NCGA Golf

Summer 2019

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38 SUMMER 2019 | NCGA.ORG S helley O'Keefe never imagined that she'd become a golf instructor. Her sister became the champion golfer in the family while she grew up to become a world-class skier. But near the close of a six-year career on the U.S. Olympic Freestyle Ski Team, O'Keefe suffered fractures in her L4 and L5 vertebrae, a torn labrum and a dislo- cated hip. At the end of a training day, O'Keefe suf- fered such crippling pain that she couldn't walk down a flight of stairs. Instead, she was forced to take each step walking backwards. It was during her road to rehabilitation at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that her love for golf would blossom. One of O'Keefe's sponsors dropped in to check on her progress and took her out for a round of golf. "I absolutely loved it," O'Keefe says. However, it wasn't her first introduction to the game. Her afore- mentioned younger sister, Jill McGill, is a former U.S. Amateur Champion who spent more than a dozen seasons on the LPGA Tour. O'Keefe often caddied for her sister during her offseason, but rarely picked up a club herself. "I basically learned how to play the game before I ever knew how to swing a club," O'Keefe says. "I understood strategy and course management just from caddying." It wouldn't be long until her swing matched her knowledge. She began smacking balls between rehab sessions and became hooked. One day, she was late for her therapy session having lost track of time while practicing at the range. "I ran up the stairs, changed and ran back down. I realized at that moment that it didn't hurt when I went forward down the stairs," she recalls. "It dawned on me: Did I really want to do this for the next two years in order to make the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? I was tired of being hurt all the time." Shortly after her epiphany, O'Keefe retired from professional skiing. She met David Lee, a respected golf instructor known for taking athletes from other sports, including volleyball star Gabrielle Reece and track standout turned NFL wide receiver Willie Gault, and teaching them golf. O'Keefe approached golf with the same vigor and dedication that she'd always treated skiing. She moved to Royal, Arkansas, where Lee taught at a remote practice facility. She worked with him six days a week, often hitting more than 1,000 balls a day. Six months later, she passed the PGA's Playing Ability Test. Currently, she's the PGA Director of Instruction at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club in Ripon, where she runs a junior academy that serves approximately 50 junior golfers. She utilizes Operation 36 – a program designed to provide junior golfers and newcomers with opportunities for early success and to accommo- date every level of player from beginner to elite. She encourages her elite players and their parents not to specialize in one sport. As a Division I soccer player and an Olympic-level skier, she's living proof that multi-sport athletes can transition to golf quickly. O'Keefe offers an interesting take on the so-called 10,000-hour principle that contends that much time of deliberate practice is needed to become world-class in any field. "When they say 10,000 hours, it doesn't have to be 10,000 hours of golf. It's just a combined 10,000 hours of athletic engagement. It all goes to the same cause," she says. There's much to be learned from O'Keefe's journey through life. She'll tell you that she personifies the adage "When one door closes, another one opens." "Retiring from skiing and having something to go directly into was very therapeutic. It gave me a purpose," says O'Keefe, now 50. "I know a lot of athletes who came out of a high level of performance and didn't have anywhere to go; it was almost debilitating mentally and emotionally. Having golf gave me direction. "I think that in life you're presented opportunities and it's whether or not you walk through that door, which can be scary. But that challenge is what makes it so much fun." AP From Olympic-level skier to acclaimed golf coach By Tony L. Starks THE INSTRUCTOR: Shelley O'Keefe

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