It is a dream wanna-bes and frustrated athletes can only entertain. But it is a dream that Steph George lived.
After ten up-and-down years as a touring golf professional, Myerstown’s George is retiring as a competitive player. The Elco graduate will play her final event on the Futures developmental tour Aug. 6-8 in Harrisburg.
Although the Futures Tour is far from the glitz and glitter of the LPGA Tour, George has few regrets, and she can live with the knowledge that she passionately pursued her goal of becoming a professional athlete.
“I’m not sure what kind of set me off in this direction,” said George. “Anyone who’s a professional athlete is a liar if they say they don’t enjoy the priviledges that come with it. I like people seeing what I can do, showcasing my talents and seeing people think, ‘I wish I could do that’. It’s kind of like being a role model, because they’re in awe of what you can do. That’s what I always enjoyed.”
George didn’t wake up yesterday and decide she was going to retire. Her decision was the result of a process, one which was years in the making.
“I’m steering away from competitive golf and I’m going to be retiring after the year,” said George. “I’ve been thinking about it for the past three years. I went through some swing changes and my swing is really horrible. I’m tired of playing at half of my capacity.
“With the swing I have, I’ll always be mediocre,” continued George. “It stinks. But I don’t want to have to go out on the golf course when it’s so exhausting. It’s so unnatural. It’s not fun any more.”
And if George can’t be passionate about playing golf, she’d rather not do it at all. In three outings this season on the Futures Tour, she has made one cut and in that event she tied for 52nd place.
“I gave it all for the time I did it,” said George, 31. “But I’ve been puttering along, not getting where I want to be. It had a lot to do with being a long, drawn-out process. I got tired of taking it on the chin. Things have changed since I got out on tour. Now people just want to make a paycheck. Everyone’s closed-mouth and just walk down the fairway. It seems like they’re out there for themselves and not for the love of the game.
“I got a taste of what it’s like to be close to celebrity,” added George. “Whenever I get down, I try to remember that. It’s not like I’m quitting and I don’t have anything to show for it. I got a chance to do what I set out to do.”
During her ten years on the Futures Tour, George earned $99,898 in prize money. She won two events, one in 2003 and one in 2005.
But last year, George made just six cuts in 14 Futures Tour starts and her best finish was a tied for eighth.
“I really don’t have any regrets,” said George, a graduate of Radford University. “Everything went according to plan. If anything, I would’ve taken more lessons and sought out more direction. But it was kind of a catch-22 because I always did better when I was on my own. I’m really happy with the people I met.
“Golf has become a complete grind,” George added. “I knew it was going to be a constant struggle. That’s not the kind of career I want, where each shot is a constant struggle.”
From 2003 to 2006, George made a majority of her cuts and was consistently in contention for wins. She appeared to be on the verge of something special in 2005 when she earned her LPGA Tour card.
But that year did not go as she had hoped, and George lost her exempt status on the big tour.
“The last time I played well was probably back in 2006,” said George. “The only thing that prevented me from staying out on (LPGA) tour was my putting. I worked hard on my swing, really hard. I worked hard on my putting, really hard. I never had the Tiger Woods golf swing, but I had the ability to grind. I’ve lost my competitive edge. It’s hard when you don’t really want it.”
George anticipates her final competitive event – the Pennsylvania Classic at The Golf Club at Felicita in Harrisburg during the first week of August – to be an emotional one.
“I’ve kind of teared up a little bit (at the tournaments she’s played this year),” said George. “My life as I’ve known it for the last nine years is going to be different. It’s my decision, but it’s a little tough. My heart is just not in it. I said once golf became a job and not a dream, I’d give it up.”
With the competitive part in her rearview mirror, George’s life will be taking a somewhat unexpected turn. Later this year she will assume full-time responsibilities as a teaching pro in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“I never thought I’d want to be a golf teacher,” said George. “But if you want to teach a sport, you’ve got to be good at the sport. My whole purpose is giving back to the game. I want to teach and have people enjoy the sport. It’s like donating to a charity. Golf is a very charity-based sport.
“You may be able to play golf, but it doesn’t mean you know how to teach it,” George continued. “You have to relate to people. The most successful teachers are the ones who can talk to their students.”
On to Stage Two.