It's easy to take golf for granted when you we are young. The challenges--time, money, friends to play with--that now make just getting out to the course difficult, never even crossed my mind as a high school golfer who was continuously in the moment of playing golf freely for the love of the game. My high school coach, Patty Whitney, is retiring this year which brought me back in time to when I enjoyed golf without all of the difficulties of being a young professional.
I've had a lot of golf coaches--PGA pros, my dad, collegiate coaches--and what makes a great golf coach is different for every person, but where Coach Whitney excelled perhaps above all others is her ability to keep a team loose, relaxed, smiling, and having fun. One of my favorite golf-isms is "try less", meaning that the harder you grind on the course, focus on your swing, and put intense mental pressure on yourself, often the result of your shot will be worse.
When my best friend Ryan Dowd and I would battle it out for tryouts and positioning on the ladder, we did so in good spirits and never let competition get in the way of our friendship or the team, but then again how could we when Coach Whitney was following us around telling us how great our often mediocre shots were while calling us Raul and Miguel even though we struggled to get B+'s in her Spanish class. What made Belmont Hill golf so special was how loose we were able to keep our team and how much we laughed. Sure, there were times when the pressure mounted and things got tough, but we all knew that Coach Whitney was there to support us with a smile whether we made, birdie, par, or triple bogey.
Perhaps the fondest moment came for me during my sophomore year when at the ISL championship, I stood 3 under par on the 18th tee at Mount Pleasant and proceeded to shank my tee shot and 3 putt my way to a double bogey on the final hole, thinking that I had just blow the lead and lost the championship. Coach Whitney was there watching me and gave me a huge hug after my terrible finish and congratulated me on something I was unable to realize in the moment, that I had just played the best round of golf in my life. Despite nearly blowing it, I did end up winning the championship and will never forget the feeling of exuberance when Coach Whitney handed me the trophy during the award ceremony.
Coach Whitney's jovial attitude and demeanor carried over to the teams that she coached. I don't know how many ISL golf championships Belmont Hill has won under her guidance, but I know that the four in a row that we won during my Freshman - Senior year were truly the highlight of my high school days. I can't tell you how many times my mom has asked my brother Nate and me if she can throw out the old Belmont Hill Ping bags, now faded by the sun with holes due to wear and tear, that currently sit in our parent's basement. The answer is always an emphatic NO!, as if doing so be taking away a piece of our childhood. All things must eventually come to an end, but I can only hope that future generations of Belmont Hill golfers can experience that care-free, fun, and loving attitude on the course that Coach Whitney helped exude in all of us.