Shannon Rouillard is in her first year as a Rules Associate for the USGA. The former head coach of the University of Oregon ladies golf program, Rouillard qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur that will begin Saturday at Wichita Country Club. She shared her thoughts about what it’s like being employed by the USGA and playing in one of its national championships.
Life can get in the way for a Mid-Amateur player competing in this championship. That is what happened to me the past two years while coming off hiatus.
Between a career, kids, and family, life threw me an “unplayable lie” that I didn’t know how to take relief from. Golf and competing was the last thing on my mind. It’s funny how crisis forces us to dig deep from within ourselves in figuring out the next chapter in life.
For me, my next chapter was literally moving across the country to work for the USGA in Rules and Competitions answering Rules questions. My near six-month experience thus far has been surreal. I still drive up to the USGA in awe of the fact that I work here now. It has been a great experience learning the Rules to this degree. I have had a huge learning curve and it is pretty amazing how much more I know now versus six months ago.
Playing in a USGA championship is like no other experience. For those who compete in tournament golf on a consistent basis compared to those who play in just a few competitions a year, qualifying for a championship is something special. It means that you are considered one of the best in your demographic; it also provides an opportunity to win a coveted championship and make golf history.
I felt more pressure this year to qualify for my seventh USGA championship – this one in Wichita, Kan. - because of my USGA affiliation. My USGA ‘family’ has been extremely supportive to the point that I can’t say enough about them.
With a new direction in life and eagerness to compete again, I knew I had it in me to make it to the next stage. My brother-in-law, Pete, caddied for me in the qualifier. Normally my husband, Tim, would caddie, but my 7-year-old son Brady was not in school yet and someone had to be home to watch the little guy.
It was one of the most challenging and difficult rounds of golf that I could remember on Aug. 31 at The Bedens Brook Club in Princeton, N.J. To make matters more nerve-racking, my two supervisors - Genger Fahleson and David Staebler - were standing on the 18th green watching me come in! They got to see me three-putt for heaven’s sake! It was very embarrassing to say the least, but I was truly surprised to see them there.
Regardless of how I played, their support meant the world to me.
After a two-and-a-half-hour wait for the last group to come in, somehow I managed to grab the last spot in a three-hole playoff.
Qualifying was one thing, finding a consistent place to practice was another. Moving to a new area, it wasn’t easy locating practice facilities. I was forced to get creative. Fortunately for me, the USGA has an amazing putting green (the Pynes Putting Course) that sits behind the Museum. On my lunch hours, that’s where you could find me as I tried to hone my game.
After a few months, I got word that I could hit balls behind the USGA’s Test Center. I just needed to shag my own balls. That’s what I had a 7-year-old son for, right? On plenty of weekends, I would hit balls and Brady would chase after them. It was like having my own private driving range! What’s more, my brother-in-law recently became a member at Baltusrol. I scored being his guest.
Through a good friend of my husband, I managed a handful of practice sessions at Trump National in nearby Bedminster. Donna Mummert, Assistant Director, Amateur Status & Rules of Golf and someone who has played in the Women’s Mid-Amateur before, made some phone calls to get me another handful of practice sessions at New Jersey National.
Considering six months ago I didn’t have a single place to practice, I think I did pretty well utilizing the resources I had. My hope is that it pays off next week.