The LPGA Women’s Network has partnered with FORAY GOLF, a company redefining golf apparel for modern women and their unique expressions of style, to celebrate the women who are challenging the status quo in golf.
The Women Beyond Par series puts a spotlight on the pioneers who are growing the game for all girls and women and blazing trails to accomplish their dreams.
“You’ll never get that job because it’s just not for women,” were the constant words Nancy Henderson heard when she wanted to apply for management and leadership roles in the golf industry. Well, that just wasn’t good enough.
Not only did she prove them wrong, but she has made it her life’s work to create more opportunities for women. She is now the Chief Teaching Officer for the LPGA Teaching and Club professionals and President of the LPGA Foundation.
We asked Nancy about her road to success, the challenges and lessons she learned along the way, and her goals for women in golf.
1. What do you love most about golf?
I love the challenge of it, and how it leveled the playing field for me in a male-dominated industry. At one of my jobs, I knew that the owner was not happy having a female professional, so I took him for a “course inspection” where we played 18 holes. I made a hole-in-one that day, and he never looked at me again as a female; he looked at me as their golf professional.
2. That’s awesome! So how did you get your start in the golf industry?
I played golf at the junior, collegiate, and professional level. From an early age, I wanted to get more girls and women engaged in the game. It was interesting because, growing up as a girl in golf, it was mostly men and not always female-friendly. That drove me right from the get-go. I was told right away by most people in the industry, “Oh, as a female, you’ll never get to be a head golf professional or director of golf. Those jobs just don’t go to women . . . ”
3. That must have fired you up, hearing that! What was your response?
That just inspired me more because I wanted to prove them wrong! I ended up being one of the first female head golf professionals in the Orlando area, then I became the General Manager and Director of Golf at LPGA International in Daytona Beach. When the opportunity came up here, at LPGA Headquarters, it really allowed me to open doors for more girls and women in golf, which is what keeps me motivated.
4. Do you feel like those gender barriers have improved since you started your career?
The more we look at individuals as individuals without gender, whether it be golf or business, the better. The needle is moving, but we still have a long way to go, especially in golf. There are 28,000 members in the PGA of America, of which 800 of them are women—me included. We are certainly the minority. The more role models we can get out there, and female faces that girls can see at facilities, the more we’re going to engage girls and women.
5. Who was your role model growing up?
I either wanted to be Wonder Woman, or who I call the real Wonder Woman, Nancy Lopez. Watching her play was how I got inspired to try golf. I wanted to be her. I think there’s such power in that, having a role model and someone to aspire to be.
6. Have you had the chance to meet Nancy Lopez?
Well, yes! I met Nancy officially back in 1985 when I qualified as an amateur for my first US Women’s Open. She was in the locker room, waiting to go off, and I had already finished my round—dew-sweeper . . . I was noticeably upset over a bad round, and Nancy came over to me and introduced herself.
7. What did she say?
She shared with me the story of her first US Women’s Open. Being a huge fan, I quickly commented, “Didn’t you finish second and almost win your first Open?” She shared that she would have won that tournament if her zipper hadn’t broken on the back nine. She spent the entire 9 holes trying not to flash her underwear to the cameras. She made me laugh and took the time to make me feel better. She told me that my family loved me no matter how I played and that I needed to hold my head high as I was now a US Open competitor.
8. How did that encounter impact you?
Nancy was my role model growing up because of her playing ability; she is now my role model because of who she is as a person and how she genuinely cares about others. Since then, I have gotten to know her even better, as she continues to give back as an Honorary member of our LPGA Foundation Board.
9. What was the most memorable moment in your competitive golf career?
Qualifying for the US Women’s Open. During that round, I hit my first shot out of bounds on a Par 3. I had to walk back to the tee and, with two groups watching, promptly hit the ball in the hole! Best par I ever made.
10. Where do you draw your motivation/inspiration from?
From little girls because they always have BIG Dreams! I am passionate about providing opportunities to girls so that they will not have those BIG Dreams limited by the beliefs of society.
11. You play a huge role in the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program, can you tell me a little bit about how it has grown since it started in 2010?
When I took over the Foundation in 2010, we had about 5,000 girls engaged in golf, and we’ll have about 70,000 engaged by the end of this year. The good news is that the Girls Golf program has finally created a change in the number of girls who play golf. Junior golf, like adult golf, for over 100 years was about the same, which was 17% female and the rest male. The latest study from the National Golf Foundation found that about 33% of all juniors playing the game are girls. It’s really encouraging to see that shift.
12. Wow! That’s a huge leap in just 7 years. It must be extremely gratifying to see that change and know that you’ve been able to play a big role have such an impact. What’s next?
Absolutely. This year, we’ve developed a new intro to golf program called LPGA Golf 101. It’s by LPGA Professionals specifically for women. Six different sessions that teach women not only how to play the game, but how to feel comfortable in the golf environment. We’re hopeful that our new intro to golf program will not only get women into the game but feel comfortable enough to stay in the game.
13. What does it mean to have a women’s brand/company such as Foray Golf interested in participating in the growth of LPGA*USGA Girls Golf and women’s golf in general?
It means the world to have female-owned companies step up and—through their financial support—show their passion for helping to inspire the next generation of female leaders through golf. It is only through companies like Foray Golf that we can make a difference in the lives of girls and women.
14. What advice would you give to young, professional women embarking on their careers?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and apply for a position you’re not qualified for. It’s okay to figure it out as you go. Also, create your own opportunities because if there’s not one there, create your own job description and pitch it because it shows you want more. And be careful what you wish for, because it might actually happen.
15. What about to someone who’s afraid to fail? What would you say to them?
Most people have that fear of “I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how to do it”, and literally you can google the thing you don’t know how to do or read books to figure it out! You’re going make mistakes along the way, but it’s okay because you learn more from your mistakes than you do from never taking that risk.
16. Can you compare some of those life lessons to the game of golf?
Definitely. I think golf is good at teaching people commitment, setting a goal, and the process of getting there. After a round of golf, you analyze it. It’s that process of assessment without failure. If there’s no practice or work toward a goal, then it’s hard to accomplish anything. It teaches you discipline, focus. You’re not going to win very often in golf. It teaches you how to accept failure, because it isn’t necessarily a failure, its learning to reassess the goal and then move in a new direction.
17. Do you believe in the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”?
I do. I had opportunities a couple times in my career to do something else for probably double what I’m making today, but you look at what motivates you and gets you out of bed, what allows you to feel like you’re making a difference . . . and it is true when you have a passion for what you do, it makes every day enjoyable.
18. What is the biggest challenge in your job, and what do you do to manage this challenge?
The challenge for the LPGA has always been being the small player in the golf industry space. We have to work really hard to be heard.