Former LPGA star Dottie Pepper is trying to grow the game
LENOX -- The next time teen-age golfers Danielle Lapierre and Madison Braman tee it up in a tournament, Saturday's experience at the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club should help calm any first-tee jitters.
With some 90 sets of eyes trained on them, including those of former LPGA star Dottie Pepper, the pair performed a few swing drills before both lofting several eye-catching drives as the warm-up act for an exhibition and clinic featuring Pepper and hosted by Kay McMahon and eduKaytiongolf.
"It was a little nerve-wracking," said Lapierre, a 16-year-old junior at St. Joseph High School. "But I hit the drives pretty good."
"I was scared coming in, but it was really fun," said Braman, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Latham, N.Y. "Kay has taught me to be calm and get in a zone when I'm hitting a shot."
Pepper, who drove over from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for "A Date with Dottie Pepper Day," liked what she saw.
"The girls were terrific," said Pepper, who is focused on growing junior golf as a member of the PGA's Board of Directors and the co-author of several children's books with golf themes. "It takes confidence to get in front of everybody. I know they were nervous at first, but their swings are fundamentally sound."
Pepper wasn't too bad herself. The 47-year-old entertained with her still-impressive shot-making skills while answering questions, producing a few laughs and teaming seamlessly with LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Famer McMahon.
"It was a great day," said Pepper, who posed for pictures with virtually all in attendance. "There was huge energy from everybody."
Pepper, a two-time major winner whose playing career was cut short by injuries and recently retired as a golf analyst for NBC, says she doesn't play much these days, but admitted to practicing this week to get ready for the clinic.
"I play now just for pleasure," she said. "For me the perfect day is nine holes and a glass of wine."
For Lapierre, the No. 1 player for the St. Joseph High School boys team, and Braman, who plays on the boys team at Shaker High School, Saturday was a perfect prelude to a summer of tournament golf.
"She was awesome," Lapierre said of Pepper. "Everything she said was great."
Lapierre, who finished third in the Western Mass. High School Girls Championship in the fall, worked hard this winter with a personal trainer while continuing to hone her swing.
"I feel a lot stronger," said the slender Lapierre, who says she's added a lot of distance, a fact McMahon happily confirmed.
After playing in relatively few tournaments last summer -- she did team with her father, Paul, to tie for fourth in the Massachusetts Father-Daughter Championship -- she will busy this summer starting with the sectional qualifying tournament for June's state high school junior girls championship. Lapierre will also play in nearby American Junior Golf Association events and the Northeast New York PGA Section's junior tournaments. She may also try to qualify for the U.S. Junior Girls Championship.
"There are college coaches at the AJGA events and U.S. Junior Girls qualifying," explained Lapierre, who will be a senior in the fall and is intent of playing college golf.
Braman is only an eighth-grader, so she doesn't have to worry about college yet, but she'll also be busy playing the NENY events as her game grows along with her body -- she already checks in at around 5-foot-10. Her father, Jim, looked on with a big smile as her daughter took on the role of McMahon.
"It's fun to watch her helping others," Jim Braman said. "It means she is understanding her own swing and those of others."
Pepper's career is proof positive that golfers can overcome the drawback of the short golf season in the Northeast to make it big.
"She gives you the mindset that you can get there if you practice hard enough," Madison Braman said.
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