Mary Hafeman isn’t afraid to go after what she wants out of life. After all, she took it upon herself to start the women’s golf team at her high school over 50 years ago. To her, it wasn’t a big deal; there wasn’t a girls’ golf team at the time, so what was the harm of adding another sport to the school’s roster? As it turned out, it was a good thing she did as it led her to win the 1971 Wisconsin State Girls Golf Championship and launched a career that has taken her around the world.
Mary realized from her dad early on that sticking with it is the key to golf. He had started to take golf more seriously when his company suggested he learn the game to be able to play with customers and, wanting to make it a family affair, took Mary and her mom with him to the golf course.
From the get-go, Mary was hooked. She enjoyed playing golf with her whole family, and she was encouraged with her brothers and sisters to join their country clubs’ junior teams. As she got more experienced, she participated in several state tournaments, and regional and national events.
Mary was selected to the Curtis Cup team after graduating college and came to win the Women’s Eastern Amateur in 1981. She took the success of her amateur golf career and decided to turn professional in 1982, qualifying for the LPGA Tour on her second try.
Mary was successful on the LPGA Tour until an unfortunate car accident a year later prematurely ended her professional playing career.
“Being a Tour player had been my life dream,” she said, “so when I had my accident and had to give up playing, I was upset.”
Upset but not discouraged, even when her dream seemingly ended, she dove deep into a career with her signature “why not?” attitude to become a teaching and club professional, holding both PGA and LPGA certifications. Life as golf instructor proved to be extremely rewarding for Mary, as it has given her the chance to share the game she loves with so many people.
Today, Mary teaches men, women, and juniors ranging from beginners to seasoned golfers. Since each golfer comes with their own needs, Mary first sets out to get to know them before designing a program that would works best for their goals.
“We tailor our coaching to each student. We do this in a safe and fun environment, because I believe that people learn and remember best when they’re engaged and enjoy what they’re doing.”
But she is also aware that golf can at times be a frustrating sport. When her students struggle, she reminds them that everyone hits rough spots in golf just as they do in life. The trick is to not dwell on those days and move on. She encourages her students to focus on what they want to do right and not on what went wrong.
“I used to go out to watch the players who were better than me,” Mary said, drawing on her own experiences before turning pro. “I wanted to learn what they did that I didn’t do or didn’t know how to do. Then I’d go back an learn it, so I could put it into my game plan. I know I wouldn’t have won the Women’s Western if I hadn’t lost the summer before in the US Amateur. Experience is priceless when you learn from it.”
Today, in addition to her teaching schedule, Mary also organizes golf trips for women and couples. Since starting the program in the early 90s, she has led golf groups through Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Canada, and across the US.
“I started this program because I saw many male PGA teachers travel with their members while I was working for resorts. I thought, I know how to set up packages and be very detailed—why can’t I take people all over the world too?”
While traveling during the pandemic has brought about its own challenges, Mary hasn’t let that stop her from creating fun and safe expeditions for golfers.
“We did a trip in the US that sold out in five days. It was a great time! We took necessary precautions, and everyone was vaccinated.”
Mary’s love for the game is infectious, and I was lucky enough to experience a bit of her “Mary Hafeman Magic” for myself this summer.
The lesson began like any other: Mary asked me what I wanted to focus on. I told her putting, since it had been my sore sport all summer.
She looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “Well, have you practiced?”
Her solid question reminded me of a truth I had been ignoring—we get better at what we practice.
While she took my obvious practice deficit in stride and got right to work on my short game with fun drills that made me want to get out there and practice, I could see her passion for the game at work, and by the end of our lesson, she made me feel like I actually had a chance on the green.
It’s clear she carries that sentiment—her love of golf and can-do attitude—in everything she does, whether she’s teaching, organizing trips, or just playing for fun. She has inspired me to keep working to be better—both on the course and in my life. I hope her inspiring story might help you feel the same way.