Golf Helps The Physician Heal Herself September 9, 2012 | Hershey, Pa. By Rhonda Glenn, USGA

Angela Stewart, a pediatrician in Greenville, N.C., fell to Joan Higgins, 4 and 3, in the first round. (Fred Vuich/USGA)

Angela Stewart, 58, a tall, intense woman with a smile like the sun, never had children of her own, unless you count the 20,000 youngsters who are patients at her sprawling medical practice in Greenville, N.C.

Stewart, who qualified for match play in the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, is a pediatrician. Work comes first. While she finds less time for golf, Stewart doesn’t seem to mind. She finds joy in both the game and in treating her patients at Our Children’s Clinic, which is also staffed by Dr. Louise Bradshaw and two physician’s assistants.

On the clinic’s website, one mother wrote that she has taken her children to Stewart from birth, a span of nearly 16 years. On one visit, the mother and her toddler stood in a hallway. Dr. Stewart walked by and noticed that my youngest’s shoe was untied, the mother wrote. She stopped what she was doing to speak to her and tied her shoe. I know it seems small, but in a world where medicine is becoming increasingly impersonal, it stuck with me.

Stewart doesn’t remember the occasion, but said with a laugh, "It sounds like what I’d do."

One of her most prized possessions is a family photograph, taken when she was 18 months old. In the picture, a tiny Angela Stewart wears a toy stethoscope and checks the heartbeat of a doll.

"I’ve always known that I wanted to be a doctor," Stewart said. "Always."

Born in Chicago to a minister and his wife, Stewart grew up with two sisters and four brothers. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived nearby and Stewart has fond memories of her close family and its many get-togethers.

Along with the stethoscope, a 16-inch softball became one of her most prized childhood possessions. Even while attending medical school, Stewart was an avid softball player – until she injured her knee.

"It was time to find a game that I could play as an adult," she said.

Stewart was busy with her medical practice in North Carolina when a college friend introduced her to golf at a small public driving range. At the age of 40, Stewart came into the game late, but she found it provided thrills of its own.

"I loved the feel of hitting a good shot," she said. "It’s as good as firing a long throw from left field to nail a runner at home plate."

Stewart is African American and has encountered no racial incidents, with the exception of one troubling encounter in Ohio. She was headed into the clubhouse of a private club with her caddie, her friend Maggie Weder, who is white. At the door, Stewart was stopped by a member.

"We don’t allow caddies to enter through the front entrance," he told Stewart.

"I’m not a caddie, I’m a golfer," Stewart said. "She is the caddie."

After some grumbling from the member, Stewart and Weder were allowed to enter.

Golf has long struggled with racial issues and while Stewart faced no other problems, it was noteworthy when she won the North Carolina Women’s Senior Championship in April, becoming the first African-American to win a Carolinas Golf Association event. It wasn’t her first big victory. In 2008 she teamed with Diane Lang, three-time USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion, to win the Trans Senior Four-Ball championship at Tubac Golf Resort in Arizona.

Stewart first signed up for a USGA championship in 2002 when she went through sectional qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. In qualifying, she managed to capture the first alternate’s spot.

"But I made my plane reservations to the championship because I knew I was going to get called," she said. "Sure enough, they called and I was in. I was so excited because it was important to me.

"What do you play for? You want to go to the top and, for amateurs, the USGA is the top. The first time I ever tried to qualify for a USGA championship, and I made it!"

Stewart believes she has the best of both worlds – golf and medicine. At home in Greenville, even when she goes shopping she meets her young patients on nearly every corner. "They’re even in the Dairy Queen," she said.

In golf, she loves the friends she meets and she loves the competition. She is a member of the USGA’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Committee and, each year, signs up to attempt to qualify for the Senior Women’s Amateur and Women’s Mid-Amateur. In 2007, she advanced to the third round of match play in the Senior Women’s Amateur. Had she advanced one more match and made the quarterfinals, she would have automatically qualified for the 2008 championship.

This year, she would like to make the quarterfinals, one round further than she has ever before advanced.

"That’s my goal," Stewart said. "I want to work at this and I want to do well, but I know I don’t always have the time to put into it. I just have to take baby steps."

Fitting analogy, indeed.

Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at rglenn@usga.org.