Yale ’91, current LPGA Tour Professional Player
Interviewed on December 9, 2006
Interview (76 mins)
When Heather was 8 years old and swimming for the Norwalk Water Rats, she came to Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym for a swim meet. She was so awed by the pool that she went home and announced to her mother that she would only attend college at Yale. At age 13 she was on the New Haven Swim Club team, training at Yale under the direction of Yale’s famous coach Frank Keith. At 15 she started playing golf on the Roger Ludlow High School team under a non-golfer coach. Heather had learned how to play golf by reading instructional books and by the hard work of trial and error. True to her word, she only applied to Yale, where she had been recruited for both the golf and swim teams.
She entered Yale expecting to become a lawyer. Most of her time out of the classroom was spent on the golf course, practicing alone every afternoon and often not making it back to Berkeley College for dinner. After two years she quit the swim team to concentrate on golf. A semester of her junior year was spent at Oxford, where she “learned to study” and came back to a straight-A senior year.
The golf team had to share Coach David Paterson with the men’s team. She still had no formal golf lessons until after she graduated. But Coach Paterson taught her by “challenging her”; she still remembers being encouraged when he said on one occasion that she “would be a great player someday”. Still, Heather was not the best player on a team that had trouble finding 5 players for matches. Even so, the team won the Ivy League championship in 3 of her 4 years. By the time she graduated in 1991, she had decided to give professional golf a try for one or two years.
In 1992 and 1993 she won the Connecticut Women’s Amateur Championship. She worked at the Yale Golf Course during the summer and over winters in Jupiter Florida, where she cleaned clubs and carts and did other chores for $5 an hour (and practiced in all her free time). For 5 years she tried and failed to qualify for the LPGA Tour while she played mini tour events. She won 4 of those but still “went broke” several times. In 1997 she coached the Yale Women’s team so she could have a “paying job with benefits,” and finally qualified for the LPGA Tour at the end of the year. She played 20-24 LPGA events while coaching for the next 3 years. The team did well, winning the Ivy League Championship in 1998 and 2000. She was married in 1998. But by 2000 Heather was exhausted by her double roles and felt that the “girls weren’t getting what they had signed up for.” She stopped coaching to concentrate on trying to make a living playing on the professional golf tour.
Heather became the first and thus far only Yale graduate to win a US major professional golf tour tournament in 2001, when she won the Betsy King Classic. She ran for and won a seat on the LPGA Board of Directors in 2002. She said with a laugh that her good friend Beth Daniel “advised me to say that since I was a Yale graduate and therefore so smart, a vote for me should be automatic.” Heather won the LPGA Tour Championship in 2004. She became president of the board in 2005, after 2 years as co-chairman of the search committee for a new LPGA Commissioner. That year she also won the Powell Award. Her daughter Hanna was born in 2006. Her pregnancy along with the demanding duties as head of the Board of Directors during Commissioner Carolyn Bevins’ first year considerably reduced her playing time in 2006.
In Heather’s opinion, the changes made to the tour structure and administration during 2006 suggest that there is a bright future for the LPGA. The disparities in prize money, retirement benefits, etc with the PGA Tour are being addressed. “Except for distance, statistically we’re as good as the men.” With the presidency behind her and with a 3-year exemption, Heather is ready to return to the tour for another 2-3 years before moving on to her next career. The LPGA provides free day care at every event so she and Hanna, with the help of her mother and husband, will return to the tour in 2007. But Heather says, “at some point I wouldn’t mind working in sports marketing or for the Tour.