California Physical Therapist Discovers Golf at Wright Time November 9, 2017 | Houston, Texas By Lisa D. Mickey

Californian Sherry Wright is set to compete in her third consecutive U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur just seven years after taking up the game. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

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As a doctor of physical therapy, Sherry Wright spends each workday in acute patient rehabilitation, helping others move again.

Getting her patients to execute a physical movement once is the initial objective, with the ultimate goal of having them repeat that movement on a consistent basis.

“We’re dealing with people who have had catastrophic life changes,” said Wright, 50, who works at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Calif. “Some are learning to walk again.”

This focus and determination on her patients’ part parallels Wright’s own efforts to master a technique. Seven years ago, the native Californian took up golf and she has already managed to qualify for three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships. Her third consecutive start begins on Saturday when she tees off at 11:15 a.m. CST at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.

For Wright, it’s a matter of practicing what she preaches.

“It’s just like what I tell my patients,” she said. “If I can do something once in the golf swing, it’s there. I just have to figure out what I did and get back there again.”

Wright’s rapid progress in the game is remarkable by any measurement. Two years ago, in her first USGA championship at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La., she not only qualified for match play, she advanced to the Round of 32.

In the last four years, she has twice carded scores of 66, dominated two Southern California women’s weekend leagues, and last month she won the 47th Southern California Women’s Masters Championship, a competition featuring club champions from four regional golf associations.

Part of that success comes from knowing how the body works and what it takes to optimally perform in a game that requires plenty of muscle memory.

“I have a good working knowledge of kinesiology and biomechanics and early on, when I hit a good shot, I would ask, ‘How did I do that?’” said Wright, who has a Ph.D. in physical therapy.

To further understand the mechanics of the golf swing, Wright visited the Titleist Performance Institute, where she learned how instructors screen players to understand their physical issues and work to overcome their problems.

“I learned a lot about where you need to be to make a good golf swing,” said Wright.

But she didn’t start out with all the right moves and perfect ball flight. When golf instructor Lee Martin first saw her hitting balls, he observed a physically strong woman “hitting it all over the place.”

“I probably shouldn’t have said it, but I walked over and told her that she needed some help with her swing and that she was too dangerous to go on the course,” said Martin, the director of instruction at River Ridge Golf Club in Oxnard. “She probably could have hurt somebody from two fairways over.”

Wright admits she was “totally offended” by Martin’s assessment, while acknowledging that she was slicing shots 100-150 yards offline. So Wright booked a lesson with Martin, and seven years later, he is still her swing coach.

“She totally embraced the game and is a hard worker,” said Martin, who also helped Bobby Clampett, the low amateur in the 1978 U.S. Open, get started in the game at age 10. “It’s always nice to work with somebody who has talent.”

While Wright grew up around golf – her grandparents, Lou and Ken Baird, were members of San Diego Country Club for 40 years – she spurned their offer of lessons and a junior membership.

“I remember they would have the TV on and the golf announcers would be whispering and I thought that was so weird,” said Wright, whose brother, David, is now the controller at the club, which hosted this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. “Golf wasn’t cool when I was a kid.”

Years later, she learned that World Golf Hall of Fame member and four-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Mickey Wright (no relation), whose family also belonged to San Diego Country Club, would visit her grandparents.

“My mom remembers Mickey sitting and talking to my grandparents and looking out the big bay window at their house,” she said. “My dad said Mickey was tall and when she walked into the room, you wanted to know who she was.”

Eventually, golf would become Sherry Wright’s sport of choice, but only after she played high school softball and basketball, and later, indoor soccer. After suffering a severe knee injury during a soccer game in 2009, she finally turned to golf.

Martin provided the necessary guidance for Wright, who parked herself on the range on evenings and weekends until she gained proficiency. He also encouraged her to play in local tournaments.

“I would say, ‘But I’m not ready for it,’ and he would say, ‘But that’s how you learn,’” said Wright. “It was a fine line between gaining and ruining confidence.”

After her sparkling USGA debut in 2015, Wright failed to qualify for match play in last year’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at The Kahkwa Club in Erie, Pa. This week, her goal is simple.

“I expect to have a good time and to enjoy the challenge,” she said, while noting the real-life perspective that she brings to the golf course. “Most of our patients are dealing with the uncertainty of their future, but they show up every day and give it their best. I’m blessed to physically be able to go play. The outcome is secondary.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA. 

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