McGirr Receives Ellen Griffin Rolex Award

McGirr Receives Ellen Griffin Rolex Award; Values Mentor’s Impact On Career

Mary Beth McGirr became the recipient of the 2010 Ellen Griffin Rolex Award last week. The honor is presented annually to recognize a member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionals (T&CP) for superior contributions to teaching golf. Griffin is considered a pioneer in American golf instruction and the award was established in 1989 to honor her legacy in the game.

A 26-year Master Professional in the LPGA’s T&CP, McGirr currently serves as the director of programming and instruction at The First Tee of Roanoke Valley in Roanoke, Va. McGirr studied golf instruction under Griffin at her teaching facility called The Farm in Greensboro, N.C., from 1977 until Griffin’s death in 1986, continuing to run The Farm until its closing in 1993. She has taught golf for 35 years and coached college golf for 15 years. McGirr sat down with LPGA senior writer Lisa D. Mickey recently to discuss the significance of winning the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award. Here is what she had to say:

LPGA: What does it mean for you to win the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award?
McGIRR: For me, it’s the ultimate professional award because Ellen was my mentor. I think the award helps keep Ellen’s spirit alive.

LPGA: How did you connect with Ellen Griffin and how did she help you become a teacher?
McGIRR: I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I taught golf lessons and clinics with her for many Saturdays. We would be out there together and she would make excuses to go inside. I’d see her out of the corner of my eye, checking me out with the students. She wanted me to take over the class, to teach them, and she gave me the opportunity to do that. She taught me so much by example and I think I always recognized that I was learning from a creative genius. From her, I learned to always teach the person and that golf was just the vehicle to do that. She made learning fun and innovative.

LPGA: What set Ellen Griffin apart as a teacher?
McGIRR: Her creativity and her unpretentiousness. She didn’t brag or toot her own horn, but she certainly could have. People flocked to her! And even when the touring pros would show up, we never talked about swing mechanics. I thought I would learn all the technical stuff when they came to The Farm, but it was more about refined basics, discovery learning, brain hemispheres and sports psychology back before we ever talked about those kinds of things. Ellen was just a gifted educator and she was an educator to the core.

LPGA: The joke at The Farm was that Griffin was more of a teacher and not much of a businesswoman.
McGIRR: Laugter That’s true. She gave away half the stuff in the Tee House [the instruction center’s clubhouse]. She didn’t care about business and for her, teaching golf was never about making money. She cared about making people better. And I never heard Ellen talk about a “client.” They were always “students.”

LPGA: Why do you think Griffin was such an effective teacher?
McGIRR: Because she was a chameleon teacher. She would adapt herself to fit the student’s learning style. That’s what made her so gifted. Sometimes it’s a challenge to reach those people who are most unlike you, but Ellen taught the person, the individual, and recognized that they were all different. She had a real creative spirit and she was always thinking outside the box. I think she had a remarkable way to help people “get it.”

LPGA: You talk about Ellen Griffin’s creativity. How did that become a part of what she did at her teaching facility, The Farm?
McGIRR: Well first of all, she wore painter pants, British wool socks and tennis shoes, a bucket hat and was what [her former UNCG teaching colleague], Dr. Celeste Ulrich called “a whole in one.” She was a nature lover and an animal lover, so there were always cats, peacocks, guinea hens, a turkey and other animals wandering around The Farm. Everyone who came out there knew she loved to hold putting and chipping contests and she would give away prizes to the winners.

LPGA: Is there one memory of your days at The Farm with Ellen that stands out?
McGIRR: I remember one Saturday morning, when we had all of these students at The Farm for lessons, it just poured down rain. For most, the day would have been a washout, but for Ellen, it was still an opportunity to learn. We all stayed inside at The Tee House and had a morning of lessons in the hitting cage, with indoor putting and chipping. It turned out to be fun and engaging. Ellen could always think on her feet, which has become a lost art. Just in how she would do things, she showed me that creativity separates good teachers, widens the avenue of communication and makes the lessons fun for the students. It doesn’t have to be technical.

LPGA: Ellen introduced you to a number of other excellent teachers. Why has that been important?
McGIRR: Through Ellen, I met [LPGA Teaching & Club Professional Hall of Famers] Peggy Kirk Bell, Anne Casey Johnstone and Carol Johnson. That’s a pretty amazing group, so I was really lucky to have a lot of incredible mentors. You take a little bit of each one of them with you into how you teach.

LPGA: How does your experience with Ellen at The Farm help you now at The First Tee of Roanoke Valley?
McGIRR: I think fate took me to The Farm, and it was Ellen who took me to the First Tee. She was just a grown-up kid and she was so creative with juniors who came to The Farm. Now, when I’m working with kids, every now and then, I can see Ellen’s mischievous blue eyes. I can picture the things she would say to them. She was so much into guided discovery. She would never give you an answer to the question. So now, I ask the questions, but I don’t give the answers. The answer is what the student thinks it is. That process of discovery is what leads to permanent learning. Ellen was very “cutting edge” in how she approached helping students learn and I’ve tried to bring that into the way I teach.

LPGA: What would you like for Ellen to know now about your own career as a teacher?
McGIRR: I think she would love the concept of The First Tee and the way we try to seamlessly integrate golf skills and life skills. We teach kids about honesty, integrity and golf skills. I think she would also love the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. She would definitely see the fun in learning golf for kids in both of these programs.

Topics: Press Release

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