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Golf for Women – What's Next for Peggy and Golf Digest

By Nancy Berkley, President, Berkley Golf Consulting 

Peggy and Nancy at Pebble Beach

copyright by Nancy Berkley 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  May be used with written permission

JUNE 2010 -- You may not know who Peggy Ference is now, but I hope you get to know her soon.   If you were one of 24,000 golfers that voted for Peggy in the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge, you know how much she loves the game of golf.  Or if you were one of viewers of the NBC TV Special on Sunday, June 20th, right before the final round of the Open, you watched Peggy play from the 7,040 yard tournament tees.  You may already know that Peggy was the first female in the Golf Digest promotion

 (This is the last of a series of articles about the Golf Digest Challenge and Peggy. See previous articles on:  www.cybergolf/, and as well as my website

 A little more in the way of background:  This was the third year of the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge.  The Challenge was prompted by a comment made by Tiger Woods a few years ago after the U.S. Open at Oakmont. 

 Basically, Tiger said that no amateur golfer could ever break 100 on U.S. Open courses – the courses were just too hard.   Well, Tiger was right!  Over the past three years of the Challenge, no amateur has broken 100 and only a few celebrities have done it

 The celebrities playing with Peggy this year were the actor-producer Mark Wahlberg, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and MVP quarterback Drew Brees.  Each of the four golfers also had professional golfers as their caddies.  Peggy’s caddie was none-other than Corey Pavin, this year’s United States Ryder Cup Captain.  The Challenge round was played on June 9th from the tournament tees under tournament conditions.  The rough was long and the wind was blowing.

 Now with Pebble Beach U.S. Open over and only one professional breaking par in the final round, I think we can all agree. “Yes, Tiger is right.”  So it shouldn’t shock anyway that only one of the celebrities, Mark Wahlberg, broke 100.  Peggy did not have her best game with her on her Challenge round and shot 118.  But after looking at the pros final scores on Sunday, Peggy's score of 118 doesn’t look all that bad.

Golf Digest made a somewhat risky decision when it selected Peggy as a finalist for the Challenge. And I want to give credit where credit is due.  They might have avoided some controversy had they just gone with one more male scratch amateur as a finalist.   

But Bob Carney, Creative Director of Golf Digest, said that selecting Peggy was not a simple gender decision. Instead it was intended to reinforce the concept that golf is an “open” game.  Anyone can learn and play the game.

Golf Digest’s motives were admirable.  But more importantly, selecting Peggy has given Golf Digest an option to reconnect with women golfers.  (It was a sad day when Conde Nast, the owner of Golf Digest decided to shut down Golf for Women magazine.) 

But with the U.S. Open behind us all now, I wanted to catch up with Peggy and ask her a few questions and hear her reflect on her experience.  And, I also wanted a chance to speak with Peggy’s instructor and coach, Allan Bowman, the PGA Club Professional at Cherry Valley Golf Club who coached Peggy over the last couple of years and helped her bring her handicap down ten-plus strokes

Allan has not received the credit due him.  Most golfers in this country learn how to golf from their club pro.  A good club pro is really the gatekeeper to the game for millions of Americans.  Allan is one of those very good PGA Professionals.  If more clubs had more professionals with his skill and dedication, the industry would be faring better than it is doing now.

My first question to Peggy was what she thought viewers learned from watching herround along with the other golf-amateur celebrities? 

 PEGGY:  Peggy didn't have to think more than a second for her answer:  "I think people watched us out there – struggling – but with a smile on our faces at the same time.  What I hope people learned is that even when you are not playing well, (and I had my problems that day), golf is fun.  I hope they say, "Wow. There's somebody who can shoot 118 and love every minute of it.  This is more than just about me.  This is about opening up the game to more people.”


I liked that answer because for many golfers and especially women, they worry about embarrassing themselves on the course.  Here's Peggy -- capable on a very good day of maybe breaking 100 on the hardest course she will probably every play – and she shoots 118.  And she is doing it on national television with a camera following her and a mike strapped to her waist to catch her moans and disappointments.

As Peggy explains it, when she played a practice round with her teacher, Allan Bowman, who flew out for a day to be with her, she was calm and at peace in her mind. 

But she could not find that mental place during the actual Challenge tournament.  She had a good tee shot on the first tee, the best of the foursome in fact.  But she sent her second shot to the right into the rough.  As Peggy describes it, "The rough did me in."  After that, she just could not keep it together.  (And we watched a few golf professionals struggle with that rough on Sunday.)

I asked Allan Bowman, Peggy's instructor, for his reactions after playing a practice round with her and what he thought her chances would be of breaking 100 on that course.  

 ALLAN:  Allan thought that Peggy’s nerves could be problem.  Peggy was a little worried about that herself.  They had hoped to have some kind of practice round at in front of 500 members of Cherry Valley, but they never got that in.  All this confirms how important that mental game is.

 Allan went on to say that with the rough the way it was, he thought that breaking 100 would be very difficult.   We talked a little bit about the sheer strength required to hit through that rough. 

 Peggy was playing with one of the new “face-forward” F-2 wedges that eliminates a hosel.  But, according to Allan, even with that new technology, more strength is required than most women golfers are prepared for.  There is a reason, he says, that Tiger can bench in own weight in the gym.  He needs it on the course.

 Peggy had mentioned that she was not the only female at her club that has been successfully coached by Allan.  So, I asked Allan whether he thought that he was a particularly good teacher for women.  His answer was a modest "yes."  He went to on to say that when teaching women he asks more questions about what they are "thinking" than showing them a video of what they are "doing."   Allan's advice for all instructors is, "Listen to your student and ask questions."

 The most controversial issue is:  Should a female golfer have been the non-celebrity golfer in the Challenge foursome.  Or should a guy with a low handicap have been selected because the U.S. Open is after all a men’s tournament?

 Well, we just got through saying that amateurs – regardless of gender -- can't begin to match the skill of professionals.  That issue is finished.  Done with!   So male or female amateur, it's not going to really matter.  The lessons that the cameras will pick up will be the same from both genders:  Golf is hard but at the same time it is fun.

 And, consider this – a point Allan Bowman reminded me of:  One day, a female may very well qualify for the U.S. Open.  Although there is a USGA Women's Open, women are not prohibited from trying to qualify for the U.S. Open. Michelle Wie, in fact, tried to qualify a few years ago at Canoe Brook Country Club in Short Hills, New Jersey.    (The same gender neutral rules apply for the British Open.) 

And, when that day happens and a woman plays in the U.S. Open, scheduled for 2019 at Pebble Beach, she will have to break Peggy's record of 118. 



 Golf Digest and the USGA will decide whether the Challenge with non-celebrity golfers has run its course.  In my opinion it has. 

 Maybe there is not much to “learn” from watching the Challenge.  Maybe it is primarily entertainment.   We all know how popular "Dancing with the Stars" is. 

I'm not sure whether more people are taking dancing lessons after watching celebrity dancers, but somehow I don't think that more people will take up golf because Mark Wahlberg shot 97.

 But I think that Golf Digest has started something by opening the door to women in this year’s Challenge.  Once you see Peggy play golf and see her talk about her love for the game, it doesn’t matter what she shot that day at Pebble.

In my view, Golf Digest owes women golfers.  They are in the media business and in the golf business.  So they don’t want to publish a women’s golf magazine anymore, that’s okay.  But they have another option.

Golf Digest has the opportunity to provide the funding for a speaking platform for Peggy.   They can develop a series of speaking opportunities – branded Golf Digest for Women -- that then would also be on the website.  

Golf Digest should not walk away from this opportunity.  If they do, someone else should grab her.   Women are great communicators and we need Peggy out there to help grow the game. 

 In my opinion, Peggy is the perfect ambassador-in general for women's golf.  She will be speaking at the Women's Metropolitan Golf Association (NY, NJ and CT).  I hope it is the first of many inspirational speeches she will give. 

And since this is June and also the American Express sponsored Women's Golf Month, take your first lesson, play and extra round, practice that bunker shot.  And have fun. 


Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women's golf and junior-girls golf. She is a frequent contributor to Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry. She offers information and advice about the golf industry on and is often quoted in national publications. She is also the author of the NGF publication: "An Insider's Guide to Careers in the Golf Industry." She was a contributing editor of "Golf for Women" magazine and a founding advisor of "Golfer Girl Magazine." Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager. She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.







By Nancy Berkley, President, Berkley Golf Consulting

copyright by Nancy Berkley 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  May be used with written permission


The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach doesn’t begin until next week June 17th-20th.  But I went there for a sneak preview on Sunday, June 6th, to meet Peggy Ference in person.  Peggy is the first woman golfer – and an amateur -- who will play Pebble Beach from the new 7040 yard U.S. Open tees on Wednesday, June 9th in a special event:  The Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge. 

As the first woman to play from the new tournament tees, she will set the women's record – whatever she shoots. Her goal is to break 100.  Playing with her will be three celebrities:  Wayne Gretsky, Drew Brees, and Mark Wahlberg. 

But, I guarantee you that Peggy will wow the gallery, and she has a few surprises in her golf bag and game.  And, with Corey Pavin, the Captain of the 2010 U.S. Ryder Club Team, as her caddie she will have an amazing round.  (Bubba Watson, Ricky Fowler and Ricky Barnes are caddies for the other celebrities.)

As the winner of the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge on line voting contest -- and the first female golfer to do so -- she won the right to play on Wednesday.   For more background, see my previous article about the Golf Digest Challenge and interview with Peggy

The results of Wednesday's Challenge round will make the news – because of the celebrities and because of Peggy.   The first report will probably appear on  But, Wednesday’s round will be filmed and broadcast for a 90-minute special on NBC TV right before the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday, June 20th

The celebrities have been working on their game.  Brees plays to a five handicap, Wahlberg to a twelve and Gretsky, who has been working with Jim Flick to prepare for this round, has a ten handicap.  Peggy's handicap adjusted under the USGA Handicap System for playing from the 7000 yard tees is a twelve.  (Peggy's official USGA Handicap calculated from the forward tees is a five.)   In last year's Challenge, all three celebrities did break 100 but so far an amateur has not been able to do it. 

Since I was in San Francisco over the weekend and knew that Peggy was getting ready for her big day, I decided to meet her for a late lunch at the Inn at Spanish Bay next to Pebble Beach on the beautiful Monterrey Peninsula and talk about how her preparation was going. 

I also invited Joann Dost, the well known golf landscape photographer and former LPGA Tour player, to join us for dessert.  Joann’s photographs of Pebble Beach are what most of us see when we think about Pebble.  Conveniently, Joann lives just a few minutes away.

Before I met Peggy, however, I needed to stop and see that first tee at Pebble.  I’ve played the course a few times and each round has been memorable.  .

My timing on Sunday was perfect.   I walked behind the foursome of men beginning to assemble for their 11 a.m. tee time and looked back at a set of bleachers that probably had just been built behind the new back tees.  That’s where some of Peggy’s family and friends will be sitting on Wednesday.  I couldn’t resist pulling out my camera and taking a photo of what Peggy will be looking at on Wednesday.  (It’s nothing like a Joann Dost photo!!)

And then I spotted one of those final touches that make USGA Tournaments such perfection.  A painter was putting a final coat of white paint on the new first tee marker that would see its first golfers on Wednesday.

Almost time to meet Peggy, I headed over to the Inn at Spanish Bay.  I recognized her right away.  In person she is even more personable and attractive than the video of her in the on-line voting contest.  We sat down for brunch and talked for two hours with Joann Dost pulling up a chair mid-way through.  Here are just some highlights:

What comes through very clearly from Peggy's enthusiasm is the tremendous support she is receiving from Golf Digest and the USGA.  They want her to succeed – to break 100 – to be a great symbol of this Open.  Peggy said that when she visited the Golf Digest offices after she won the contest, she received a fantastic welcome.  She felt like a celebrity herself.

As Peggy describes it, for the USGA this is an opportunity to show that golf is not just an elite, men’s only game – but a game and sport that is truly “open” to everyone.  In an environment where the number of golfers seems to keep declining, that kind of “open” attitude can only bring good things to the game. 

THE WOMEN'S ISSUE:   We talked about the gender issue.  This is the third year of the Golf Digest Challenge and the first year that a woman has been one of the finalists for the amateur position.  By the way, no amateur has broken 100 – yet. 

I asked Peggy a tough question:  If you had a choice of headlines:  One was “First Female Amateur to break 100” or “First Amateur to Break 100” – which headline would you prefer?

She didn’t pause a second.  Her answer was: “First amateur.”  And then she went on to say:  “I am very proud to be a woman golfer…. But this event is bigger than that.  I love the game of golf and enjoy it equally with both women and men.    I grew up a tom-boy.  And today I work in the pharmaceutical industry that is male dominated.  Playing the women card is not my priority.  But I embrace my femininity, which was a perfect transition to our next topic.

JUST AN INTIMATE DINNER ON TUESDAY NIGHT:   Peggy is particularly excited about a formal dinner on Tuesday evening before the Wednesday round.   It is just a small group:  A handful of USGA officials who will welcome the small group and go over the rules, then the three celebrities and the four caddies and Peggy.   In fact, the only person there that Peggy will know will be Corey, her caddie, who is catching up with her on a Tuesday practice round.   

Getting back to this dinner, I said, “So, you will be the only woman?"   And I asked the question many other women would ask:  "What will you wear?”  

She is definitely prepared!  She explained that a good friend took her shopping – a fashionista friend – and she bought the most expensive dress she has ever owned.   As Peggy described it:  It’s a little black dress by Rachel Roy and she will wear Kate Spade sandals and her friend’s special jewelry.   As she talked about the evening and her enthusiasm for the event was growing.  She said, “I think I will just have to keep saying to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding… I’m here?’  (I hope the cameras are, too.)

DON'T WORRY ABOUT PEGGY:  I don’t have a single doubt that Peggy will do just fine at that intimate little dinner.  In her non-golf life she is regional sales manager for Allos Therapeutics, a bio- pharmaceutical company that develops innovative anti-cancer dugs.  Peggy's division is involved with a new treatment for a rare form of lymphoma. 

Peggy is a take-charge-person.  It's no surprise that she is on the Board of Directors of Cherry Valley Country Club.  Or, that during her down time while trying to find a new job, she became the tournament director for the Garden State Women's Golf Association, which is almost a full-time job.

Now in her new position, she has had to take a few days off from work these last few weeks.  But, her sales team is doing well.  For a few minutes we talked about her work.  It was clear that she loves team-building, delivering top results and best of all -- coming in first.

PLAYING TIPS AND PRACTICE ROUNDS:   On Wednesday, coming in with a low score is what it is all about.  Allan Bowman, the Head Golf Professional at Cherry Valley Country Club near Princeton where she plays, is flying out from New Jersey to play a practice round with her and offer a little last-minute coaching and confidence-building.  

The celebrities playing with Peggy have had access to the famous golf instructors.  It is a compliment to the PGA of America, that Peggy's game owes its current strength to her PGA Pro.  He knows her game very well. 

In fact, she tried to convince him to try a new driver with a lower loft to get a little more distance.  But after going through the simulators and videos with Allan, she realized he was right.  For the golf techies reading this, the reason her 12-degree Ping Rhapsody driver with the pink Aldila shaft works so well for her is that she comes at the ball with a slightly closed club face. 

On her practice rounds, she also will have the help of a former caddie at Pebble.  Completely unsolicited, Kris Schreiner, who caddied at Pebble for over fifteen years (until two years ago), sent Peggy a set of  detailed notes about each hole.  And because there have been some changes in the course in the past two years especially in preparation for the U.S. Open, he had called upon a few of his Pebble-caddie-friends to make sure his notes were updated for the current conditions.  Peggy is going to use those notes on her first practice round on Monday. 

And then on Tuesday, Corey is going to go out with her for a few holes.  Peggy thinks that Corey might be able to help her out on a couple of trouble-spots she has been working on – like her right-hand release. 

WEDNESDAY MORNING'S ROUTINE AND A FEW SURPRISES.  And then I asked about Wednesday morning.  The tee off time is 10 A.M.    Her answer, “I am going to do what I usually do before a match.  I’ll get there one hour early and start with my putting.”  Then as Peggy explains it, she works with her driver – beginning with a 20 percent swing, then 40, 60, 80-percent and then the full swing.   Then she will work on some short shots.  Her final practice will be with her driver and the varied tempos.  That's her confidence builder.

“My driver is my best club in my bag", she said a few times.  "I'm not trying to kill it – just hit it straight." So rather than using a 3-wood off a tee when she has to play short off the tee, she will adjust the swing and tempo of her drive.   Watch for this on the first tee.

There will be a few other surprises in her golf bag.  She has switched out wedges and is a little worried about what Corey will think of them.  She did not want to tell me the names of the wedges she will be carrying in her bag.  That will be a surprise on Wednesday.   But she did say that they use a new face-forward technology that is working for her.

Peggy will have to play strategically.   There are five holes that she thinks she just cannot reach in regulation.  So she will play a driver – sometimes short – and then use her hybrids on the fairway and great short shots to the green to position herself for a bogey.

Joann offered her advice:  As you lay in bed on Tuesday night, replay the whole course – shot by shot -- and visualize all your perfect shots.  That reminded me of a comment by Babe Didrickson who explained that she didn't have to go to the practice tee; she practiced in her head.

"THREE" IS PEGGY'S MAGIC NUMBER.   All of Peggy's balls will be a Titleist ProV1 – Number 3.  Why three?  Because as Peggy describes it:  "Everyone will be seeing three celebrities playing with me.  But, I have my own celebrities – the ones that heaven sent:  my brother and my mom and dad.  

And all of my friends with me on the course will be wearing red hats with the number "3" on them and "Peggy" on the back.   There is a theme here.  Peggy will be wearing red, white and blue. 

Joann Dost listened to this and then said:  "If three's your number, then you have to shoot a 93!"  Peggy had already figured that out.

THE HARDEST HOLE:  Peggy's answer to that was the 18th hole.  "It's all going to come down to that," she said.  "I am going to stand on that tee box with the opportunity to close it out there.

" I don't keep score as I play and I am going to try not to even look at the standards that officials will be carrying.  In fact, I haven't even tried to translate what a "plus 5" score translates to in terms of my breaking 100.   I think I will let Corey carry my scorecard.   If he tells me that I need a six on that hole to close it out, I think I know how I will play the hole.   

ABOUT GOLF BALLS:  We talked about golf balls.  How many should Peggy have in her bag?  How should she rotate them?   "Rotate them?" Peggy asked.  I usually use a ball for four rounds!!  Peggy and I both learned from Joann that it takes a golf ball 20 minutes after being played on a hole to resume its perfectly round shape, which is why golfers rotate balls between holes.  Peggy listened to all this and said, "I'm leaving all that up to Corey!"

Joann also warned not to give too many balls away during the round and told the story about how Tiger had only one ball left in his bag (only his caddie knew it) when he teed it up on 18 for his Open victory in 2000.   His caddy handed him a 4-iron knowing that he could not flirt with the water using his driver.

ADVICE TO WOMEN GOLFERS:   We had been talking for over an hour and I needed to get to my core questions.  What did Peggy think was the biggest problem for average women golfers?  Without hesitation she said, "They can't chip."  She went on to say that when she plays with average women golfers she will offer to give them a five-minute chipping lesson at the end of the round.  The key she said is to keep the weight on the left (target) side.  By the way, Peggy is left-handed, but has always played golf as right-y. 

"And, what do we have to do to encourage more women to play golf?" I asked.  Peggy's answer was that golf has to be seen as more fun and more 9-hole rounds have to be encouraged.  At her club, in fact, there is a four-hole loop that busy women can do that brings them back to the club house quickly in time to do all the other things they need to do. 

Peggy is a great mentor to junior golf and encourages moms to get out on the course with their children. She has wonderful memories of her mom taking her on the course and telling her how every shot was great.  "Where can you go these days with your children and spend a couple of hours without cell phones or music or any of today's distractions?  The golf course! " she answered.

FINAL THOUGHTS:   For Peggy, this is a "Can you believe this?" experience.  She is well prepared and has worked on her relaxation deep-breathing techniques and figured out just how to conserve her energy for the next few days ahead.

As I listened to her, I couldn't help thinking how great she would be in a television booth – hopefully for the U.S. Women's Open – explaining the game from an amateur's perspective.   She is good at selling pharmaceuticals but maybe there is another career ahead for her as well. 

FINAL PRAYERS:   Peggy has rediscovered her Catholic faith over the last couple of years.  She said it was a sign from God that on Sunday morning when she went to mass, she found herself in a church at Pebble Beach with the same name as her church back in Princeton.  "I'm looking for signs from God that this is where I am supposed to be now:  Playing golf – here in Pebble – with my friends and family and heaven-sent celebrities." 

When I interviewed her a few weeks ago, she said that when she is swinging well, it feels like God is holding her hand.  So let's say a prayer for Peggy, that God's game is "on" for her on Wednesday.

WATCH THE RESULTS:   Watch for the results on  Don't forget to watch the TV special on NBC before the U.S. Open final round on Sunday, June 20th.  Set your TV to record the program 90 minutes before the final round begins. 

Let Peggy's enthusiasm for golf encourage everyone to play more golf and have more fun playing it.


Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women’s golf and junior-girls golf.  She is a frequent contributor to  Her book, Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf, published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry.  She offers information and advice about the golf industry on and is often quoted in national publications.. She is also the author of the NGF publication: An Insider's Guide to Careers in the Golf Industry.  She was a contributing editor of  Golf for Women  magazine and a founding advisor of Golfer Girl Magazine. Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on  Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager.  She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.




Peggy Ference to Play from Men's Championship Tees at U.S. Open:

An Interview with Peggy about Her Strategy for Golf and Life.©

By Nancy Berkley, President, Berkley Golf Consulting

copyright by Nancy Berkley 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  May be used with written permission

 Peggy Ference is making history.  Yes, you read it right.  The first round of the U.S. Open is Thursday, June 17th at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California's beautiful Monterey Peninsula.   And, for the first time in the history of women's golf – and probably in the history of the men's U.S. Open – an amateur female golfer, Peggy Ference, age 51, from Skillman, NJ, will play the Open course from the 7,040 yard tournament tees under tournament conditions on June 9th – one week before the Open officially begins.  Her goal is to break 100 – a challenge Tiger Woods put in place a few years ago. 

Peggy will not be playing alone.  Peggy, with her 4.9 handicap, will join in a foursome with Drew Brees, the MVP quarterback from the New Orleans Saints, who has a 3 handicap, Wayne Gretsky, National Hockey League Hall of Famer, with a 10 handicap, and the actor and producer, Mark Wahlberg who plays to a 14 handicap.  For more about the celebrities see:

The three celebrities were selected by the joint event sponsors: Golf Digest, NBC and USGA.  But the fourth golfer, Peggy, representing an "average" amateur golfer, earned her place as the winner of an essay and on-line voting contest.  Peggy captured 37% of the 65,000 online votes cast during the Month of April.

The challenge round will be taped for a 90-minute TV special.  All America will have a chance to watch Peggy's foursome on NBC television on Sunday, June 20th right before NBC begins their coverage of the final round of the Open.  Can she break 100?    Remember:   She doesn't have to shoot par.  She only has to shoot 99 or less.

A little history of the event:  This is the third year of the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge.  The challenge began with a comment by Tiger Woods, after playing the U.S. Open at Oakmont (outside Pittsburgh) in 2007, that a ten-handicapper couldn't break 100 playing that course under US Open tournament conditions. 

Tiger may have been wrong.  At the 2008 Open,Tony Romo shot 84 at Torrey Pines, and in the 2009 Open, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jordan and Ben Roethlisberger all broke 90 at Bethpage

No non-celebrity amateur golfer has been able to do it – at least so far.   Some golf reviewers have suggested that celebrities are used to crowds and can maintain their concentration while most amateurs cannot.   

But Peggy has a good shot at making history.   She began her journey by making it through a rigorous screening process.

For this 2010 contest, which began accepting entries in December, Golf Digest received over twenty-four thousand  60-word essays from average golfers who each had their very own reason for wanting to play at Pebble.  From those thousands of essays which are also part of a promotional sweepstakes, the Golf Digest judges selected five amateur golfers as finalists – four men and one woman. 

The history-making news is that this is the first year that a female golfer has been a finalist.   And the first year that the women's-network could go to work and deliver the on-line votes needed to win.  We always knew that women were great on-line communicators and word-of-mouth marketers, and Peggy’s victory proved the point.  For more background, see

Hundreds of women (myself included) sent out hundreds of emails that generated thousands of votes.  When the final results were tallied, Peggy won the contest with 37% of all votes cast.   "Yea" to all the women (and men, too) that voted for Peggy

But on another level I wondered whether Golf Digest selected a women finalist on purpose – perhaps with a special motive.   So, I went to the source – Bob Carney, Creative Director of Golf Digest and asked him whether there was some publicity reason for selecting a woman.  

Bob promptly answered:  “To your question about highlighting Peggy as the first woman, it would be strange not to acknowledge the fact that she is a woman, and that this is the first time that we’ve had a female in the foursome. That said, this is really about only one thing: an average golfer’s dream of playing the Open course under the same conditions as the Open contestants. In other words, just as our amateur challengers have in the past, Peggy is representing all golfers, male and female. The Challenge is all about what a wonderful, “open” game this is, and it celebrates the role the USGA plays in keeping it that way."

I really liked Bob’s answer because the USGA Opens are unique to the game of golf.  There are no farm teams, tour cards to earn or qualifying tournaments to win.  If you are a really good golfer, you can enter one of the regional qualifying open rounds.  It's "open" golf in the true meaning of the word. 

After hearing of Peggy's victory, I wanted to know more about her and what motivated her to take on this challenge.  I emailed her and asked for an interview. 

We spent over an hour talking about her family, her love for the game and what she is doing to prepare for Pebble.  I also asked a few "experts" to offer some advice and then asked Peggy what she thought about that advice.

Following is our interview.   I know you will enjoy meeting Peggy.

Q.  NANCY BERKLEY -- Let's start at the beginning – when did you learn to play golf?

A.  PEGGY FERENCE --  I started to play golf when I was 8 years old in 1966.   I was living in Springfield, Illinois and my parents had joined a private country club, the Illini Country Club.    To learn the basics, my mother signed us both up for a golf clinic sponsored by the YMCA.   

What's really interesting is that at that golf clinic, I remember using my mother’s hickory-shafted clubs.   My mom, who was a pretty amazing woman, managed to get a nursing degree, raise a family and even take up golf – probably back in the fifties when the LPGA was just getting started. 

Q.  I heard that you played Pebble Beach when you were ten. 

Yes, that's true.  When I was ten years old, our family went on a vacation to Pebble Beach.   I have an older sister, and she and my dad scheduled a round of golf.  I think that at the time, two golfers at Pebble were probably all our family could afford. 

That day, however, turned out to be cold – too cold for me to go swimming.   So, I begged my dad to take me along on the course.  He finally agreed but told me to just sit in the cart and be good.  I started bugging him:  “Why can't I play? This isn't fair!”  He said that when we get away from the club house he would let me hit a couple of shots. 

As I remember it, we came to a hole that was surrounded by the ocean and was far away from the clubhouse.   I know now that it was the 7th hole – the famous par three.  My dad hit a shot that landed in a bunker.   Then my sister hit a shot that also landed in the sand.  My dad said "This is a perfect hole for you" and handed me my sister's 4 wood.  I put my shot on the green and ended up parring the hole.  He started laughing and we all couldn’t stop laughing about it

Q.  So would you say that you were a "natural" at the game?

A.  Not really.  I don’t recall being a “natural”.   I credit the Illini Country Club.  They had a very active junior golf system in the summer – one that I have never seen anywhere else.   The juniors played every Wednesday and were divided into groups – half hour group lesson and then we played on the course.

The key I think was that parents were involved.   Parents had to agree to be a “walker” two times during the season and once during a tournament.   The parents gave us encouragement, helped with the safety aspects, offered a few tips and made it possible for all the juniors to play on the course rather than just stay on a practice tee.

One summer because I had to take typing classes in the morning, I ended up playing with the older group of girls who played eighteen holes in the afternoon.   I realized that I was playing as well as they were.  

Q.  Did you ever consider a career in golf – as a teacher or a tour player? 

A.  No. not at all.   My dad was a pediatrician, and I worked in his office and loved it.  But I didn't want to be a doctor or nurse.  I wanted to get married and have ten kids! 

The drug company sales reps used to come in to the office.  I couldn't believe that they got company cars.   That really made an impression on me.  I started asking them where they went to school and how they got their jobs. 

My favorite rep had a pharmacy background and my chemistry teacher – a nun in the Catholic school I attended -- also had a pharmacy background.  That's what led me to the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and in five years earned my bachelor of Pharmacy degree.  

I always knew I wanted to be in sales because I am outgoing and love meeting people.  I started working as a sales rep for the Eli Lilly company, which at the time only hired pharmacists.  My goal was to do med sales, get married and have ten children!  It's not exactly what happened.  

Q.  Was your golf skill a help in your pharmaceutical sales career?

A.  In our industry, we can't take physicians out to play golf.  So I couldn’t use my golf there.  But golf did come in handy when we were at a national sales meetings.  The president didn’t want to just play with guys because it was not a good diversity image.  So I was the designated female in the president's foursome even though at the time I was playing to a sixteen handicap which meant that I could pretty consistently shoot between 88 and 92.

Q.  And what about the marriage and ten kids?

A.  I did get married, but about ten years later we divorced.  And the ten kids never happened.   And, I didn't play much golf during that period either -- except with my brothers and sister at family functions.  My husband was not a golfer.  Maybe I played five rounds a year and held on to my 16 handicap.  

Q.  What brought you to New Jersey?

A.  After my divorce, I needed a change.  In 2000 at the age of 42, I took a new job with ImClone Systems and moved to Skillman, New Jersey, which is just a few miles from Princeton.  The move was something of a wake-up-call for me.

I decided that in my new life I was going to play golf again.  I joined Cherry Valley Country Club where there were a core of good golfers to play with – both men and women – and no “men’s-only” tee times.

Most important, that's where I met Allan Bowman, the Director of Golf at Cherry Valley.  It was a turning point in my golf – and my life.

Q.  Talk a little more about this turning point and Allan's role in it?

A.  It starts with a wonderful woman golfer at Cherry Valley, Mickey Burgess – a role model for me.  She had a 4 handicap and was the women's Club Champion. 

One day – in 2002, I made the statement to Allan that I had a goal.  My goal was to get down to a single digit handicap and be the Club champ. 

Allan asked if I was really serious.  When I said, "Yes", he made me an offer that I couldn't refuse.  He said that he and his assistant were at the range  every morning at 6 a.m. where they work on their game for an hour before the shop opens. 

If I was really serious – and came every day – and they really meant "every” day at 6 a.m., they would take me on as their project.   So I start getting up very, very early and making it to the practice tee by 6.   I worked on my game for an hour and then took a shower and went to work.

Q.  Did they make many changes to your swing?

A.  I would call it a complete overhaul.   At our first lesson, they asked me what ball I played with.  I told them I played with any ball regardless of the brand.  They wanted to know how far I hit every club, and I couldn't answer that question.  I remember Allan saying, "We are going to have to do a lot of stuff with you.” 

They changed my grip, my swing plane, my putting.   I had been putting with a reverse grip and they took me back to a regular grip and cut my putter down much shorter.  Now I have a pendulum putting stroke with my arms straight down.

Q.  How would you describe your swing?

A.  I think it's a strong swing.  People tell me that I have a beautiful swing.  It's evolved over the years.   When I learned golf as a junior, the equipment and the instruction were different.  I learned in the era of the "reverse C" which was needed to get the ball up into the air.  That means when my game is off and I revert back to old habits, I’m a slider and dipper.  When that happens I have to tell myself to just "stay tall."

I think that I swing naturally.  I describe it as: "When you are playing your best game, it feels like God is holding your hand."

I am a thinker and pretty analytic – always reviewing everything and every conversation.   But, when I am on the golf course, I have the ability to let that over-thinking go… and stay in the moment.

Q.  Everyone will want to know:  What equipment are you using?

A.   Well, I'm a "Ping girl" – driver, woods, hybrids and most irons. My 56-degree wedge is a TaylorMade.  And my 60-degree wedge is the Titleist Vokey.  I have a couple of other wedges also.   My putter is the Odyssey two-ball putter.  And I play a Titleist ProV1 ball.  My favorite club is my 7 iron which I hit 135 yards.  I’m counting on that club working for me. 

Q. What about that driver?

A. My Ping driver is special.  It has a pink Aldila shaft – the same one that Bubba Watson uses and Paula Craemer also.  It has a special meaning for me because revenue from the sales of that pink shaft goes to breast cancer research.  I call it my “Mom’s Club” because my mom died of breast cancer twenty years ago.  I feel like I have her with me when I play.

Q.  Let's talk about how you are preparing for Pebble Beach?  What's first on your list?

A.  This may surprise you.  First on my list is that I pray a lot.  In fact, every morning I say:  "Dear God, let me accept whatever you are about to present to me out there and to enjoy it and understand the lesson." Clearly in my mind there is a lesson out there.  Because how do I come to grips with being one of 24,000 entries and ultimately getting all these people behind me to win this contest.

Q.  Has religion always been an important part of your life?

A.  Only in the last few years do I consider myself a religious person.  I went to Catholic schools and was pretty typical.  When things were bad, I went to mass.  But when things were "OK", church wasn’t that important.

When I lost my job two years ago and things were bad, I started going back to mass.  Usually I can pick myself up – but I was having a hard time getting another job.   We have a great pastor here who helped me shift from feeling sorry for myself to becoming more involved in my church and my community. 

As I look back on those two job-less years, I have come to view them as really rewarding.   My mother was a devout Catholic and went to mass every day.  So in some regards, my re-discovering my Catholic faith is a tribute to her. 

Q. Prayer is a good transition to my next question.  A hot topic for competitive golfers is how they manage their minds and their nerves during a match.  I asked Dr. Patricia Donnelly, who specializes in helping competitive athletes manage their mental game.  Here is Pat’s advice for you:

"First:  Stay in the present.  It is imperative as you are about to begin your pre-shot routine to erase all past and future shots.  Focus only on executing the current shot to the best of your ability which you know is superior.  Second:  Although you will try to hit your best shot each time, remember no one hits all perfect shots.  That would result in all birdies and a score of 54.  Even Ben Hogan would tell himself before each round that he would hit five bad shots.  So when he hit a shot he didn’t like, he didn’t get upset: he had expected it to occur.  And third:  Decide how you will relax during the round and practice these relaxation methods until they become automatic.  This way they’ll kick in during competition.  Relax between shots – there are hours when you’re not hitting shots.  Deep breathing, progressive relaxation and visualization are tried and true relaxation methods.

A.  That’s really good advice and deep breathing is a technique that I do use to relax.   I also am trying to make contact with Bob Rotella, a friend of a friend, to see if I can get ten minutes of his time and hear his suggestions. I am going to speak with Sherry Herman, who is the reigning USGA Women's Senior Amateur Champion.  I would like to know where her head is when she stands on that first tee. 

Q.  Suzy Whaley played from the tournament tees eight years ago at the 2002 Greater Hartford Open. She was the first female to take on that challenge since Babe Zaharias did it in 1945.  Here’s Suzy’s advice for you as it appeared in an article by Stina Sternberg for Golf Digest online

"I'd tell Peggy to stay focused on the task and not on the results.  The golf ball has no concept of the tee played, score shot, or tournament entered. [When I was preparing for the Greater Hartford Open,] I devised a plan to get stronger mentally and physically, and I surrounded myself with people who supported my efforts and were there to help me accomplish my goals.

And that leads to my next question because fitness training is also a hot topic in golf these days.  

I asked Karen Palacios-Jansen, the Managing Editor of Golf Fitness Magazine and developer of a program called "Cardio Golf,"  what her advice would be for you.  Here's what she said:

“Strength training exercises are important for increasing muscle strength and bone mass and require the addition of weight or resistance to challenge the muscles. But some people think that free weights and machines leave them tight in the shoulders and chest, so I recommend using resistance bands instead.  Resistance bands stretch your joints and tendons while strengthening your muscles. 

A.  That's not exactly my routine but I agree with it.  I don't use bands – but definitely something to think about.  My current program is:  Lift weights 3 to 5 times a week, alternating upper and lower body; 2-3 sets of push-ups and 15-20 minutes of sit-ups; stretching and 30 minutes of cardio – alternating between the elliptical and the bike.   


Q.  Your training routine is impressive but let’s get back to golf and the shots you are concentrating on in these final weeks?

A.  My achilles heel is my 30-yard shot.  I spent April working on drives, long hybrids, putting and my 8 and 9 iron for short chips.   But now that I won the contest, I have to be more efficient in my time.  I am taking two lessons a week and only working on my 30-yard shots out of heavy rough.  High, soft shots with my sand wedge that hit the green, bounce twice and stop.  

Q.  And what about course management and strategy?  I asked Brad Klein, the Architecture Editor of GolfWeek magazine for his advice to you.  Here’s what Brad offered?

”The greens are so small at Pebble Beach and the surrounding trouble so difficult for recovery that I'd suggest never once looking at a flag but simply playing for the center of every green. It will help build confidence that way and it also takes a lot of pressure off your iron/approach game, since, by definition, you're allowing yourself the largest possible margin of error on each shot into the green.

A.  I absolutely agree with that strategy!  I know that I cannot get on every green in regulation.  I hit my driver about 220 yards.  The pros hit theirs 250 or more!   Although now that I am playing from Cherry Valley's back tees, I can see that the more I play, the more greens I hit.  But I am prepared for Pebble and know that I will rarely get on in regulation

But, if I get nine bogies and nine double-bogies, that is a 99.  Pars are a gift.   I want to avoid the big numbers; so, I’m going to play “safe” – along the lines that Brad suggested.

Q.  And I asked Ron Whitten, the Senior Editor of Architecture at Golf
Digest, for his advice.  Here  is what he said:

"Who could possible outdo that gem of wisdom  from Brad Klein? I'm sure
that strategy will work, especially on the  hourglass-shaped 17th green.
Honestly, I have no advice for Peggy. The hardest  thing in the world to do is
shoot a particular score.  I just hope she has  fun. Enjoy the venue, the
foursome, the scenery, the moment.  If it works  out, great; if not, it's only a


A.  I have to keep remembering that advice -  it's so important.   I will have about fifteen people -- my personal gallery -- cheering me along on  the course, including my brother, my nephew (Mike's son) and his wife, my three  best girl friends and a few other special golf friends.  I hope I golf well, but just having them  there on the course with me will make
the day very  special.

Q.  Aren't you worried about the distractions:  The cameras, the gallery and that you will be taped and then shown on national television?


A.  I am very good at blocking things out. I have played in our club championships and we have a gallery of 10-15 people or so walking along.  There are a few other things that keep me focused on the present:  I don’t add up my score.  I never add up after 9 holes.  I play one shot at a time and let the bad ones go. 

I am not going to think about how I am doing.   I know that it will be a 6-hour round.  I will be prepared with my protein bars and nuts. I don’t like to eat a lot but I have to make sure that I eat what I need for energy.  And I’ve thought about what I will wear.  It will be a skort if it’s warm enough and a lot of layers because of the variable weather conditions

Q.  Have you met your other celebrity players?

A.   No.  Not yet.   I can feel the pressure building up.  I will have practice rounds on June 7th and 8th.  I have the last practice tee time and my teacher Allan Bowman is coming out for those rounds.  We will play until dark. This is our chance to develop the strategy for how I will play each hole.  Allan knows my game and swing and will keep me on track.

 Q.  All during our conversation, I have sensed how important your family is to you.  And I know that one of your brothers died on a golf course. 

A.  Everyone in our family played golf, so that is a special bond.  My older brother, Mike, died of a heart attack after finishing the 18th hole on a course in Georgia on his way to watch the Masters.  It was a trip of a lifetime for him.  As a good luck charm, I carry a ball that he had in his bag – a ball marked with a smiley face.  After my brother Mike died, we were going through the things on his bedside table.  On top of everything was a scorecard with a round on it when he beat me! 


I also have a younger brother Matt who will be at Pebble Beach.  He also likes to play competitively with me.  I asked Matt to come to New Jersey and play in the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association Sister-Brother Tournament.  We had fun.  But we didn’t win anything! 

Q.  We have really been talking mainly about your golf.  I want to shift our conversation and get your thoughts on the bigger picture.  What about teaching juniors?  And what are your thoughts about the declining number of women golfers?


A.  For a number of years I have stated that my retirement goal is to work with juniors and women golfers.  Learning to play golf can be very embarrassing and humiliating – lots of swings and misses.   Women don’t want to be publicly embarrassed.  I think in the beginning – for both women and kids – golf has to be fun.  Hit the ball eight times – then pick it up and put it down at a place where you can hit it to the green. 

I also think that women need to focus on getting that ball into the air – even if it means using a tee on the course.  And women need to play on the course – even if just one hole.  Imagine a place where you can go with your friends or husband for 2 or 4 hours – no cell phones, no kids, no interruptions. Golf has to advertise that benefit.

I think the trend towards shorter tees for women is great.  If women score better, they will feel better and play more.  I think it’s good for the game that the Old MacDonald course out at Bandon Dunes in Oregon is putting in a shorter set of tees.  That’s a tipping point for the industry and the growth of women’s golf.  

Q.  At most golf clubs, the number of women who want to play competitively – such as in Club Championships, is declining.  What’s your feeling about that?

A.  Yes, I see that decline at Cherry Valley also.  I think that there is clearly a group of women who are competitive by nature and a group that aren’t.  I think that definitely when I play in competitive events or even in my Saturday game with the guys where everything may be riding on an 18th hole press, I get that adrenaline rush and enjoy it.  Women like me are not worried about fear of failure.  We just want to see how good we can be. 

But I also think that it is personally "OK" if women don’t want that competition.  I would much rather see the number of women playing golf increase – even if not playing competitively.  We need to get more women out there playing golf.

Q.  And, my final question:  Why do you love to play golf?

I love golf because every time you play, it’s different.  You can never perfect it and it’s a constant challenge. It’s the most mentally stimulating and challenging thing I do.  But now that I have my handicap down to a 5, it’s both a blessing and curse. When I shoot 82, it’s a bad day. I’m hoping for a really good day at Pebble on June 9th!

Thank you, Peggy, for sharing so much about golf and your life and why you entered the contest.   Your challenge could not be occurring in a better month.  June is the American Express Women's Golf Month with Suzy Whaley as one of its spokespersons.  Because many courses will be offering lessons and clinics for women, this is the month for all women to reconnect with the game – like you did – or to take it up for the first time.  (for more information about courses participating in Women's Golf Month, go to 

And to all those women out there who are wondering if they could enter the 2011 contest and do what Peggy did, mark your calendar.  Start looking at and reading Golf Digest magazine.  The contest entry information is announced in November.

In closing, please join me in sending special "Good Luck" wishes to Peggy.  We hope she breaks 100.  But she already made history just taking on the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge.   Don't forget to watch the NBC Special about the Challenge round on Sunday, June 20th.


Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is an expert on women’s golf and junior-girls golf.  She is a frequent contributor to  Her book, Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women’s Golf, published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women and spotting trends within the industry.  She offers information and advice about the golf industry on and is often quoted in national publications.. She is also the author of the NGF publication: An Insider's Guide to Careers in the Golf Industry.  She was a contributing editor of  Golf for Women  magazine and a founding advisor of Golfer Girl Magazine. Her interviews with women in the golf industry now appear on  Nancy lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida., and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Rutgers Law School. After a business and legal career, she decided to write about the game she learned and loved as a teenager.  She describes herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential.


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