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From the Women's College World Series to the Senior Women's Am

By Lisa D. Mickey

| Oct 8, 2018 | Vero Beach, Fla.

With her softball and basketball playing days behind her, Spotleson has excelled in competitive golf. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

If a runner was needed on base during her days as a college softball player at Northwestern University, Suzi Spotleson was happy to lean into the pitch and try to dig out a single.

If the clock was ticking down in a recreation-league basketball game and a scrappy 5-foot-4 guard was needed to push the offense, sink the game-winner and end the smack-talk, Spotleson was more than willing to take the reins.

At this week’s 57th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club – only the second start in this championship for Spotleson – the Ohio native is eager to compete in the Round of 32. She will face Canada’s Marie-Therese Torti on Tuesday at 9:10 a.m. on her second day of match play.

“I kept the ball under the wind and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Spotleson, 51, of Canton, Ohio, of her Round-of-64 match. “I made a bunch of 8-foot putts for par.”

Spotleson got her start in fast-pitch softball at age 8. By the time she was in high school, the hard-charging player was being recruited by college coaches in both softball and basketball. She also played volleyball, but was forced to choose between softball and hoops.

“The sad truth is, I chose softball because, at the time, I didn’t like the conditioning in basketball,” she said with a laugh. “College softball has changed a lot since then, but I ended up playing intramural basketball, pick-up games, and later, rec league. I played basketball until my mid-30s, when my knees couldn’t take it anymore.”

Spotleson started as shortstop and played mostly left field as a collegian at Northwestern. She and her team advanced into the 1986 Women’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and made it to the 1987 World Series Regional Finals.

But golf didn’t come into her athletic repertoire until she was 25, at the encouragement of good friend Janet Frey.

“My friend comes from a golfing family in Ohio,” Spotleson said. “She has an aunt who has played golf for more than 80 years who won the state championship for many years and was a national collegiate champion for Ohio State years ago.”

Frey and Spotleson met playing recreation basketball and Frey floated the idea that she should take up golf.

“She said, ‘You need to come play golf with us,’ and that was the beginning,” said Spotleson, who works as a banking compliance leader for Synchrony Financial.

But for the former team-sport player, golf was something completely different. It required great patience and timing. It required both finesse and power. And it was played with a stationary ball that sat until it was struck -- rather than Spotleson having to chase it down in a manner that was second nature to her.

“I’m not necessarily known for my touch in golf,” she said with a laugh. “I prefer to under-club and hit the ball hard rather than trying to over-club and ease off of a shot. I definitely don’t baby my shots.”

And has her athletic past benefited her in any way in golf?

“I’m not really sure,” she said. “I guess I’m just competitive in everything in team play or individually. You don’t even want to play cards with me because I hate to lose.”

That tenacity is evident in her golf history starting at home, where she represented Ohio in state-team competition at every biennial event from 2005 to 2017. She was runner-up in the 2008 Ohio State Women’s Amateur Championship and has held both the Ohio Women’s Mid-Am and Senior Championship titles simultaneously for the last two years.

In USGA events, Spotleson reached the Round of 32 in the 2001 and 2006 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship against much younger opponents. She also advanced into match play at the 2003, 2011, 2013 and 2014 Women’s Mid-Ams.

While she missed moving into the Round of 64 by two strokes in her debut at the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Am, Spotleson feels more comfortable with her age group this year.

“I’ve only been a senior for two years, but I don’t feel intimidated because I played in all of those Women’s Mid-Ams,” she said. “I was always the oldest player there against the 20- and 30-year olds.”

And because she is limited in the amount of time she can take away from work, she’s also had to pick competing in either the Women’s Mid-Amateur or the Senior Women’s Amateur.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like I can win the Women’s Mid-Am because the courses are too long for me at this point, and some of those young girls are very long,” she added.

Spotleson also credits plenty of solid competition to help her continue to ramp up her game as one of the younger players on the senior side.

“There are some great players in Ohio, like Lynn Thompson of Cincinnati, who’s in the field here this week,” she said. “I have good competition both at home and in Arizona, where I go each winter.”

She has also learned more about the longevity of golfers in the game. Unlike the wear and tear on her body that eventually took the basketball out of her hands, golf has provided a new outlet for her competitive nature.

I look at these women who are here competing in their 60s and 70s and I’m so inspired,” she said. “I remember wondering in my 40s, ‘How many more years of this do I have?’”

“Now I know I have a couple of decades left in golf,” Spotleson added. “This week, I played with Brenda Pictor, who’s 63, and she was driving it by me all day. I’m thinking I have many more years of this.”

Competing against more experienced golfers, sometimes Spotleson wishes she had started playing golf earlier. Sometimes she wishes she had more time to work on her game.

“What I still really wish is that I were four inches taller,” she chuckled.

And with a full-time job that often involves extensive travel, she is limited to playing golf on weekends, going to the driving range during her lunch break and playing nine holes in the afternoon.

When she works remotely in Arizona during the winter months, she operates on East -Coast hours, which means she is off-duty after 2 p.m. Mountain Time, giving her plenty of daylight time to practice.

Spotleson is now diligent about working out in the gym five days a week. She knows senior women often lose distance as they age and she’s determined to offset that as much as possible by staying strong and fit.

She also dreams of playing golf in Scotland, Ireland and in California’s Pebble Beach.

But as far as a bucket list goes, Spotleson keeps it simple. She faithfully works the New York Times and Los Angeles Times’ Sunday crossword puzzles each week. She looks forward to her workouts. She decompresses with Netflix and her two dogs.

And she knows herself as well as anyone when it comes to competition.

“I think you have to hate losing sometimes even more than you love to win,” she said. “It doesn’t always look pretty when I’m doing it, but I know I just have to get the ball in the hole.”

And when it comes to moving through the match-play draw this week for the first time in the Senior Women’s Amateur, Spotleson believes her chance to win is as good as anyone’s.

“My goal right now is to go out and play well in the second round of match play,” she said. “Anybody can get hot at the right time and the way I see it, there are 32 players who could win this championship.”

Lisa D. Mickey a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has appeared frequently on USGA digital channels.

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