Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Golf Gypsy: As Only a Mother Can

My mother, Helen Stapp, died unexpectedly nearly twenty-four years ago, and yet I miss her hugs, smiles, and cryptic words of advice daily. We didn't always agree on life's journey or how to best pursue the future.  In our family Mom and Dad had their hands full with two hundred and fifty Miami Country Club members, and two little girls; one adventurous and daring, the other a quiet observer.  My little sister, Jonya, most closely stayed within their boundaries of comfort.  She was a beauty queen and State Amateur Golf Champion.  We both played on the men's golf team at NEO, and made our parents proud when we completed our college degrees (mine just took 10 years to finish.)

USGA Jr. Am. 1965
My childhood days of golf were intense and emotional.  Winning was not something I experienced.  I often missed qualifying for championship flight because of raw nerves, and lack of focus.  Every summer I asked for tennis lessons, swim lessons, diving lessons, anything new on the horizon.  Dad's words were simple, "Tizzy, you need to focus on one sport at a time.  Developing muscles for swimming or tennis might jeopardize your golf swing."  So, I played golf and practiced hours upon hours.  The solitude of practicing became my escape from pressures.

It was the trips to the Jr. State Amateur I loved the most.  Teeing off #1 at Southern Hills and hitting a straight and true shot down the middle is a memory I will carry for a lifetime.  Shaking the hand of a match play opponent at age 14 will also stick with my gut;  "Good luck," I said sincerely as Rita and I shook hands on the first tee.  "Thanks, you'll need it.!" She won the match on hole 14.  Maybe, Dad knew me better when he nicknamed me Tizzy or tried to explain that my golf game seemed lackadaisical.  Maybe, I overheard so many ugly comments by women in tournaments that I thought no one liked a champion?

It was on mother's shoulders that I cried and sobbed with defeat.  Year after year I lost, and yet she held firm in her belief that I could win.  Dad was the teacher, but mom was the counselor, the healer, and the one who uplifted me and told me over and over that I could win. I finally won a Club Championship once before she died, but I was nearly 40 years old.  My family and friends were proud.

Only recently did I realize how much a mother's love and faith in her children can make a difference for a lifetime of learning and growing.  Over the 50 years since my teenage golfing debut, I've learned that it was confidence that I was lacking, not skill.  But it's not enough to have other people believe in you when you don't believe in yourself.  "Oh, well," is such an easy reply to a disappointment in life, whether it is in a career or sport.

A few weeks ago as I walked to my golf cart, before I teed off at Prairie Dunes for the Hutchinson Women's City Championship, my heart was pounding and my stomach lurched.  It was a match play event, one on one.  Now I needed to win one more match for the championship.  I began to question myself.  Did I care enough to focus?  Did I really just want to win, but not fight through my nerves to win?  Will people still like me IF I win?

Helen Stapp probably giving advice.
Like a cloud passing over I heard a whisper, "Letty, I believe in you and always have. Now go out there and prove to yourself that you can play great golf."

My knees buckled and I looked around with tears in my eyes.  "Mom?" my head whispered.   "I'm watching," she replied, and I heard the pursing of her lips.  When her whispering cloud passed over, my shoulders suddenly lightened and memories were filtered.  I knew that somehow I could win that day, and maybe win again while I'm still young enough to compete.  On my golf ball, that day, I wrote these words, "Almost Heaven."

I only hope and pray that I've been that kind of mother for my daughter, one who believes in her child without a doubt--As only a mother can.


  1. This article is just too good. You were right, there are so many thins that we just didn't even know to question when we were young women. It is pretty scary to me now. Even when the women's rights movement was happening, I don't think I thought about it that much. So sad isn't it? It makes me happy to read about all of your golf achievements. CR

  2. Now i know why you are such a strong competitor--you played from a young age and the boys and great parental support! That's awesome. My background was in softball, so I'm going to try to learn from your example to practice hard and believe in yourself, golf can be such a mental challenge some days.

    I loved your reflections about a Mother's love and support and her role in your life. Makes me miss my mom who has been gone for almost a year now. I'm sure you were a wonderful mother to your daughter, and I hope I have been to mine. It's such a unique and precious bond. I really enjoyed this post...keep them coming. sp

  3. LOVED this blog entry..made me tear up, Dear Sister. mm

  4. Another winner! You look like your mother--I thought at first the photo at the end was you. ss

  5. Great article. Yes, I love that women are receiving the respect and recognition. You were a barrier breaker at NEO. I was very proud to be a teammate of yours. I am very proud of you and all you have accomplished on and off the course. gb

  6. Thanks Letty! Fun perspectives. You can really embrace a mother's thoughts and emotions about her daughter once you've seen both sides. dc

  7. Wonderful stories! Keep writing! bh

  8. Rebecca Davis Letty I just read this and it brought back so many wonderful memories of growing up as a junior golfer at Miami Country Club. I remember you practicing for hours hitting balls with only your left arm. You might not have been a winner literally but to all the junior golfers who were younger than you, you were a an inspiration. Looking back, your family had a huge influence on me. We were all blessed to get to experience the junior golf program in Miami and your parents were responsible for that. They were way ahead of their time. rm