Shirley Spork, Teaching Pro and Founder of LPGA, Dies at 94

New York Times, April 12, 2022

Shirley Spork, one of the most prominent teaching pros in women’s golf and one of the last survivors among the 13 women who founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950, died on Tuesday at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 94.

Her death was announced by the L.P.G.A. a little more than two weeks after she was inducted into its Hall of Fame, leaving Marlene Bauer Hagge as the last living co-founder of the women’s tour.

Spork finished second in the 1962 L.P.G.A. Championship but never won on the women’s tour. Her legacy, apart from her role as a pioneer of the women’s pro game, lay in her tutoring countless women, from duffers to fledgling pros, and in creating schools to help would-be teachers pass on her knowledge to their own students.

Spork received the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award, the L.P.G.A.’s highest teaching honor, in 1998. She was inducted into the inaugural class of the L.P.G.A. Teaching and Club Professional Hall of Fame in 2000. She won the 2015 Patty Berg Award for contributions to women’s golf and was named the L.P.G.A. Teacher of the Year in 1959 and 1984.

In 1947, while attending Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti, outside Ann Arbor — a teachers school now known as Eastern Michigan University — Spork won the first national intercollegiate golf championship for women. She graduated with a degree in physical education two years later.

During the 1950 golf season, she joined with leading women’s players, including Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Patty Berg, Louise Suggs, Betty Jameson and Marilynn Smith, to form the L.P.G.A. But in its early years, prize money was meager, the tournaments received little attention in the sports media, and the players jammed together in automobiles as they traveled around the country.

They often attended church services while on tour, and Spork generally placed a small check in the collection basket.

“At one stop, in Waterloo, Iowa, the good monsignor, an ardent golfer, noticed that I had not finished well that week in the prize money,” she told Mona Vold in “Different Strokes: The Lives and Teachings of the Game’s Wisest Women” (1999). “I received my check back with a note saying: ‘You need this more than God does.’”

The women were creative in promoting themselves. They showed up at minor league baseball games to promote their nearby tournaments and arched 9-iron tee shots from home plate to center field. “We had an item to sell, which was ourselves and our talent,” Spork told The New York Times in 2011.

Spork provided tips to female golfers in a pair of articles for Sports Illustrated in the late 1950s. Some of her suggestions involved technical details.

“Because a woman’s proportions are different from a man’s, the average woman golfer has a tendency to overswing,” she wrote in advising women to “restrain the excessive hip turn, which seems like a source of power but which is in actuality the defeater of alignment, balance and power.”

She also urged women to be confident. “Women take more lessons than men but, unlike men, almost never practice by themselves,” she wrote. “Independent practice away from the instructor will give a player the confidence without which it is impossible to play a really good round of golf.”

Spork concluded that she would be hard-pressed to compete for prize money with the more experienced players, so she concentrated on instructional work while playing part time on the L.P.G.A. Tour.

During the 1950s she became the first female club pro at the Tamarisk Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and gave lessons to celebrities, including Nat King Cole, Harpo Marx, Dean Martin and Danny Kaye.

Later in the decade, Spork and Smith were instrumental in founding the L.P.G.A.’s teaching division, now known as L.P.G.A. Professionals. Joining with the L.P.G.A.-U.S.G.A. Girls Golf initiative, the division has spurred a growth in junior golf, something that Spork had long supported.

Shirley Spork was born on May 14, 1927, in Detroit, where her father was an electrical engineer and her mother was a clerk in a pharmacy. Her parents didn’t golf, but the family home was adjacent to the Bonnie Brook Golf Course.

At age 11, Spork began scaling a high stone wall separating the fairways from the street during the evening hours, scooping up lost balls and selling them to people passing by. When she was 13, she used her earnings to buy a putter and a 7 iron and began hitting balls on the neighborhood course late in the day.

“There were no junior golf programs, so the only way I learned was by going on the golf course and playing it myself,” she said in an interview for the L.P.G.A. Women’s Network website in 2018. “The golf ranger would come around and scurry me away, but that didn’t keep me away from the golf course for too long.”

Spork, the runner-up four strokes behind Judy Kimball at the 1962 L.P.G.A. Championship in Las Vegas, won $82,720 in career prize money. She usually confined her tournament play to the summer while teaching during the winter at country clubs, most of them in California.

Basixx Driver Fitting

Two women walk into a Basixx Driver Fitting at Miles of Golf. The club fitter asks how long they’ve had their current drivers and the answer is 11 and 14 years … and although one driver dates from the George W. Bush presidency, the fitter, bless his heart, does not bat an eye.

So begins our visit to the Cluboratory, on the hunt for new drivers.

Driver hits the farthest and costs the most of all our clubs. It’s our confidence booster or buster on the very first tee and throughout the game. Driver counts. Get it right.

Getting Started.
Joe Dier is our fitter, and he gathers up some demo clubs while we warm up with our current drivers. He’s making some mental notes about our swings (!) Then we’re down to business, Joe uses GC Quad technology to measure launch, spin and distance as we hit the old drivers.

Meet Some New Drivers
The next step is a cross between speed dating and a kid in a candy shop. Out comes Callaway’s Big Bertha, then TaylorMade SIM2 MAX, then Ping G Le2. More hitting, more measurement, more adjustments. Joe, as a certified club fitter, has a trained eye – and he’s got the TopTracer data as well. Back and forth we go with these clubs. Finding the right one is a combo of facts and feel.

The Verdict
With the TaylorMade SIM2 MAX, Carolin hits the ball almost 20 yards farther in the air. It’s a match made in heaven. She’s sold. For me, surprise, my old driver is the one. There are no appreciable improvements for me with the new technology, so I’ll be going home with the driver I came with. 

I’ve purchased a new club head cover though!

The Basics about Basixx Fittings

  • Designed for 80-90% of all players
  • To help golfers of all levels make good decisions when purchasing golf equipment
  • 30-45 minutes
  • Bring your current club(s)
  • $50 fee, 100% refundable with a purchase of equipment

Appointments are required and can be made by calling 877.973.9005 (Ann Arbor) or 513.870.9057 (Cincinnati).

The Good Golf Partner – A Fine Art

There’s a personal pantheon of folks I love to play golf with. They have that spot-on combo of thoughtfulness and golf smarts. Some have a great game of golf and others are almost beginners. What they have in common is the fine art of being a good golf partner.

After you’ve trekked together over hill and dale, missing shots, finding hazards, taking penalties, are there smiles for the mission accomplished? That’s what a good partner brings to the game.

Here are some good partner habits worth acquiring…

Be on Time
There’s so much to think about on the first tee – “Where is my partner?” shouldn’t be in anyone’s mental mix. Get to the course early with plenty of time for all the pre-game details. Orderly and unrushed – that’s a great way to start a round together.

Be Quick
We’re not talking speed golf here, just an ever-efficient mindset. Gauge yardage, select a club, read greens while others are playing – when it’s your turn, you’re ready. Be smart with your cart too.

Attitude is everything.
No matter how you’re playing, keep it upbeat. Stressed out? No sharing. Your bad mood is no one’s idea of a good day on the golf course.

4 Eyes Are Better Than 2
Always track the path of everyone’s ball, and join in the search when a ball is lost.

Be Prepared
An extra ball marker, energy bar, the tab for the snack cart, the tip at the pro shop – those are the little kindnesses a good partner has at the ready and offers up at just the right moment. The small, thoughtful gesture goes far on the golf course.

Just Don’t Offer Up Any Unsolicited Golf Advice
The reasons are too numerous, and the consequences too complex to mention. Unless you’re a golf pro, keep your personal “6 Sure Steps to a Better Golf Swing” all to yourself.

And last, but surely not least …
Raise a glass to the good golf partner, she of generous gestures and bullet
proof humor. Long may we appreciate what she does for our golf game!

This article was first published in May 2012.

Huron Valley Women’s Golf Club Details

3/9/2022.  For up to date information about leagues, please visit http://hvwgc.org/leagues/league-summary/

Experienced golfers (handicap 53.9 or less) looking for some friendly competition and beginners (no handicap required) on a quest to improve their game can find a league appropriate for them through the Huron Valley Women’s Golf Club (HVWGC) in Southeastern Michigan.

Competitive and Starter leagues begin in the spring and run through the glorious Michigan summer on a variety of golf courses in and around Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the surrounding areas. Leagues play on a variety of days using both 9- and 18-hole formats.  Subbing is allowed for members.

HVWGC, a non-profit established in 1991, complies with the USGA Rules of Golf and the World Handicap System.  The Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) provides handicap services through GHIN, the USGA Golf Handicap Information Network.  Our members really know and learn how to golf!

Chip Shot – A Plan

“Just a chip and a putt” – it sounds so easy. But in a blink of an eye, it’s a chip and a putt and another putt. Or a chip and a chip and a putt and a putt and oh, another putt. You see where I’m headed – the downward slope to a hellish score. All because of a simple shot, done poorly.

My friend chips with great technique and consistent results. I want what she’s having.

And so, a goal – become a better chipper this summer. The stroke itself is so simple – see Sandy’s video here. With those visuals and a 6-step plan, I’m off to pursue a ship shape chip shot. I think there are at least 4 strokes waiting to leave my life.

  1. Know the basic mechanics cold. Take a lesson, watch a video, do it again.
  2. Practice. Boring? Bring it home. Chip to a laundry basket in the backyard.
    Grab a friend and play closest to the basket. Wine can help.
  3. Track chips. Mark hole with a check when a chip shot lands on green in satisfactory distance/placement to the pin, and with an X when it’s a miss. Compare shots over several rounds to get an idea of how chipping affects score – and to see improvement over time.
  4. Get to course early and groove your chip shot.
  5. Feel the pre-shot swoosh. In the rough, run the club head through the grass several times to get the feel of it before setting up for the shot.
  6. Putt! Golf isn’t a game of givens; creativity is often rewarded. On the fairway just short of the green? Don’t automatically reach for the lob wedge. Is a putt a better percentage shot than a chip? Sometimes, yes.

“A chip and a putt” – that’s what I’m going for.

Master Mentor – Gayle Champagne

Gayle Champagne, centerGayle Champagne started playing golf to avoid answering the phone.  On Friday afternoons the guys at the ad agency would ask, “Gayle, would you cover my calls?” as they headed for the course with a client. Pretty soon Gayle was out there too.  (That’s Gayle sitting between Carolin Dick and me).
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She REALLY took to the sport, organizing trips up north for dozens of women at a time, landing a job at Golf For Women magazine, becoming an expert on the pleasures and perils of business golf.  She’s been involved with the American Junior Golf Association for 16 years and is currently President of the Board of Directors of that national nonprofit. That’s in addition to her full time job at Self Magazine! This is a woman who gives to golf!
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I met Gayle the year I started playing golf – before I had golf shoes OR a golf swing.  She hit a ball 90 yards over a little patch of wetland and I thought she was a golf goddess.  What really stuck with me though, was the way she inspired a new player, with just the right blend of humor and helpfulness.  I so appreciated the time she spent with me.

Whenever I play with Gayle I get inspired.  So with summer on the wane, I’ve made a pledge – to get out there and play with some new golfers, to pass on those good golf feelings.
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Once again, Gayle, thanks!