|Two-time WAPL champion JoJo Robertson became the second golfer from Roswell, N.M., to win a USGA championship. (USGA/Robert Walker)|
JoJo Robertson, of Roswell, N.M., joined Kelly (Fuiks) Leadbetter, Lori Castillo and Pearl Sinn as the only multiple winners of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship when she claimed her second title in 1997 at Center Square (Pa.) Golf Course in suburban Philadelphia, defeating Angie Yoon, 3 and 2. Two years earlier, Robertson rallied to beat Elizabeth Drambour, 3 and 1, at Hominy Hill Golf Course. in Colts Neck, N.J. Robertson, an Oklahoma State University graduate, joined another famous Roswell native, Nancy Lopez, as a USGA champion. Lopez won the 1972 and ’74 U.S. Girls’ Junior titles. In 1998, Robertson helped the USA regain the Curtis Cup at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis before playing professionally for a little less than two years on the Futures Tour. Robertson then landed an assistant professional job in Roswell before transitioning to coaching, first as an assistant at Purdue University (2005-2008), where she met her husband John Weast, and currently at Texas Tech University, where she has been the head women’s coach since 2009. Robertson, who has regained her amateur status, no longer plays competitively, but takes great pride in helping her student-athletes achieve their goals.
You first qualified for the WAPL in 1990 as a 13-year-old. What do you recall about the experience?
The thing I’ll never forget is just being out in a practice round and [Women’s Committee member and future USGA president] Judy Bell was there. I was playing by myself and my parents were there, of course. She came up to see my father and asked if I would mind speaking at the [players’] dinner that night because I was the youngest player. Of course, he volunteered me without consulting me. Sitting at the table with [Bell] and the past champion (Pearl Sinn) and having to speak that night was a little overwhelming.
Did you envision yourself back at that table as a champion with your name engraved on the trophy?
Oh no. I don’t think at that time I even thought about that.
But in 1995 you broke through and won the championship.
One of the things I remember is we had an incredible USGA representative in the New Mexico section (Sun Country Golf Association), Donna Sauve. She went above and beyond what most people would have done. We sent a big group every year and [the association] helped with expenses. A lot of friends that I knew through high school and junior golf would [qualify]. So we always had four or five people from New Mexico playing in the [championship]. I remember them sticking around throughout the week. I didn’t have my own caddie, so I had a couple of friends from New Mexico who got eliminated volunteer to caddie, which was really neat. And then I probably ended up with the best caddie in the whole field. His name was Dillon – I don’t remember his last name – but he was a regular at [Hominy Hill]. He was incredible. I had him for the last three matches.
You went 2 down midway through the final match. How did you turn it around?
I just had to talk to myself. I told myself to calm down because I was going way too fast. I just remember thinking this is going to be over before you know it and I’ll be in the car regretting how fast I went. (Robertson’s 7-iron approach to 2 feet on No. 17 sealed her 3-and-1 victory.)
Was it tougher to win it again in 1997?
I don’t know. Just having experienced it once before probably helped me. Just knowing what to expect and it was going to be a long week, and anything could happen.
What was special about the 1997 win?
The WAPL was just outside of Philadelphia that year and my father was living in Philadelphia at the time, and he had the time to come up and watch my last couple of matches. So he was there at the end, which was very neat.
Have your met local hero and Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez?
Of course, growing up there everyone knew her name. I actually had a chance to meet her twice before [winning my WAPL titles]. She came back when I was a freshman in high school because they named an elementary school after her. So my high school principal took me to that ceremony and I had a chance to meet her, and she came back when her dad (Domingo) passed away. At my high school, I would see the sign in our cafeteria that said, “Nancy Lopez ate here.” She certainly was [an inspiration]. My family got to know her father pretty well. He would give tips and advice on golf and what tournaments to play.
Was golf a big part of your family life growing up?
My older brother [Greg] is coaching [the women’s team] at Kent State. My parents were teachers. They had summers off. We would just load up the van and drive [to events]. It was awesome. You bond a lot when you’re in a van.
What kind of confidence boost did winning the WAPL provide?
I had U.S. Women’s Open qualifying right after [the 1997 win]. It was close to a golf course where my dad lived. I remember being on the range surrounded by players a lot better than me. They were professionals and names that I had heard before. I was just so nervous. My dad walked up to me and said, “You are the Public Links champion.” He was right. Just knowing that I had accomplished that did help my confidence. I qualified and played in two [U.S. Women’s] Opens as an amateur (1997 and 1998).
Two years ago, one of your Texas Tech players, Kim Kaufman, reached the WAPL semifinals at Neshanic Valley in Neshanic Station, N.J. Did it bring back memories?
I actually had two players in the field and I was caddieing for Gabby Dominguez. Just seeing all the committee members and everybody I hadn’t seen in years was really a neat thing. I thought Kim could go all the way for sure. She lost in the semifinals [to 2014 Curtis Cup player Ashlan Ramsey]. She definitely has the game for it.
Are you saddened by the WAPL being retired?
That is the one tournament I always suggest that juniors and our team members play in, because it’s such a fun tournament. And the competition is great and it’s always at a good golf course. I just hate to see it go.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.