What’s the recipe to the 22-year winning streak spanning 245 matches compiled by the girls’ golf team at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona? Consistency, cookies and a whole lot of Sister Lynn Winsor.
National records of 36 state titles (almost double the next-highest total) and most consecutive state titles (16 from 1980 through 1995) are part of a 467-25 win-loss match record – with just two ties – since the team was formed in 1974.
At the center of it all is Sister Lynn, a 76-year-old Xavier Prep grad who started working at her alma mater 45 years ago. “I was told when I got here that I would have three jobs: coaching softball, basketball and golf,” she recalled in her trophy-laden office.
She dropped the first two jobs after becoming athletic director at the all-girls school in 1977, but has remained with the golf team. And what a success it has been.
“She really is the heart of the program,” said Filippa McDougall, who played at Xavier from 1991-1995 and was part of Duke University’s first NCAA Championship-winning women’s golf team in 1999. “She’s consistent, fair, honest and open. She never touches a golf swing or pretends to teach you how to play golf, but she sure teaches you how to treat people and how to treat each other.”
The wins did not come quickly, however. During the team’s first five seasons, the team struggled to find its identity. Then Heather Farr arrived, and with the future two-time USGA champion aboard, the program took off.
“We never won anything for the first five years,” said Sister Lynn. “Then the next year we were runner-up in the state championship with Heather on the team.. She won the individual state championship in 1979 and from then on we just kind of sailed along. Everything that we’ve done goes back to her.”
Farr, who won the 1982 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 1984 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, succumbed to breast cancer in 1993. Her sister Missy Farr-Kaye, who won the 1982 individual state title for Xavier and has been the head women’s golf coach at Arizona State University since 2015, recalled the impact Sister Lynn had on her life.
“I sit up a little straighter when she calls me,” said Farr-Kaye, the runner-up in the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. “I hate to lose and I think [that desire to win] started in high school with Sister Lynn. She was very clear with her expectations about what we were capable of, which was to play well and go out and win. But there’s a way to win and a way to lose. She really taught me that from a very early age, too.”
“We emphasize to our best players that their job is to help the other kids,” said Sister Lynn. “But the ultimate motivation is 36 state championships. They know it’s there.”
Over the past four decades, Sister Lynn has seen drastic changes in girls’ sports in Arizona
“In the old days someone would just be assigned to coach the golf teams,” she said. “Now there are many more coaches who are into it and really care about the kids. That’s a big change. Girls’ golf is a big thing now in Arizona and it should be.”
Xavier senior Ashley Menne, who advanced to the Round of 16 in the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior, has a chance to add a new chapter to the team’s legendary history if she wins her fourth consecutive individual state title this year (Heather Farr won three in 1979, 1980 and 1981). She’s part of the latest generation of Xavier student-athletes excelling under Sister Lynn’s guidance.
“She’s the cheerleader, the disciplinarian, the motivator, and even the entertainer sometimes,” said Menne, who has verbally committed to play at Arizona State, along with teammate Breyana Matthews. “Without her I don’t know how the team would be. And she likes to win.”
“I love competition,” Sister Lynn admitted. “It’s kind of un-nunly, but I do love it.”
Her role goes well beyond golf, however. “If you had a little free time, you could always stop by her office and just sit and talk with her,” said McDougall, now the director of golf operations at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Phoenix. “I still call her fairly regularly and discuss things that happen in life.”
Winning brings plenty of recognition, too. Sister Lynn was named the 2017 USA Today Girls High School Golf Coach of the Year and inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame last year. The school’s athletic program won the Harold L. Slemmer Award for Overall Excellence from the Arizona Interscholastic Association for most state championships, runners-up and region titles during 2018-2019 for the 6A Conference, Arizona’s largest and most competitive athletic conference.
The school has produced an impressive list of USGA champions as well, including Heather Farr, Grace Park (1998 U.S. Women’s Amateur), Amanda Blumenherst (2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Hannah O'Sullivan (2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur).
Sister Lynn readily acknowledges the contributions of assistant athletic director and girls’ golf coach Tui Selvaratnam, now in her 14th year at the school.
“I’m the motivator and the manager, but Tui knows the equipment and the game,” she said. “She’s been Arizona’s Women Player of the Year 14 times. Without Tui this wouldn’t be happening. I give her all the credit in the world.”
Selvaratnam, a veteran of more than 30 USGA championships, recently qualified for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur being played this week at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz. She was runner-up in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and part of the Arizona team that won the 2007 USGA Women’s State Team Championship.
“Sister Lynn is like the Energizer bunny,” said Selvaratnam, a former standout at Arizona State University who also has won major amateur competitions in her native Sri Lanka, the Philippines, the People’s Republic of China, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. “You just have to keep up with her, which means you are always on your toes. It’s so much fun to work with her and be a part of this great legacy.”
But how did cookies become one of the team’s many traditions? “Whenever we play a match home or away, or practice, we bring three dozen cookies made by the team for the director of golf, the staff and for us,” said Sister Lynn, who favors snickerdoodles. “It’s our way of showing gratitude for letting us play. We’ve probably baked 500,000 cookies by now.”
As for the incredible winning streak, Sister Lynn knows a loss will eventually happen. “You cannot win forever,” she said. “I realize that and it’s OK. But we’re a lifetime commitment no matter the score. Once you’re a Xavier girl, you’re always a Xavier girl.”
Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA digital channels. Email him at email@example.com.