Golf Becomes a Life-Changing Game for Native-American Kerzmann September 26, 2017 | SANTA FE, N.M. By Tom Mackin

Sable Kerzmann, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, received a college education due to golf. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Golf can open doors to many worlds. No one knows that better than Sable Kerzmann.

A member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who grew up on a reservation near the small, southeast Montana town of Colstrip, the 31-year-old Kerzmann is playing in her third USGA Women’s State Team Championship this week at The Club at Las Campanas, alongside teammates Ashley Griffith and Susan Matson.

But her journey to the USGA championship level has been an improbable one.

Kerzmann, a standout setter in volleyball at Colstrip High School, picked up golf only after pleading from a friend.

“My freshman year, there were only three girls on the golf team, so they needed one more to have an official team,” she recalled. “I had never played golf before, but my friend Emily begged me. She thought I could at least swing a club and hack it down the fairway.”

Despite scores in the 120s, she returned to the team the following year, improving dramatically with scores in the low 90s. “That’s when I thought maybe this golf thing could be something,” said Kerzmann, who played and practiced at Ponderosa Butte, a nine-hole municipal course in Colstrip. But when a schedule change moved golf to the fall season, she had to choose between golf and her first love, volleyball.

“My dad thought the best route to get my college paid was through golf,” she said. “He told me, ‘Sable, women’s golf in Montana just has so many untapped resources for college and a lot of women don’t take advantage of that.’”

During her senior year in 2004, her team won the Montana State Class A team championship title, the first, and thus far only, state golf title in the school’s history.

“Colstrip has 2,000 people and I grew up on the reservation in Busby. It’s kind of a small, desolate little area,” she said. “We rode the bus 50 miles each way to school every day. That was normal. I would play or practice in season and get home around 8:30 p.m. Then do homework and get up at 5:30 in the morning. They were long days.”

The grueling schedule paid off with a partial scholarship to Miles Community College in Miles City, Mont. There, Kerzmann earned all-conference honors in 2004 and all-conference academic in 2005 and 2006. She took her first plane ride to an NAIA championship in British Columbia, and played in another championship in Southern California while six months pregnant with her first daughter, Kyla.

“She always says, ‘I’m already famous because mom got interviewed on TV (during the tournament) and I was in her stomach,’” said Kerzmann.

She had a second daughter, Kambryn, a year later, and started working as an emergency room nurse on the reservation for the Indian Health Service. Then came her debut for Montana in the 2009 USGA Women’s State Team Championship at Sycamore Hills Country Club in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“When I qualified, I had no idea what this tournament is about,” she said. “It was a huge eye-opener for me. I played with Dori Carter from Georgia the first two days, not knowing who she was. I didn’t play badly, but I remember specific times throughout those two days when I was struggling and she would say: ‘It’s OK. Don’t stress about bad shots. Just go on to the next shot.’ She was really encouraging. After I got home, I found out she won the individual championship and her team won the overall title that year. And she’s played on the LPGA Tour since 2010. But she still took the time to be kind to me.”

Kerzmann played in the championship two years later at The Landings Club in Savannah, Ga., and has also played in 11 Montana Women’s Amateurs.

Married with two young children, she has little time to practice, and with 12-hour shifts at work, golf currently serves as an escape from the harsh reality of the emergency room.

“One of my patients who I really cared for a lot died of cancer the day before I left to come to New Mexico,” she said. “I was there, so when you see things like that, playing in a championship like this is totally fun.”

A junior golf program started four years ago on her reservation is attracting more players, thrilling Kerzmann.

“Basketball is the sport people think of typically when it comes to Native Americans, but for kids who are not good at basketball, there really wasn’t another outlet,” she said. “Academics is one way, but a lot of the schools are lacking in that area. So I really push golf big time, especially with middle school kids.”

It’s a slightly more delicate situation at home.

“My older daughter said she doesn’t want to play golf in high school, but I’m hoping she changes her mind,” she said. “My younger one says she does. I’m trying not to be the pushy mom, but it’s not easy because I know what golf has done for me.”

That list includes a college education, travel well beyond her small-town Montana roots and an introduction to worlds vastly different than the one where she was raised.

“I could not have even imagined doing the things I have done through golf,” she said. “It’s amazing. I feel so honored to be playing in this championship. It’s beyond anything I ever dreamed. Fort Wayne and Savannah were fun trips, but it feels different here. I don’t know why it means more this time. Maybe because I’m a little bit older now, so I’m more mature and more settled. This time, it means a lot.”

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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