18 Questions With ... Noreen Mohler
February 17, 2009
When Noreen Mohler got the phone call inquiring whether she’d be interested in captaining the 2010 USA Curtis Cup team, she was so thrilled she couldn’t sleep until the following night. A reinstated amateur who briefly played on the LPGA Tour, Mohler took 20 years off from the game to focus on business endeavors with her husband, Jeff, and to raise their son, Brendan, now 19. In 2006, she decided to break out the clubs again for the Senior Division of the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur at Oakmont Country Club before qualifying for the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur later that fall. She has since competed in three Senior Women’s Amateurs (quarterfinalist in 2007) and two U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs (semifinalist in 2008).
Mohler, a player on the victorious 1978 Curtis Cup squad, went 1-1-1 during those Matches. She grew up near the Essex County Club, where the 2010 Match will be contested.
Mohler, 55, sat down with the USGA’s David Shefter to explain what golf means to her at this point in her life, and what lies ahead.
USGA: It’s Feb. 10, and Martha Kirouac of the USGA Women’s Committee is calling you. What’s going through your mind?
Noreen Mohler: Martha and I have been friends for a long time. I probably met her back in 1977. We both lived in Rhode Island at the same time and played golf at Rhode Island Country Club. I’d say in the past 30 years, we have probably talked four or five times. I remember calling her when she was named captain of the [Curtis Cup] team [for 2004]. I saw her at the Women’s Open at Pine Needles. I knew her daughter had gotten married. It’s not like Martha had called a lot, so when she started talking we talked about the weather and her daughter’s marriage. Then she said, ‘I think you know that I am a member of the USGA Women’s Committee.’ My first thought was, ‘She is going to ask me to become part of the committee.’
Then when she said, ‘Would you consider becoming the captain of the 2010 Curtis Cup team?’ I thought she was kidding. I asked her a couple of times. ‘Are you kidding? Are you kidding?’ She then went into saying how I would be a great captain.
Then I started to cry. She then told me to hang up the phone and talk to my husband and then call her back and tell her that I would take the job.
As a former Curtis Cup player and one who has been around the game for awhile and enjoyed success, how high is this honor in the pantheon of your accomplishments?
Mohler: This is the highest. It’s not because of my playing ability that I got this job. They are not going to pick somebody that they don’t trust ... I told Martha I feel so unworthy, and she said she felt the same thing [prior to the 2004 Match].
How excited are you about captaining the Curtis Cup team in a Match being held at the Essex Club, which is not far from where you grew up in Massachusetts?
Mohler: It’s probably 45 minutes away. It’s on the north shore of Boston. I’m so excited about that. I grew up playing my golf in Massachusetts, and the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts was where I played my competitive golf. I remember fondly the women who nurtured me and tutored me. It’s just going to be such a warm feeling. I’ve never played the golf course. I’ve played Myopia [Hunt Club], Beverly and all the courses around there, but never that one.
You’re likely going to be leading a team where most of the players will be young enough to be a daughter. Is that going to be strange?
Mohler: I did think of [14-year-old phenom] Alexis Thompson. She could be my granddaughter. I could have a granddaughter that age. I’m 55, so that’s not out of the realm of possibility.
The Americans have won six straight Matches and you are following a Hall-of-Famer in Carol Semple Thompson. Do you feel any sort of pressure to continue that streak?
Mohler: I don’t feel any pressure. Maybe later that will come. It’s a year and a half away. I’m just feeling the honor right now. Carol and I are good friends, so I can lean on her for questions.
You played in the 1978 Curtis Cup. Have you been to any Curtis Cups since then?
Mohler: No. I was planning on going to the one in 2002 [at Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh] and that was the time my son – he was on a Little League baseball team – went to regional play up in Connecticut and they almost got to Williamsport [for the Little League World Series], so I had to cancel out on that. Then we thought about going to St. Andrews last year, which would have been perfect, but Brendan graduated that weekend from high school. So there were good intentions, but we were never able to get there.
Will you do a lot of advance scouting of the available talent?
Mohler: The U.S. Women’s Open is here in Bethlehem [at Saucon Valley C.C.] and I have a chairmanship job for that Open. Another gal and I are chairing the Gallery Control Committee. I’ll be there all week. And Martha Kirouac said that would be a great vantage point to watch. And she said you might want to take a trip out to the U.S. Women’s Amateur in St. Louis to watch.
How about your Curtis Cup experience? What do you remember about it and how will that help you captain the next team?
Mohler: Helen Sigel Wilson was my captain. And she was a restaurant owner, the same as me. First of all, she had a tremendous sense of humor, although I remember her being on her best behavior at the Curtis Cup. She could crack up a lot. But she was very inspirational. I remember how nervous you really get. I remember the ceremony of it all. The tradition and the pomp and circumstance. The flag-raising ceremony. Toasting the Queen. I had never done that before.
How well did you perform?
Mohler: I remember that I didn’t play well in singles [losing 7 and 6 on Saturday and halving her match on Sunday]. But Judy Oliver and I were put together to play as a team for alternate shot [on Sunday]. Judy and I were competitors but we were not really friends. We kind of really didn’t like each other because we were so competitive. Then Helen put us together and we played great. I remember we had like five birdies in a row and won or match by something like 5 and 4 or 6 and 5 [actually 4 and 3]. After that we became friends. Once you get to know somebody and are forced to be together with them for a long time, you find out they are not so bad.
When you played on the team in 1978, weren’t you immersed in a period of playing great individual golf?
Mohler: I had won the Eastern [in 1977]. I was runner-up in the Western Amateur. There was a time where I thought about turning pro. But I was married at that time, not to Jeff but to somebody else. I just wasn’t ready to be on the road. Once I got my divorce in 1984, I just thought I would go play professional golf and see how it goes.
How long were you on the LPGA Tour?
Mohler: Two years - 1984 and ’85. For that time in my life, it was a good experience. I didn’t have any responsibilities other than myself. I packed up everything I owned in my car and just went and played. It was a good experience that way, but it’s a hard life. I remember, I think my first year I was 90th on the money list and made something like $18,000. That was top 90. That’s 25 years ago. It’s amazing when I think about that. When I think about 1978 being 31 years ago, it’s hard to compute that.
Do you feel like your game has undergone a renaissance over the past couple of years?
Mohler: I actually gave up golf for almost 20 years. In 1986, Jeff and I bought the Aspen Inn. We were in the restaurant business and [our son] Brendan came along in 1990. So golf was not a significant part of my life at that time. I would play in a couple of events if somebody invited me to a member-guest competition. I probably played four or five times a year. What prompted me back into golf was in 2006 I read that the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur was going to be at Oakmont. I was 52, 53. I thought I could play in the senior part of that, and how bad could I be? I could at least get it around the golf course. I thought it would be so neat to play at Oakmont. I said to Jeff, ‘Do you mind if I do this?’
It would mean pulling back from the restaurant a little bit. He said that would be great. I drove out to Pittsburgh and played in the senior part of it and it was awesome. I played Oakmont five days in a row. How good does it get? I went to the finals and lost to Connie Shorb. … It’s funny because those 20 years, if I stayed away from golf, I didn’t miss it. If I played, it was, ‘Wow, I want to do this more.’ So I kind of had to keep the distance.
So has senior golf rejuvenated your on-course love of the game and competition?
Mohler: It’s amazing. Then I qualified to play in the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. That was in Sea Island. I played in 2006, ’07 and ’08. I met people at the Senior that I hadn’t seen since I was 15 years old. It’s competitive, but it’s a different kind of competitive because we’ve all been through life at that age. We’ve conquered cancer; we’ve lost spouses; we’ve been through divorces and all that kind of stuff. So life has hit us. However, golf now isn’t No. 1 in our life, but it’s still very important and it’s just a different atmosphere.
Have you ever coached at any level or mentored other players?
Mohler: I’m the junior golf chair at Northhampton Country Club, not that it’s a big deal, but I love being around younger players. Whenever I see a young girl golfer, I always go over and introduce myself. I kind of seek out young women golfers because I think that there’s so much opportunity for them. I try to nurture them if someone comes along at our club.
College teams were just beginning to form for women in the early 1970s. Did you play in college?
Mohler: No. I went to the University of New Hampshire. That was before Title IX. Southern teams were [forming]. At the time I was looking for colleges, there were two giving women’s golf scholarships. One was Odessa, which was in Texas and I had no desire to go to Texas, and the other one was Miami-Dade because that’s where Pat Bradley went. That was a two-year college, and I didn’t want that. I’m more of a homebody, so I stayed close. I played volleyball in college and I was on the swim team. I did other things. But in the summer I played golf.
Question: It has to be nice to see the depth that girls’ golf and women’s golf is showing today?
Mohler: In 1984 and ’85 when I played, nobody was working out with weights or anything. Annika [Sorenstam] kind of raised the bar, and now they have a fitness trailer and everybody’s doing that. The instruction. If you are concentrating on one sport, it’s taking up your full focus. The workout routine and just doing golf-specific exercises. That’s changed.
Getting back to the Curtis Cup: It’s not well known that the team is selected by certain members of the Women’s Committee with some input from the captain. But the captain is responsible for the pairings. With the Curtis Cup now a three-day event and all eight members of the team playing in Sunday singles, how important is it to find the right combinations?
Mohler: That’s one thing that Martha said on the phone, because it’s hard when you have to sit somebody out that last day [in singles]. I remember talking to Carol about it last summer and she had them fill out [cards] on who they might like to play with. And she said that helped her a lot. It wasn’t the be-all, end-all, but it gave her a sense of who feels comfortable with the others.
With so many players from the 2008 team having turned pro or planning to turn pro by this summer, it looks like you could have a lot of fresh faces for 2010. Does experience matter?
Mohler: It’s just the thrill of just being chosen, and you hope that your game peaks on that week. And if it doesn’t, you just need to be able to deal with that. I think that’s where an experienced captain can help guide younger players through that.