One Passion Rekindled, Another Discovered September 16, 2019 | Flagstaff, Ariz. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Sarah Gallagher is competing in match play in a USGA championship for the first time since the 1993 U.S. Women's Amateur. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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After her second round of stroke play on Sunday in the 33rd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, Sarah Gallagher was in need of an ice pack, but a swollen left knee couldn’t stop her from smiling as she talked about two of her biggest passions in life – one new and one rekindled.

Gallagher, 46, of Canton, Ga., played in her first USGA championship in 25 years last September, the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis. Undaunted by missing the cut for match play by six strokes with rounds of 83-82, Gallagher qualified for the championship again this year and earned the No. 8 seed for match play after rounds of 70-74 and an even-par 144 total. Gallagher plays No. 57 seed Andrea Kosa, of Canada, at 8:57 a.m. MST on Monday.

“I played terribly last year,” said Gallagher, whose 36-hole stroke-play score in 2018 was 21 strokes higher than this year’s. “Now I go out and play with my 11-year-old son, Ryan, who has started to get into the game. I don’t think I had ever lost my love for the game, but I lost the time to play it. I’ve realized that I can actually still compete and have a good time.”

The golf rebirth pales in comparison to her new occupation.

“The best decision I have ever made came a few years ago,” said Gallagher. “After I left my career as an investment advisor to stay home for a while with my family, I started volunteering. I fell in love with teaching, and I went back and got my masters in education.”

Gallagher is now a sixth-grade social studies teacher at the Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell, Ga.

“Our students come from all over the world – last year students came from 38 birth countries,” said Gallagher. “It’s unbelievably rewarding. Half of our school population is underprivileged kids, and they work so hard to get ahead.”

Among the native languages are Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and French, and Gallagher marvels at the students’ positive outlook.

“I can’t imagine coming into a school in the United States and having to learn the language, the school and the culture at the same time,” said Gallagher. “Most of them are 11 years old, and they do such a good job. They were all so excited about me playing in this tournament, so I was showing them on a map where I was going.”

Golf brought Gallagher from Bent Tree Golf Club in Sarasota, Fla. – which hosted an LPGA Tour event for several years, where she watched players such as Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster – to the University of Florida, where she twice earned All-SEC honors in the early 1990s. From there, it was on to LPGA Qualifying, and a year on the Futures Tour in 1996.

“I played OK, but I decided that playing professional golf was not something I wanted to do,” said Gallagher. “It really changed the game for me. I figured out really fast that playing for a paycheck rather than because I loved it wasn’t for me.”

Gallagher played only two or three times a year for the next 20 years, having been reinstated as an amateur in 1998. A lot has changed in this second go-round with golf.

“Last year when I shot in the 80s [at Norwood Hills], that wasn’t necessarily a normal score for me,” said Gallagher, who plays out of Woodmont Country Club in Canton. “Not having played in a tournament in so long, it was uncomfortable. Over the past year, I’ve been working at it.”

The results have shown it, and now Gallagher looks to improve on her best showing in a USGA event, when she reached the Round of 64 in the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club.

“At 46, it’s so much more fun than it used to be,” said Gallagher, who finished second in a playoff in the recent Georgia Top 60 Classic. “You just don’t take it as seriously – it’s serious, but with a different mentality. I appreciate it so much more. This week is probably the best USGA event I’ve ever played in.”

Sore knee or not, Gallagher hopes the experience will continue well into the week.

“I didn’t hit it that well today, but I still scored OK,” said Gallagher, whose husband, Garry, is caddieing for her. “I couldn’t turn through the ball because of my knee, so I just tried to take an extra club and hope that I can hit it up there. It is what it is; it’ll be better tomorrow.”

A good attitude and an icepack can take a player a long way.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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