Stop. Focus. Reassess.
Reach down deep.
That’s what 52-year-old Joan Higgins did Thursday in becoming the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur’s 22nd champion. She cocked, aimed and reloaded six previous times in the event, always uncertain if this day would happen.
She continually siphoned advice from her memory that 2004 champion, and fellow Californian, Corey Weworski imparted on her during the 2005 players’ dinner. She even thought that making it to the quarterfinals last year might be her opus. “When we were at the players’ dinner,” said Higgins, “Corey said, ‘What an unbelievable year I had.’ Then she said, ‘Joan, you can do it. You can win. All you have to do is make pars.’”
Sounds simple enough. That’s where the execution comes in. Higgins won because – with all apologies to the obvious – she had more pars than Lynn Simmons of Phoenix, Ariz.
Higgins, a mother of two teenaged males and who played tennis at the University of Wisconsin from 1974-78, felt more lively than high voltage wires. Normally when a player says as much, the nerves will dissipate with two or three holes under their belt. Not Higgins. She felt on edge the entire round and never fully relaxed until Simmons couldn’t funnel in her 30-foot putt on No. 18.
All the soft-spoken Higgins could do was smile and accept a congratulatory hug from Simmons, seemingly unsure what to do next. She didn’t realize the victory also made her the oldest champion in the event, surpassing Carol Semple Thompson.
“I’m still in shock,” said Higgins. “I really am. I can’t believe it. Last night in bed I was tossing and turning all night, like, ‘You could be a national champion, don’t think about it, don’t think about it because it’s probably not going to happen. She’s probably going to go out and clean your clock.’”
The two epitomized what amateur golf and sportsmanship is supposed to be about. Throughout the match, each would encourage the other. They smiled. They enjoyed the competition. When it was over, there were no tears of disappointment out of Simmons. She walked to her husband, Doug, who had taken a red-eye flight from Arizona Wednesday night, and received a kiss. “I just couldn’t miss this,” he said.
Simmons’ semifinal opponent, Noreen Mohler, grabbed Simmons’ ear and probably summed it up best. “You can only be a little bit disappointed.”
There was some disenchantment as Simmons headed to the 18th hole, 1 down. Moments earlier, Simmons missed an opportunity to even things when she left her 12-foot putt short. “I made too many bogeys,” said Simmons. “She was steady all day and it was hard to catch her.”
On the bright side, Simmons received a five-year exemption into the championship that had her beaming. With a dose of perspective, for the 40 year old with a fitness company who only picked up the game at 19, it was an acceptable salve.
And for Higgins? What did she learn about herself this week?
“What I’ve learned is that you don’t have to hit it 240 yards off the tee. I’ve learned not to be upset with bad shots. It’s OK to use woods when other players are using long irons,” she said.
“If you would have told me a week ago that I would be standing here right now, I would have said, ‘Never.’”
Yet now the threshold has been crossed because Higgins dared to envision that it could happen, no apologies.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s Editor of Digital Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.