Ft. Myers, Fla. – In a national championship such as the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, off-the-course identities of the 132 players are often concealed. These competitors haven’t made a living off golf, but are purportedly here instead because of their love for the game.
It’s not until talking to them, or perhaps skimming through a biography they’re required to fill out, that you do learn something about the person. Fifty-one-year-old Carol Sarkissian of Chino Hills, Calif., could be considered just one of the 132 in the field, but to some, she may look like Super Woman. Few would know that, off the course, Sarkissian gives back more than she takes in. That’s because she’s a special education teacher in a low-income area of Anaheim, Calif.
At Magnolia High School, where she has taught for close to eight years, Sarkissian gets through to her students by teaching the basics of golf. She said her biggest thrill is watching some of our students experience golf for the first time and see the joy of success in their eyes.
If golf helps them make a connection, or causes the light go on in their heads, she said, then the students are on the right path to becoming productive in society. Sarkissian recalled a recent graduate who found work in an office supply store. It seems underwhelming on the surface, but with distractions such as gang activity, drugs and crime knocking on a metaphorical door in the low-income area, it’s a huge accomplishment, she said.
Sarkissian, or ‘Ms. S’ as she’s called, teaches students who range between 14 and 18 in age. Most of the pupils have minor learning disabilities; almost all begin the program without knowing a thing about the game.
It’s better than fighting in gangs, or in the case of some of them, which isn’t at all unusual, one parent might be in jail, said Sarkissian after shooting 86 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying on Sunday.
Sarkissian starts with only the basic fundamentals. On this day, she pantomimes how to hold a club, how to grip it, and how to swing with the proper speed. She has to keep it remedial because many of the students have never been introduced to the game nor have they been to a golf course. And when the time comes for Sarkissian to take them, many marvel over such minutiae as the size of the bathrooms being larger than the bedrooms they sleep in.
Each year an LPGA or PGA professional will give a clinic. Not only does it help the students learn, but Sarkissian too. In her case, she didn’t pick up the game until she was 30. You spend the first 15 years learning how to play, she joked.
She added that she hears from some of the students who have graduated from Magnolia High School. Not a whole lot, but a few. They might send her an e-mail from time to time. That in itself puts a smile on her face.
We’re basically the unsung heroes, said Sarkissian of the teaching profession. We don’t want to be leaders necessarily; but we want to show them the way.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.