Coming full circle
Steinhauer ends stellar career with emotional day in Canada
BY NEAL REID
It had been a long time since Sherri Steinhauer was nervous on a golf course.
But the 26-year veteran admittedly had butterflies as she stood over a five-foot putt on the 18th hole of the Hillsdale Golf and Country Club Friday. After a first-round 79, Steinhauer was going to miss the 36-hole cut at the CN Canadian Women’s Open in Quebec, but her putt carried a special significance and importance.
It was, after all, to be the last putt of her illustrious career, and Steinhauer needed a par to finish her final LPGA round under par. With her family and friends, a group of Tour players and caddies and fans looking on, Steinhauer sank the putt for a 1-under 71 that closed out a chapter in her life.
It was an emotional ending to a career that began in 1986 and that was highlighted by eight wins – including two majors – more than $6 million in earnings, 84 top-10s and four appearances as a member of the U.S. Solheim Cup Team.
“It was a big five-footer, and I wanted to end (my career) by making it,” said Steinhauer, who will serve as an assistant captain to the U.S. squad at this year’s Solheim Cup in Ireland. “One of the reasons I’m retiring is that I couldn’t get nervous or excited anymore. I got over that putt, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I actually am nervous.’ It’s been a long time since I was nervous.
“That’s what I always loved about golf – seeing what you can do under those circumstances. It wasn’t fun when I wasn’t feeling the nerves, so I’m glad I could experience that again. That was a nice way to end.”
Steinhauer celebrated with the group assembled at the green and lit a torch that she passed to third-year pro Vicky Hurst, a symbol of one generation stepping aside to let the spotlight fall on today’s young stars.
“It was to signify out with the old and in with the new,” Steinhauer said. “It signified that it’s time for me to step away, and there are so many great up-and-coming young players. It’s time to make room for them.”
Steinhauer chose the Canadian event as her final tournament, she said, partly because her first LPGA victory – the 1992 du Maurier Ltd. Classic – came north of the border. She also chose the Aug. 24-27 tournament as her last because Aug. 24 would have been her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
Steinhauer lost her mother, Nancie, in December and chose to fittingly end her career on a weekend that was special to her family. Her father, Fritz, and four brothers traveled to Quebec to be with Steinhauer during her final tournament week, and having her family present helped her end her career in the comfort of loved ones.
“It felt great having them here and made it really special,” Steinhauer said. “I didn’t shed a tear until I saw my family, all of the players and the fans behind the 18th green. That was really special and really meant a lot to me.”
After the round, Steinhauer said it hadn’t fully sunk in that she had retired from professional golf.
“I’m probably going to wake up tomorrow thinking about what I need to practice next and realize that I don’t have to,” she said. “It’s going to be different, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Steinhauer admitted that she’d lost the determination and passion for competing on Tour week-in and week-out in recent years. It showed on the golf course, with her last top-10 finish coming in 2007.
“I’ve lost the desire to compete, and you’ve got to have fire and grit to play out here,” she said. “I lost that – which is hard to admit – but that’s the case. I just couldn’t dig deep and find it.”
Her competitive fire helped make Steinhauer one of the Tour’s elite players for a number of years. After her breakthrough major victory at du Maurier in 1992, Steinhauer was a regular in the top 10 at tournaments across the globe.
She won twice in 1999, arguably her most successful season, while racking up 11 top-10s and missing just four cuts in 31 events. Steinhauer qualified for four Solheim Cups (1994, 1998, 2000, 2007), posting a 6-3-4 record in helping the United States to a 3-1 record in those contests.
Longevity is something that escapes many professional athletes, but Steinhauer was able to perform at a high level for more than two dozen years. Fifteen years separates her first and last victories (1992-2007), and she won her second major – the 2006 Weetabix Women’s British Open – 14 years after her first major triumph. Qualifying for her first and last Solheim Cups 13 years apart is also a testament to Steinhauer’s longevity.
“I was surrounded by a great family and wonderful teachers,” Steinhauer said. “If it wasn’t for my longtime coach Manuel de la Torre, I don’t think I would have had that longevity. His teaching philosophy was very easy on my body and allowed me to play all these years. Golf’s been very good to me, and I feel very fortunate.”
Steinhauer, who said she’d like to be remembered as a good person and feisty competitor, has fond memories from her long and successful career.
“I think just the camaraderie among the players has been really special,” she said. “Golfers are a very different breed. To be part of the organization and the LPGA has been wonderful.”
Now, it’s time for Steinhauer to start addressing her “bucket list” of things she’d like to do and achieve outside of golf.
“I’m just going to plan on going off into the sunset,” she said. “I’m going to learn to fly horses, and I want to learn to fly fish. I have a ski trip planned in February, and I don’t have to worry about (the dangers of) going skiing now.
“I’m sure the list will just continue to grow. There are a lot of things I want to do, and I’ll have the time to do things I’ve never taken the time to do in the past.”
A professional golfer is all Steinhauer wanted to be for as long as she can remember, and she was able to do just that.
“I knew that professional golf was what I wanted to do when I was 12 years old,” she said. “I don’t really have words to describe how great it’s been. To have your dreams come true is amazing. I’ve been able to live my dream.”