Sue (Billek) Nyhus and her family recently spent three nights in tents in Wyoming replicating the Mormon Pioneer Trek, the 19th-century migration from the American Midwest to a place of refuge in the Rocky Mountains. Nyhus herself is also completing a personal journey, a grand slam of USGA competitions that culminates with this week’s USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship.
"I have been literally thinking about it for a long, long time," said Nyhus, the 1999 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up who also played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior, U.S. Women’s Open, Women’s Amateur, Women’s Mid-Amateur and the USGA Women’s State Team. "The 18-hole qualifier (for the Senior Women’s Amateur) took the most mental energy to stay focused of any round I have ever played."
Nyhus has been blazing a trail in the world of golf for over three decades. She ventured from a USGA junior program and high school golf in Florida to Brigham Young University in Utah. At BYU, she led her Cougar squad to the NCAAs while earning all-conference and all-academic honors.
The 50-year-old enjoyed a successful five-year career on the Women’s Professional Golf European Tour, playing in four Women’s British Opens, before starting a family and earning her doctoral degree. During that time, in which she raised three daughters, she was reinstated as an amateur and became the first woman to be named Utah Golf Association Player of the Year.
"Golf brings me joy," said Nyhus, the Utah Golf Association’s Player of the Decade for the 1990s. "It brings me a sense of accomplishment. It brings me something that I can share with my family because we all golf at one level or another."
Nyhus’ career path didn’t end with playing golf. In 1998, she returned to the Brigham Young program as women’s assistant coach and later was elevated to head coach. She led the program to its first NCAA appearance in 20 years and twice was named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year.
A 2007 BYU Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, Nyhus left the Cougar program after 11 seasons and is now in her fourth year as the head coach at Utah Valley University. Her daughter, Kimberly, will be a redshirt freshman on this year’s team.
Before welcoming her daughter to her college team, the family teamed up on the Wyoming adventure, where only a five-gallon bucket of clothes and other items made the journey. The group of nearly 300 encountered similar conditions to the Mormon pioneers, with rain, wind, lightning, hail and snow making conditions treacherous. Nyhus, along with her husband, Steven, and their daughters, learned that difficult times bring out a person’s true nature.
Nyhus was proud of her family as they became familiar with surviving from moment to moment. As coach and parent, she hopes to impart to Kimberly what she has learned during her golf career.
"The biggest life lesson that I take away from this kind of competition is you have to stay in the moment," Nyhus said. "You can’t get ahead of yourself and you can’t dwell in the past. To live the best life, you have to live in the moment."
Sue Nyhus stood on the 10th tee at CordeValle Golf Club and knocked her ball down the fairway, leading to a par on her first hole at the USGA Senior Women’s Senior Amateur. It is a gratifying personal journey.
USA Curtis Cup Captain Does Homework
Ellen Port, the defending USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion, spent three days earlier this month at the 44th Walker Cup Match. Port was taking notes as she prepares to serve as captain of the USA Team at the 2014 Curtis Cup Match, to be held at St. Louis Country Club on June 6-8.
"My mind was turning on how to make this the best event for the players," said Port, who watched USA Walker Cup Captain Jim Holtgrieve handle all the details during his team’s 17-9 victory over Great Britain and Ireland.
Port, who played on the 1994 and 1996 USA Curtis Cup Teams and has won five USGA championships, was impressed with both Walker Cup teams’ demeanor and the classy way they handled themselves. She will ask fellow St. Louis native Holtgrieve about strategy and pairings at a later date. Port’s time at the Walker Cup gave her a chance to mentally prepare and rekindle the feel and passion.
"It reminded me what this event (Curtis Cup Match) is really all about," said Port, who celebrated her 52nd birthday on Saturday (Sept. 21). "We all want to win but you just have to prepare the best you can and things are going to happen the way they are going to happen."
First Time At Senior Women’s Amateur
Sue Wooster, 51, of Australia, is the first player to receive an exemption into the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship via the World Amateur Golf Ranking. The Victoria native qualified by being within the Top 500 as of July 17, and is currently No. 224.
"It’s like playing in heaven here," said Wooster, who said she would have tried to qualify if she hadn’t earned the exemption. "Everything is so organized. We all feel so special. Just to come here and have the experience of playing in this event, I will walk away so happy."
Wooster, who is also exempt into next month’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, won the 2010 and 2012 Australian Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships. In 2013, she was a quarterfinalist at the South Australian Amateur and advanced to match play at the Australian Women’s Amateur.
CordeValle is hosting its first USGA championship … In 2016, the U.S. Women’s Open Championship will be held at CordeValle from July 7-10 … CordeValle has hosted the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open since 2010 and will host the tournament Oct. 10-13 … The USGA Senior Women’s Amateur is being held in California for the seventh time and was last played in the state at Pasatiempo Golf Club (Santa Cruz) in 2004 … There are nine USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champions in the field: Carolyn Creekmore (2004), Terri Frohnmayer (2011), Mina Hardin (2010), Sherry Herman (2009), Diane Lang (2005, 2006, 2008), Ellen Port (2012), Anna Schultz (2007), Marlene Stewart Streit (1985, 1994, 2003) and Carol Semple Thompson (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) … Jane Fitzgerald, of Kensington, Md., lost to Ellen Port, 4 and 3, in last year’s championship final … Fitzgerald is one of seven Senior Women’s Amateur runners-up competing in the 2013 championship … Lisa Schlesinger, a semifinalist at the 2012 Senior Women’s Amateur and a two-time stroke-play medalist, is among nine players in the field who competed at last week’s USGA Women’s State Team Championship, held at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio … Schlesinger led Maryland to a fifth-place finish, while Brenda Pictor helped Georgia place seventh … Thirty states and the District of Columbia are represented this week, including 24 players from California … Canada has four players in the field, while Japan, Sweden and Australia have one each … Thirteen players are competing in their first USGA championship … The average age of the field is 55.93 … Marlene Stewart Streit, of Canada, is the oldest at age 79, while Julie Massa, of Holt, Mich., is the youngest at age 50.