Inspired at the ANA Junior Inspiration...teeing it up with a Hall of Famer and the future of golf in two unforgettable rounds.
It is not often that you get the opportunity to play golf with a Hall of Famer and up-and-coming junior players in the same weekend, but that is what I was lucky enough to do this past weekend at the Mission Hills Dinah Shore Tournament Course in Rancho Mirage.
The ANA Junior Inspiration is an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) event where in the final round, paired 48 junior girls with 24 Legends Tour, ANA Inspiration past champions and LPGA members in a best ball event.
The chance to come back to one of my favorite golf courses in the entire world was a pretty easy decision and I was excited to see some of my Tour friends and to support the AJGA in mentoring players.
But I did not expect to have the rare opportunity to tee it up in the practice round with LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie.
What a treat.
Sandra won four major championships and a total of 42 LPGA events in her career that spanned over three decades. She competed against the Founders of the LPGA as well as the likes of Kathy Whitworth, Betsy Rawls and Mickey Wright in the early part of her career, stars Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan and Nancy Lopez and as she wound down her career and I was lucky enough to be paired with her during my rookie season.
I asked her how she managed stay competitive during such an extended career.
“Meditation,” she said. “It saved me.”
It seems Sandra Haynie is very Zen.
Her swing is like butter, with graceful tempo and rhythm yet powerful and exacting. Even at the age of 74, her ball striking is superb.
Now, she would probably like to see a bit more clubhead speed and distance, but this exceptionally accomplished woman still plays with skill and precision. Her putting stroke is smooth, her short game sharp and her mental attitude – well, it’s almost blissful.
I so enjoyed watching her (and my other playing partners, Legends Tour Founder Jane Blalock and former LPGA President Allison Finney) navigate this incredible layout. We lamented over the length and difficulty of the rough and cautiously appreciated the slippery speed of the greens.
So many memories of this course and the event we all still affectionately call “the Dinah” flooded back – like in my first event here, Dawn Coe-Jones told me with a stern voice, “no matter how well you are playing, if you happen to be in the fairway bunker on 18 in two, DO NOT go for the green. Layup and try to get up and down for par.”
Of course, what happened to me? I got to 18 in my first round and was three under for the day. I hit a poor layup into the right fairway bunker and despite hearing Dawn’s voice in my head, I tried to hit that 125-yard shot over the water to the green. And I walked away with a 7. Lesson learned.
Our Saturday practice round at Mission Hills was delightful, challenging and full of laughter. Teeing it up in the ANA Junior Inspiration Legends Day on Sunday with 48 very talented junior girls was all of that and more. It was a chance to see the future of the game.
I was paired with Aneka Seumanutafa from Emmitsburg, Maryland and Macy Fox, from Austin, Texas. I joked afterward that playing with these two teenagers was both “inspiring and disheartening” at the same time.
The power that they each displayed was mind blowing. Tee shots were long and towering. Thank goodness the Legends had a bit of a tee advantage but on those holes where we were on the same tee my ego took a bruising. On 18, they were easily 80 yards by me. Sigh.
While I struggled to save par after I wedged my way back to the fairways after errant tee shots, they cut through the 3- and 4-inch rough like a hot knife through butter. It was truly impressive.
And yet, while they still have so much to learn about the game – the nuances, the finesse, some strategies and mindsets – they both have exceptional fundamentals, solid technique and fine short games and putting strokes.
It was fun to answer their questions about my career, my game, shots and all sorts of completely un-golf-related topics.
The juxtaposition of seeing Sandra play with fluidity and gracefulness and Aneka and Macy play with power and athleticism excites me. The game has evolved, but it is the game I fell in love with over 40 years ago and still grind to find.
I would venture to say that a great time was had by all, but I think I will long remember the very exceptional opportunity to step back in time and play with one of the true greats of the LPGA, and of course I will be looking for Aneka and Macy on the leaderboards in the future.
Gail Graham is a 2-time LPGA Tour champion and member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. She is an active competitor on The Legends Tour, official senior tour of the LPGA, and also serves as its President. For more information and to follow your favorite LPGA Legends, please visit www.thelegendstour.com.