Hershey, Pa. – After Jane Fitzgerald won her semifinal match against Lisa Schlesinger, 4 and 3, she sat at a patio table at Hershey Country Club in her white baseball cap and brilliant blue shirt and answered reporters’ questions.
They were the sort of questions that a player is likely to be asked at the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. The birdie putts. That tee shot on the eighth hole. The comeback holes.
Fitzgerald had made the final of a national championship for the first time in her life. She had played well and, with her husband of 27 years, Jim Fitzgerald, as her caddie, it was a nice victory for them both.
Despite her win, however, there was a catch in her voice and a couple of times she seemed very close to tears.
All of the contestants here are tired. Jane, like the other three semifinalists, has played seven rounds of golf in the last five days. Add to that the practice rounds and this is an endurance contest as well as a test of skill. Jane never plays this much golf at home in Kensington, Md.
It wasn’t exhaustion that sparked her emotions, however. Nor was it her victory. Jane Fitzgerald was thinking about her father.
When players arrived at the championship, they filled out USGA biographical sheets. The questions are simple: Where did you go to school? What do you do for a living? Who influenced you?
To this last question, at least 85 percent of the players answered, “My father.”
Fathers and daughters. When you’re lucky, it is a very close bond. Jane’s father was Mitchell Abood and when she holed that last putt, that’s who she was thinking of.
“It’s pretty emotional for me,” she said. “My dad. I thought about him a lot today. On the course a couple of times, I thought about how happy he would be.”
Mitchell Abood began to share golf with his daughter when she was 13 years old. Jane’s mother, Iola Abood, was also a part of her early golf, sneaking her out for golf lessons when Jane was a child.
It’s not that Fitzgerald dwells on the past. Today, she has a full, sweet life. She works with Jim in the golf shop at the Chevy Chase Club, where he is the head professional. When the Fitzgeralds were first married, it seemed a good idea for Jane to enroll in the PGA business school, and she reached apprentice status as a PGA professional.
When she wanted to again compete, she applied for reinstatement as an amateur. It was granted, as Fitzgerald put it, “when I was a child.”
As the years went on, the Fitzgeralds settled into productive lives. “I was playing amateur golf, helping Jim in the shop and raising our children, Kelly, who is now 24, and James, who is 20,” she said.
Today, Fitzgerald has a lot going on. She decorates calendars and trays with whimsical golf drawings and sells them via a website. And she has a challenging new position with the Trawick Foundation, where she runs the office and helps with grants. The foundation supports nonprofit organizations focused on helping at-risk children.
“The foundation has been different because my whole life has been sports,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m most proud that the people there care about the community. They give where they live.”
In Fitzgerald’s world, there is a lot to do.
But on this day, when she hit her irons with such precision and drove the ball so well, she thought of Mitchell Abood.
Abood, Jane’s father, worked and often traveled for Ford Motor Company but managed to get home many times to see her play in junior tournaments.
“He’d show up in his suit and tie, and later he would stand at the scoreboard, talking to other parents,” she remembered. “If he were here now, he’d be standing at that scoreboard, going over the scores.
“He knew what a great game golf is and he wanted us to play.”
Fathers, daughters and golf can be a lucky blend: The fun and the trust and impossible dreams. Your father. Your teacher. Your very best friend.
Mitchell Abood died five years ago. When Jane Fitzgerald tees off against Ellen Port in Thursday’s 18-hole final, the first national championship final of her life, she’ll have her husband Jim on the bag and she’ll play the best golf she can. After all, few golfers have many chances to play in a national championship final.
But it is her father Jane will think about. Mitchell Abood. And who knows? Maybe he arranged it.