Thirteen-year-old Nicole Morales enjoys golf memories few adults will ever have. Annika Sorenstam handed her an autographed golf glove, Meg Mallon taught her how to juggle, and Laura Diaz cried “Wow!” after loaning Morales her driver and watching her pound the ball down the middle of the fairway.
She also fired an under-par round at Pinehurst to place ninth in the US Kids Golf World Championships last year. Her inspiration? LPGA Tour Leader Lorena Ochoa. “It’s great to see a Latin woman like me win big on the LPGA tour,” Morales says.
Morales met her mentor, Cheryl Anderson, when Anderson taught at Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle. Anderson taught her the bucket drill, in which Morales chips balls into a bucket from 10, then 15, and then 20 feet until they are all in the bucket. It can take about an hour and a half, but pays off in a deft touch around the green. Once a week, Morales also stretches and does body balancing with John Winget, a physical therapist in Hawthorne.
Asked about her other interests, Morales says, “I have no life outside of golf.” But then she admits that a grilled-cheese dinner with French fries and lots of ketchup is pretty good, too.
Pelham’s Nannette Hill has time for only two things: homework and golf. It’s hard to say which is more important to the Wake Forest senior, who’s studying sociology while on a golf scholarship. She manages to focus on each, though, and was named to both the Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic Team as well as the All-Conference Golf Team in 2006 and 2008.
Focus is what counts in golf, and while Hill works with a trainer and a swing coach, she credits sports psychologist Elizabeth Hedgpeth for tuning her mental game. Meditating at the Zen Mountain Monastery has helped Hill find what she terms her “quiet mind” and has taught her to stay in the present. “As I approach my next shot,” she says, “the shot itself is all that I allow in my mind.”
Hill started playing golf at the age of six, encouraged by her father, Billy Hill, a Pelham Country Club champion. She played soccer and softball, too, but by the time she was 10, she knew golf was her only game. She says she liked the fact that mistakes as well as wins in golf are the individual player’s sole responsibility. There is no one else to blame.
Pelham’s head pro, Mike Diffley, predicts great things for the young player: “When she graduates from Wake Forest and really gets to concentrate, she’ll show the world how great she really is.”
Laura Algiero may be the antithesis of the typical champion golfer; she doesn’t practice much. That hasn’t stopped her from being a top competitor, though. She won the 2008 WMGA Stroke Play Championship as well as the 2008 WGA Tournament of Champions.
She’s also carded four holes in one — so far. Algiero laughs as she describes the first one she hit on the fifth hole at Bonnie Briar when she was 15 years old. “I was alone,” she says, “and I was so excited I ran to the next hole to get George Dessinger, another member, to come verify that the ball was in the hole.”
Algiero doesn’t do practice drills; she prepares by playing. Her work as facilities manager at PepsiCo ends early on summer Fridays and she almost always heads to Westchester Hills for a round. Then she’s back at the first tee on Saturday and again on Sunday. She might even hit the links for a few quick holes a couple of evenings during the week.
That’s not much different from when she first started playing the game at age 11. Her mom would drop her off at Bonnie Briar, where she’d play round after round until it got so dark she couldn’t see the ball anymore.
Gail Flanagan starts a typical day during golf season by swimming 2,000 yards at the Hommocks pool in Mamaroneck. Then she works with clients of her business, Flanagan Fitness & Nutrition, for most of the day. As long as there is some daylight left, she usually ends up practicing her short game. Just prior to a tournament, Flanagan hones her stroke by sinking 110 three-foot putts in a row. If she doesn’t make them all, she starts again. She explains, “It’s all about giving it one hundred-ten percent on the course, which is what it takes to win.”
That kind of hard work made Flanagan one of the top players in Westchester. She’s a two-time New York State Amateur Champion, five-time Women’s Metropolitan Stroke Play Champion, and winner of the 2006 Women’s Met Open with birdies on three of the last five holes.
Flanagan attended Arizona State University on a golf scholarship and enjoyed a first career in finance and investments. Looking for something new, she went back to school for a master’s in applied physiology and nutrition, then opened Flanagan Fitness & Nutrition, at which she helps people find the edge they need to excel. Her clients include many of the area’s golf pros.
Although she’s all business on the golf course, one of Flanagan’s favorite partners is golf pro Dennis McCauley. She enjoys playing with him from the back tees and getting an earful as he “trash-talks and busts her chops.”
“A round of golf can be very revealing of someone’s honesty, and how they deal with failure, success, even stress. Sometimes it’s not a very pretty sight,” says Wendy Modic. She knows from first-hand experience, too, since she spends at least eight hours every day teaching, playing, and competing at the highest level of the game.
Modic enjoys golf two ways: as a leading teacher at Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale and as a top-notch competitor who earned the Met PGA Women’s Player of the Year title from 2005 through 2008. Wendy also won the 2007 LPGA Northeast Section Championship, and competed twice in the U.S. Women’s Open as well as the 2008 LPGA Championship.
She’s also well regarded for her work on the lesson tee. Frank Klein, a student of hers, says, “While Wendy understands the mechanics of the golf swing as well as anyone I’ve worked with, her ability to communicate and convey what you need to do to become a better golfer is where she differs. The way she says it, you just get it.”
When she’s not honing her game or someone else’s, Modic enjoys romping with Minx, her 150-pound Leonberger puppy.
Michael Balkind is the author of Sudden Death, a golf murder mystery set in Westchester. His new novel, Dead Ball (written with ESPN Anchor, Ryan Burr) will be released soon.