U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Studying, Coaching, Caregiving: Butler's Path to Her USGA Debut
September 22, 2018 | St. Louis, Mo.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Competing in a USGA championship is a juggling act, particularly for players in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. But one player in the field has overcome more challenges than most of her fellow competitors are likely to face in getting to the first tee of this national championship for players age 25 and older.
Michelle Butler, 25, lives in Columbia, Mo., about 115 miles from Norwood Hills Country Club, where she works part-time for an insurance firm while also studying for her MBA and working as a graduate assistant coach for the men’s and women’s golf teams at Columbia College. She also tries to carve out practice time for her golf game around being the primary caregiver for her mother.
“My mom has multiple sclerosis,” said Butler of her mother, Wendy, 56. “She was diagnosed just before I was born, and her condition has worsened to the point where she has been in an assisted-living facility for the past 10 years. When I turned 18 and I was starting college, I took over power of attorney for her, and I am primarily responsible for her care and finances.”
Butler’s parents are divorced, and her mother is from England, where Michelle’s aunt lives. Both of her mother’s parents are deceased, so Butler wades through the inherent health-care processes around her work and school responsibilities.
“Every day I’m on the phone with doctors and nurses from her assisted-living facility, working with an attorney to try to get her more benefits, trying to help cover the cost of her care,” said Butler. “Often she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. It’s all part of the disease, and her’s is pretty progressive. I’m just trying to help her through, make the best decisions for her. Sometimes the right decisions for her aren’t always what she thinks is best for her.”
Butler has a younger sister, Holly, 17, who provides support for her mother in other ways.
“They have a pretty close relationship; they have fun together,” said Butler, whose boyfriend, Hunter Parrish, reached the final of the Missouri State Amateur in 2016. “I try to keep her out of the other aspects of it. She wants to help, and I tell her she’s helping by what she’s doing. I want her to enjoy her senior year of high school, hang out with her friends, go to a fun college, all of that.”
Butler’s aunt on her father’s side, Linda Foushee, is a nurse who provides support. Through it all – supporting her mother, studying for her MBA and working two jobs – Butler was able to qualify for her first USGA championship after several unsuccessful bids.
“When I first started dealing with this stuff with my mom, it was my second year at school, and I had a really hard time separating it,” said Butler, who earned her degree in biochemistry from the University of Missouri in 2016. “We’d be at tournaments and I’d be thinking about what was going on and it wasn’t good for either side.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Butler had to recover from her own health scare during her first year at Missouri. She fractured her wrist in the fall semester and contracted mononucleosis later in the year. It got worse.
“At one point, I started feeling some numbness on my left side,” said Butler. “There was so much swelling from the mono that it paralyzed the left side of my body. I lost 20 or 25 pounds and was in the hospital for about a week. Once it was diagnosed as an atypical migraine, I got better quickly, but it gave me a new perspective on things.”
She finished her collegiate golf career with the best single-year stroke average in program history (72.6), earning second-team Southeastern Conference honors, buoyed by better health and that improved mental approach.
“Now I come to the golf course and I’m just thankful to be out here,” said Butler. “Even getting to practice or play for an hour means a lot to me. Just the fact that I have the ability to do it… My mom, she can’t walk, she can’t get out and do this, so I don’t take it for granted.”
Butler has also found a niche in her graduate assistant role at Columbia College.
“I never thought I would enjoy coaching as much as I have,” said Butler. “I absolutely love those kids and still being part of a team atmosphere is pretty awesome. I feel like my experience has been able to help them; it even helps some of my former teammates and other people I’m around. I tell them there’s a lot more to life.”
Butler shot a 6-over-par 78 in her USGA championship debut on Saturday, and she is prepared for whatever the future holds.
“People say, ‘How can you not know what you’re going to be doing in a year,’ but I know there will be something good in my future,” said Butler. “It’s been a pretty interesting journey. I’m pretty big on my faith so I know that it’s all part of God’s plan somehow and I’ll be in the right place at the right time.”
Even with her challenges, Butler sees the bright side.
“My mom has never been able to see me play golf because of her disease, but she’s still one of my biggest cheerleaders,” said Butler. “Our situation has helped shape me as a person and at the end of the day, I’m thankful for that.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.