Meet Robyn James: The Only Woman in the Field… (TPC Sawgrass, July 25, 2011)

This is the first article in Golf Writer Andy Reistetter's latest creative venture- an exclusive "Meet Golfers the Write Way" series- a collection of articles about the golfers and people that he has met along the way these last four years on tour.
Meet Robyn James: one of the most interesting and passionate golfers you will ever meet.

Meet Robyn James: one of the most interesting and passionate golfers you will ever meet.

Robyn James was the only woman in the field at the Golf Channel AM TOUR at the TPC Sawgrass Open in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Though typically not the case on the country's premier amateur tour, it did happen recently at a "major" held at the "Home of THE PLAYERS Championship and the Nationwide Tour's Winn Dixie Open." Being the only woman in the field is not what is unique about Robyn. What is extraordinary about Robyn is that in her rear view mirror is corporate America and in front of her on a full time basis is the green grass of golf courses. At age 32, she is determined to transition from a corporate cubicle dweller to a green grass go-getter. Her dream is to become a professional golfer.
Robyn James may look back one day to an amateur tournament at TPC Sawgrass as a huge stepping stone on her journey to become a professional golfer.

Robyn James may look back one day to an amateur tournament at TPC Sawgrass as a huge stepping stone on her journey to become a professional golfer.

In the 36-hole event with rounds on Pete Dye's Valley course as well as the more famous Stadium course, Robyn finished fourth in her flight, only two strokes behind the winner. In last year's season finale called The National Championship, contested on the same two courses, this determined soul failed to break 100 on either course. This year, she opened up with a 94 on the Stadium and followed up with an 87 on the Valley course. Playing golf as an amateur and improving is not the end of the story of this sassy, passionate golfer from Shelby, N.C. It's really the middle of the story with a forecasted terrific ending. The start of the story began with a college degree in applied mathematics from N.C. State. With a concentration in cryptography, she later began to break down and decipher the code of her own life.
Robyn James in the process of becoming "better than most" at TPC Sawgrass.

Robyn James in the process of becoming "better than most" at TPC Sawgrass.

When her first company was acquired by a private entity she felt "sold" like everyone else. In her second gig in corporate America, she analyzed patterns of returned product before being laid off at the beginning of the 2008 economic downturn. Laid off like hundreds of others in Atlanta, the prospects of a different job in the same pursuit did not look promising. Robyn will tell you she had a "mid-life crisis at age 29," realizing nothing she was doing was guaranteed." She wanted off the corporate track to a not-so-certain future. She turned to her family: mother Rhonda; father Kevin, who is an orthopedic surgeon; and older sister Kellee for support and insight on what to do next. Though dedicated to riding horses competitively and running track in high school, Robyn remembered being introduced to golf by her father at age 10.
Robyn James with her Rule 8.1A ball marker which signifies she knows what she is doing and fellow golfers better not mess with her during a competitive round.

Robyn James with her Rule 8.1A ball marker which signifies she knows what she is doing and fellow golfers better not mess with her during a competitive round.

Raised as an army brat, her family was living in El Paso, Texas at the time. She remembers her set of junior golf clubs with the Panda head cover. The youngster was out on the golf course with her father when it started to rain hard, Texas style. They cut through a ditch to get back to safety and were almost swept away by a flash flood. Now she is on a crash course to become a professional golfer trying to improve enough to pass the Player Ability Test (PAT) while pursuing a parallel path to golf instructor. The originally 25+ handicapper made a decision to move back home with mom and dad at age 30 to pursue golf as a full-time job in order to eventually make it to the highest level. Working 9-to-9 in Corporate America, she did not have time to play golf. Now playing golf is her No. 1 priority all the time. Why not follow your passion and love in life? Her mentor is Millie Keeter Holbrook, a former LPGA player and now a golf instructor at Robyn's home course in Shelby, the semi-private Deer Brook Golf Club. Touring professional? Teaching professional? Robyn's eyes get bigger than big as she explains how Holbrook's perspective made sense to her. "It's kind of like a daisy, if you aim for the center portion of the daisy (touring professional) that is fine. You work towards that as long as you are improving and you still want it. "If you decide you don’t want the center there are all these support petals around it like teaching professional and tournament operations. So maybe it is not the center anymore, but something around that love of golf." Anywhere in the golf world yet to be determined is where Robyn will land. She knows and understands that folks like Michelle Wie have a 20-year jump start on her. But she loves what she calls "the ultimate independent women's sport;" you go out there and slay your own dragons, go for the green in two, and don't rely on someone else to do it for you. "What else can you do where it is completely up to you?" 'The mental challenge of golf is so intoxicating." She has given herself another two years to pursue becoming a touring professional while also making progress towards becoming a teaching professional. Her performance over the weekend at TPC Sawgrass lowered her handicap to 13.6 down from a pre-tournament 15.0. The Player Ability Test (PAT) works out to be around 15 shots over par for 36 holes. She figures she is halfway there and wants to continue to develop her competitive playing skills while improving her game between tournament starts. The Golf Channel's Pro-AM tour is perfect for Robyn; she does not play on any other tour but wants to get her handicap down to qualify for mini-tour events in the not-so-distant future. This bright, smart and motivated person figures that it is better than "waiting to be a scratch golfer." Not a gym rat, she works out in the early morning with kick-boxing DVDs before heading to the practice range and golf course for the rest of the daylight hours. She takes lessons 1-2 times per week and gets lots of golf book reading assignments from her mentor. Her loss of independence is more than offset by enjoying time spent with her parents and being out there playing with the guys. On the Pro-AM tour women are given a 10 percent distance advantage. She gets the "You hit it further than me you and should be playing back here with me" type comments from the guys and is quick to respond with "they don't tell Bubba Watson to move further back, why should I?" Tell her that she "hits it far for a girl," and she is likely to respond with "you hit it short for a guy." With a giggle she will tell you she has a typical golfer split personality where she can talk to everyone all day, or hit balls and chip and not talk to anyone all day. There is no steady boyfriend at this point in time. She will tell you that dating in the golf world is interesting. She wishes guys would think of dating more as a job interview- "some guys want to interview for the wrong position, the position is boyfriend, not golf coach. Sometimes you get guys that think they are interviewing for a golf coach position." This fiercely independent woman will tell you that "the problem with guys in golf is that everyone wants to coach you, even those who are not as good as you." "Here's what you need to do to play a bump and run shot… sorry not interested, right now I am focusing on putting since I am on the green in two and you are not." The 5' 5" lady who weighs in at 120 lbs with her golf bag on her shoulders admits to "a certain sort of satisfaction beating the guys especially the six foot plus guys with the Gaston complex." Most of the guys she plays with on the Golf Channel tour are great, but every once in a while a guy comes along that is playing the gender game instead of playing the golf course. Beating them is an added bonus. Guys also take note of her tournament ball marker. The "8.1" on it stands for Rule 8-1A in that a player cannot give a playing competitor advice on the golf course. If they do it, is a two-stroke penalty. "Some guys would give advice to a snail." Some guys have told her that she should not play a shot the way she intended, which upsets her. When she learned about the rule, her attitude became "it's not okay, play the game." She is motivated by seeing the personal growth- practicing a shot for months and then pulling it off in competition. Discover who you are and how good you can be, building confidence, not sure at first if you can do it and then going out and doing it. Knowing she is addicted to golf her first "hello" on her website demands a "hello" back as in a 12- step meeting. "You think that you are normal because you wake up thinking about golf, but some guys tell me that is not normal." Her philosophy is that "the bad shots make the good shots even better," that you "can't have the up without the down." The name of her web site is "Ups and Downs… check it out at http://upandowns.wordpress.com/ She is a "Tiger Woods" on practice days and a "Matt Kuchar" on competitive playing days. She hopes to keep that attitude in a year or two when she is trying to make the professional cut. Wise in her young years she knows that "I seem to play better when I am happy." Robyn has friendly head covers and carries on conversations with them along the fairways and greens. "Max the Moose" is her driver for "maximum" distance. Lola is her putter with a lady bug on the grip. There are two theme songs with Lola- one from the musical Damn Yankees- "Whatever Lola wants, Lola Gets," and Barry Manilow's Copacabana… "Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…" Lola replaced "Pablo," who Robyn divorced. They wanted different things: he wanted to putt as many times as possible and she wanted to putt the least amount of times. "Yes Lola, I did say right edge but I wanted it to fall into the cup from the right edge." I guess even women misunderstand one another at times. With the wisdom of someone much older, Robyn will tell you that "nothing ever happens in ones." Well on the golf course a score of "one" is a good thing. And if there has to be "one" woman in the field and that one is Robyn James then maybe that isn't such a bad thing. But that isn't the story. She might be the "one" that does what we all dream about doing: coming from nowhere at a not so young age golf-wise and making it as a professional golfer. Hey, even Carl Spackler, a.k.a. Bill Murray won the Cinderella Story out at Pebble Beach with D.A. Points earlier this year. Stay tuned for the rest of the story!   Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Research and Broadcast Assistant for the major golf broadcast companies. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours. Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it. He can be reached through his website Andy’s Golf & Travel Diary or by e-mailing him at AndyReistetter@gmail.com