Kansas Gooden enjoys going toe-to-toe with the guys.
The Fort Defiance High School and James Madison University graduate is an attorney with Boyd & Jenerette, a law firm in Jacksonville, Florida. Seldom is her opposing counsel a female.
But that’s nothing new for Gooden. In her high school days she was the only girl on any of the area high school golf teams. In fact, she doesn’t recall facing many other girls at all until she advanced to the Virginia High School League state championships.
For the first few years of high school golf, Gooden wasn’t even allowed to play from the women’s tees, having to play from the same spot as the boys. Now, girls do get a slight advantage on the tees.
She said that part of the game made her physically stronger simply because she had to learn to hit the ball just as far as the boys if she wanted to compete.
H.S. Golf: Thompson has big presence on golf course
And she wanted to compete.
“I didn’t want to have any of those boys beat me,” Gooden said.
The experience not only made her a better player, but she says a stronger person, one that didn’t have any problems facing off against men — be it on the golf course or in the courtroom.
“It helped me in life,” she said. “It kind of taught me how to play in a guy’s world.”
Gooden eventually played college golf for a year and a half at Louisville before transferring to JMU, where her teams won two CAA championships and she earned all-conference honors.
While in high school, Gooden won a Valley District championship and, while she never won the VHSL title, she did play in the state tournament and, outside of high school golf, won the 1997 and 1999 VSGA Junior Girls’ Championships.
But Gooden’s success didn’t open up the floodgates of girls joining high school golf teams, at least locally. Some years there are more than others, but never many and usually not girls who are able to compete with and beat the boys.
Buffalo Gap’s Campbell Thompson has been one of the few to pull it off since Gooden was at Fort. Thompson finished third in the Shenandoah District this year, winning one district mini-tournament when she shot a 72.
Among the seven local public high schools in this area, Thompson isn’t the only female golfer, but there aren’t many.
Stuarts Draft has Raya Custard and Robert E. Lee has Jesse Bartley. Both have played well at times this year. Then there is Wilson Memorial’s junior, Hannah Savidge, who finished ninth in the Shenandoah District this year.
Savidge shot a 76 at Ironwood during a district mini-tourney this year, good enough for a second-place finish.
“Playing with the boys is fun,” Savidge said. “But it’s also nerve-wracking with all of them watching you.”
Savidge picked up the game when she was 11, going to the driving range with her dad’s old clubs. Her freshman year at Wilson she remembers being the only female golfer in the district, so she’s happy that’s changed, even if just slightly.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s a small area so there aren’t enough for a girls’ team, but it’s great seeing more girls out.”
All the area golf coaches I talked with would love to see more girls take up the sport. Some would love to see anyone take up the sport.
“I would just love to have 12 kids come out,” said Chris Thompson, Campbell’s father and the Buffalo Gap golf coach. He thought he had three girls on this year’s team, but one decided to run cross country and another was injured.
This year, Gap had four golfers for district matches. So did Wilson, while the most Luray had was three. That makes it difficult when you have to record four scores for a team score.
Lee coach James Corbett said there are opportunities for girls, he just hasn’t had many take advantage of them.
“The golf team is open to everyone and all the junior clinics encourage girls to come out,” he said.
Maybe the success of Thompson and Savidge this year will encourage more girls to try out for golf in the future. Gooden hopes it does.
“The opportunities for girls in golf are unbelievable,” Gooden said. “There are so many scholarships out there for these girls. This is a great sport for a girl to go get a great college education and play a sport she loves at the same time.”
Write to Patrick Hite at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @Patrick_Hite.