WHEN I took over as coach of the Lady Pumas of Maria Carrillo High in Santa Rosa, Calif., earlier this year, one of my goals was for the girls to be better golfers at the end of the year than they were at the start. Heading into the final week of the regular season, our team had steadily improved and was in first place with a 10--2 record. Still I sensed we needed a jolt of inspiration for the home stretch.
Given that I'm a writer who had never coached golf or girls before, I didn't have a Gipper story to fall back on, but I did have connections at the LPGA that could get my team inside the ropes at the Longs Drugs Challenge, which was taking place right in the Bay area. So on Oct. 11 we set out for Blackhawk Country Club in Danville.
After her round we met Brittany Lincicome, an outgoing and engaging 23-year-old with two tour wins. She mixed easily with our girls, pointing out that there are college scholarships going begging for young woman golfers. Lincicome herself skipped college, joining the LPGA months after high school graduation. "The first year was tough," she admitted. "It took a while to get acclimated."
We also met Morgan Pressel, who at age 12 had set the record as the youngest golfer to qualify for a U.S. Open and at 18 had been the youngest woman to win a major championship when she triumphed at the Kraft Nabisco. Now 20, she echoed Lincicome's sentiment that life on tour is not all fun and games. "When you don't play well it feels like a job," she said after signing for a frustrating 75. Asked what she had to sacrifice to realize success at such a young age, Pressel said she did not consider her choices to be sacrifices. "I had something I wanted," she said, "and I was determined to achieve it." The girls grasped that her point applied not only to golf: Becoming exceptional at anything in life requires hard work and commitment.
Pressel also spoke about the importance of striking a balance. That resonated with the Lady Pumas, who juggle contending for a league title with the demands of school and the added distraction of the upcoming SATs. (As if her golf wasn't impressive enough, Pressel scored a near-perfect mark on her math SAT.)
That point was driven home by Paula Creamer, who also shared time with our team. "It was hard to accept the fact that I was not going to lead a normal teenage life," said Creamer, who at 22 has won eight tournaments, including four this year, "but I wanted to hold a trophy more than have a sleepover."
Our day proved both enlightening and inspiring. "The players made it seem attainable," said Rebecca Krauthamer, a senior. "If not the LPGA, at least college golf," concurred Eva Gallagher, a sophomore and our No. 1 player. "It's all about belief," said my daughter, Ella, also a senior, "and knowing what is important to you."
Proving that Creamer's scenario need not be an either-or proposition, the Lady Pumas gathered for a sleepover that night, then came out blazing last Thursday. They won their final match by 21 strokes to claim the school's first league championship. It was a great way to head into the SATs.
Scott Gummer is the author of Homer Kelley's Golfing Machine (Gotham) due this spring.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Nov. 17 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.