Well, there’s only way to start this week and that’s by congratulating Sarah Bennett on becoming the 82nd captain of The Professional Golfers’ Association. The 53-year old from Essex, head professional at Three Rivers Golf and Country Club, succeeds Bernard Gallacher, three times Ryder Cup captain, among many other achievements.It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that it took the PGA a while to embrace women as members but they always had their supporters – for instance former captain Peter Alliss was one of the early presidents of the women’s European Tour (whatever it was called way back when; it’s so long ago that my addled brain can’t recall and I haven’t got my reference books to hand, so much more reliable than Wikipedia for some of us oldies). The PGA, under Colin Snape, also ran the women’s tour for a while but it didn’t last – tournament pros tend to have different needs from club pros, though the two are always intertwined.
So, Sarah is only the second woman to be captain of one of golf’s most venerable organisations and it’s particularly poignant that she is emulating the late, much-missed Beverly Lewis, another Essex girl, who was a close friend and mentor.
“If it wasn’t for Bev, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Sarah said. “She was my role model and it means so much to me to be following in her footsteps. She used to coach me in her garden when I was 15 and we used to discuss my swing in her kitchen – I really tested her knowledge! She was always there for me as a friend and mentor, offering advice, support and encouragement during my career.”
Sarah, who grew up playing at Colchester GC, turned professional and spent a quarter of a century on tour before doing her PGA training and becoming a coach of note. She is also, as the PGA said, “an indefatigable fundraiser for charity and the Golf Fore Recovery initiative for wounded and sick armed forces personnel and Canine Partners have benefitted hugely from her efforts. More recently, she has been the driving force in raising more than £40,000 for research into Thymic Carcinoma, an extremely rare form of cancer.”
Mo should really be writing this but she’s had a bit of a relapse and is beyond blogging at the moment, hors de combat for this week at least. She and Sarah are good buddies and shared a particularly harrowing experience on a Curtis Cup recce at Fox Chapel GC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 2011: 9/11.
The destruction of the Twin Towers and its aftermath were beyond horrific but Sarah and Mo, who were staying with Peggy Runnette, the host club’s Curtis Cup chair and her husband Bob, had a drama of their own to contend with. And for Sarah it was life changing.
Packing up to go home, she collapsed unconscious and was taken to hospital by paramedics who were convinced that she (and Mo) had been doing drugs. The toxicology report proved otherwise and Sarah was suffering from, to quote Mo, “some sort of brain/inner ear/balance thing that resulted in her having to recalibrate parts of her brain and relearn balance – not very helpful if you’re a golfer…
“She’s gone on to achieve great things and I’m probably one of the few who knows the adversity she has had to overcome. I’m very proud of her.”
It was a long, hard road back to fitness for Sarah but as she told Essex Life magazine earlier this year: “I learned a lot about myself during my rehab, which has been instrumental in forging my pathway. Coaching people through golf has been fantastic. I love the daily challenge and variety and I am blessed to start the day doing something I love.”
James Braid, the PGA’s first captain, a Scot, might not have envisaged a woman in the role but Bev Lewis and Sarah Bennett are worthy successors and really, The Only Way Is Essex.
Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Co, used to play most years in the pro-am(s) at Mission Hills Golf and Country Club prior to the Dinah Shore – Colgate, Nabisco, ANA, whatever – and this week, now under the sponsorship of Chevron, the tournament, for so long the first major championship of the year, will be saying goodbye to its iconic home in Rancho Mirage in the desert in California. It’s moving to Texas next year and a different date.
It started in 1972 as the Dinah Shore Colgate Winners Circle, with a then massive prize fund of $110,000 (the US Women’s Open was $40,000) but didn’t become an official major until 1982 even though it was always a mega event. For years, with its status assured, subsequent sponsors got it on the cheap, with the prize money starting to lag well behind the other majors. Now that there’s $5 million on offer, you could say that it’s come full circle.
Thanks for the memories, Dinah.
Dinah really could sing – she was a huge star, a mate of Sinatra, Hope, all the big names – but you’ll be glad to know that my concert debut last Saturday was a triumph! The City of Lichfield Concert Band was terrific and so, apparently, were we, the Everybody Sings! choir, applauded and praised by band and audience alike.
Helen, our conductor, even asked me if I’d been miming, which I took as a huge compliment because it meant that my contribution, however flat, had not filtered through to her educated ear. It reminded me of when Miss Glass, our geography teacher, asked me if I’d traced my outline of South America….
I had not. And I did not mime. Just ask the people next to me!