. She was 10 tournaments into her life as a pro when her vehicle—her brother Tom, who caddied for her, was driving—was hit on the passenger's side by another car. Hafeman, sitting in the backseat, instinctively reached forward to grab Tom to keep him from going through the windshield. He banged his knee on the steering column, but otherwise neither of them seemed injured. "We were more worried about the car and the insurance and my golf clubs in the trunk," she says. The next day, on the Monday of the Tucson Conquistadores LPGA, Hafeman couldn't turn her head more than an inch in any direction. Doctors said she had severe whiplash. "They said, 'You might as well quit playing professional golf; you're never going to make it,' " Hafeman says. "I told them, 'You're nuts.' "
She played that week anyway and somehow made the cut. The ball rolled a long way on Tucson's fast fairways and she putted well—keeping her head still was not a problem. Hafeman entered the Samaritan Turquoise Classic the next week in Phoenix, but when the temperature dropped 20� and it started to rain, she could barely move. "That's when I realized there was more to the injury than I had thought," she says. "I took a month off, and should've taken a year. But I was just out of college, anxious and under a lot of pressure. Turns out the doctors called it right."
Hafeman stayed on the tour for a while but saw herself being passed by players she had once beaten. "I didn't want to be one of those donators—that's what we called the people who had no chance to win and were playing for other reasons," she says. "I didn't want to just hang on." The end came in the fog-delayed first round of the Henredon Classic in High Point, N.C. Hafeman had a local caddie who wasn't impressed by her intensity level or her play. "He made a comment at the 9th hole, 'Don't you think you sprained your ankle? You're not really into this.' In other words: Why don't you just quit. I told him, 'Forget it, buddy, you're not going to caddie the second nine for me.' So I got another caddie, but while I played, I realized he was right. I wasn't into it. I asked myself, What am I doing out here? I decided that was my last tournament, and it was."
Despite seven years of physical therapy, Hafeman sometimes experiences a loss of feeling in the fingers of her left hand, and one doctor has told her that she's 15% disabled. Although her current career might seem less glamorous than playing the tour, Hafeman finds it rewarding in other ways. She gives more lessons than most pros in North Florida and doesn't work behind the counter in the shop. She has a staff of five assistants to do that. One recent morning she arrived at the club at 7:30, went through a stack of mail, met with the course superintendent, then supervised the shotgun start of a large group that had booked the course for the morning. She gave three lessons and had a club-fitting session before noon, then made sure a sufficient number of carts would be ready for the afternoon booking, a 64-player University of Florida outing.
Every now and then Hafeman is reminded that she is working in what has traditionally been a male-dominated world. Customers sometimes direct questions to one of Hafeman's male assistants, assuming he's in charge. "He just points to me and says, 'She's the boss, you'd better check with her,' " Hafeman says, chuckling. "Men are definitely more willing to accept women now than 10 years ago. My mom keeps telling me I'm a pioneer, that I went into uncharted waters and did all the work so others could follow. I've been able to affect more lives now than if I'd played the tour. I guess I am a pioneer."