My, oh, Myra; Kentucky’s only 4-time golf champ

August 25, 2016 FieldsColumn

“What I like about golf, and the reason I think kids should play golf, is because it’s an individual sport that requires you to gain control over your emotions, develops your critical thinking skills, your conceptual thinking skills, and your discipline.

“Golf is never the same. There’s no way ever to get bored with it, ever. It’s an elusive challenge you’re always chasing. To be able to gain control over a projectile flying through the air is pretty cool. If you can curve it, hit it straight, hit it low, hit it high, it’s almost like being a magician. It’s just an awesome thing to do.”

— Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder

BY MIKE FIELDS

When Myra Van Hoose’s parents gave her a set of golf clubs when she was in junior high, she had no idea the gift would profoundly shape the rest of her life, personally and professionally.

Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder

Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder

She went on to become Kentucky’s only four-time state high school golf champion, the first female to earn a full athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky, a two-time State Amateur titlist, the LPGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 1980, the women’s golf coach at UK, and a respected golf instructor, whose students have included her own daughter Mallory, who won the 2004 state high school championship.

Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder is also an innovative thinker whose latest project is “America’s Golf Team,” a national program to help develop young players.

It all started when Myra was 13 and got hurt playing football with boys, prompting her mom and dad to steer her toward a safer sport — golf.

“No one could’ve known how it would all turn out,” Myra said recently as she reflected on how golf became a defining part of her life and family.

She realized early on that she had a special talent for the game.

After getting her first set of clubs just after her seventh-grade year at Jessie Clark (then a junior high school for grades 7-through-9) in Lexington, she quickly fell in love with golf.

“I really dedicated myself to learning how to play,” she said.

Big Elm pro Frank Atkins, future UK men’s coach Tom Simpson, and Cleon Chestnut helped teach her the fundamentals.

“I became obsessed with it,” Myra recalled. “My mom would drop me and my brother off (at Big Elm, now Picadome) at 9 a.m.,” Myra recalled. “Many, many days I’d hit balls for 3 hours in a row, take an hour for lunch, go swimming for a little bit, then go play 18 holes with boys.”

The next spring, as an eighth-grader playing for Lafayette, she won the high school region title and qualified for the state tournament. She didn’t contend for the championship, but she felt she belonged.

“While I was there I observed everybody,” she said. “Afterward, I remember taking the results sheet and literally marking out the seniors. I was figuring who would be back the next year. I planned to win.”

She did win, taking the state title each of the next four years at four different courses. (In those days high school golf was a spring sport and the state tournament was played in May.)

  • In 1970, Myra won by 3 shots at Elizabethtown Country Club.
  • In 1971, Myra won by 2 shots at Maysville Country Club.
  • In 1972, she won by 13 shots and helped Lafayette to the team title at Bowling Green’s Indian Hills Country Club.
  • In 1973, Myra won by 4 shots and helped Lafayette repeat as team champion at Glasgow Country Club.
Myra with the spoils of victory after  her individual title and Lafayette's team title in 1973

Myra with the spoils of victory after her individual title and Lafayette’s team title in 1973.

Her last high school title was the toughest.

She remembers hitting 2 tee shots out of bounds on the first hole at Glasgow, dropping her 5 shots out of the lead.

“I was like, ‘whoa!’, I might not win this,” she recalled. “But that’s what’s so great about golf. You can’t panic. You’ve got to keep plugging. I remember going into kind of a birdie mentality after that, and I even holed out from the fairway (on the seventh hole).”

Myra wound up rallying to shoot a final-round even-par 71 to cap an incredible high school career.

“I was very proud,” she said. “That was a big goal to win four in a row.

“And to do what I did that last day, coming back like I did, that did a lot for me later on, when I was in college and on the (LPGA) tour. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Myra was just beginning her sporting life. She won 10 college tournaments during her career at UK. She was paired several times with Nancy Lopez, who played for Tulsa, and got to know the future superstar.

“Nancy turned pro after two years in college, and I went to Kings Island to watch her play (in an LPGA tournament) her rookie year. She saw me in the gallery on 18 and she told me, ‘You’ve gotta get out here. It’s a blast.'”

Myra did join the tour and showed she belonged. Her best season was in 1988 when she earned more than $90,000 and had three top-10 finishes.

She credits part of her success to athletic genes. Her family tree has yielded state high school champions in golf (Myra at Lafayette and Mallory at Woodford County) and tennis (Jane and Terri Wheeler at Tates Creek), and a Miss Basketball (Sarah Beth Barnette at Lexington Christian Academy).

Myra’s immediate family is heavily involved in golf. Her husband Worth runs Moss Hill Golf Course in Versailles. Mallory is helping her mom develop the national golf program. Mallory’s husband Julien Trudeau caddies on the PGA Tour, and her brother Myles loops on the LPGA Tour. 

It’s been almost 50 years since Marvin and Marlene Van Hoose gave their daughter her first set of golf clubs, and she’s still in love with the game.

Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder with some of her golf students at ???. Left to right: Ava Hedden, Bradford Lacefield, Harper Lacefield and Ella Gould.

Myra Van Hoose Blackwelder with some of her golf students at High Performance Golf Academy at Keene Run. Left to right: Ava Hedden, Bradford Lacefield, Harper Lacefield and Ella Gould.

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