Just One Of The Guys
Many years ago in college I took golf in a physical education class and it was made up of all males and one female. The instructor would always address the class with, ''Now men, and the woman...''
That line could have been used this week at the NJCAA Division III National Golf Championships at Chautauqua Golf Club. There were 87 golfers competing for a national title and 86 of them were men. But for the first time since the event began in 1990 there was a woman in the field - Gina Bartolotta of the Community College of Rhode Island team.
She might be the only woman on the team, but to coach Brian Deighan she's just one his golfers. And a very talented one because she was a two-time first-team all-star selection at South Kingston High School and a top five girls high school player in Rhode Island.
''She's just been a tremendous addition to our team,'' he said ''She just ended up here. She was like my godsend.''
Deighan is used to the unusual situation because CCRI had a women's player a few years ago when he was an assistant coach for the team.
''She was a beautiful women's player, but she couldn't compete from the blues (tees),'' he said. ''Then Gina came out and she outdrives the guys on some holes (playing from the blue tees). Her technique is so smooth that she gets the distance and can compete with the guys from the men's tees. That made me very excited.''
Playing from the blue tees, Bartolotta averages 86 and shot that score twice at the Region 21 championships which helped her team qualify for the nationals. When asked what those 86s would be from the women's tee, Deighan said, ''She'd literally be shooting 78.''
She finished the nationals with rounds of 93, 87 and 97 and all three scores were used by her team each day. She finished 83rd in a field of 87 and better than four of her male counterparts, including two from CCRI.
It should be noted that the Lake Course from the blue tees is 6,555 yards compared to 5,415 from the women's tees.
It's that talent that makes teammates and opponents accept her simply as a golfer.
''Everyone was very receptive to her,'' Deighan said. ''There was nothing chauvinistic about playing a girl and thank god because she ended up seventh in our region and we had 28 golfers. So she beat a lot of guys. There was no animosity and they enjoyed playing with her.''
Competing with males is nothing new for the 18-year-old freshman.
''Even my neighborhood (Wakefield, R.I.) growing up was all guys and I had to play baseball and all that with them,'' she said.
So that's why when it comes to the CCRI golf team, Bartolotta said, ''I would say that I'm one of the guys. They definitely accept me and treat me as an equal. I'm very grateful for it, I have a great team.''
And it's pretty much the same with other teams.
''Most opponents respect me, too,'' Bartolotta said. ''There's always going to be some comments made and I've learned to deal with it. It just makes me want to beat people even more. I like to show them that I deserve to be here because I know I do.''
She began to prove that in high school when she started beating the boys, but that was playing from the women's tees.
''I stepped it up and played from the whites,'' Bartolotta said.
But when she began playing on a men's team in college golf there was another step back to the blue tees.
''I'm getting used to it, it's a challenge,'' Bartolotta said. ''The guys are hitting like 7-irons into greens and I hit a 3-wood, but I'm getting used to it.''
That gave her coach even more reason to simply consider her as just a member of the team.
''There's been very few times where she's said something really girly and it catches me by surprise because she's just one of the guys all the time,'' Deighan said. ''But then she'll say something about about fingernail polish or something that only a girl would say. A little reminder that she's a young lady obviously playing in a male-dominated sport in this forum.''
Because of her talent, Deighan was surprised Bartolotta ended up at CCRI.
''Getting a quality player like that at a community college is a rarity,'' he said. ''I'm sure some four-year school is going scoop her up. Without a doubt she will go on and play at a four-year school.''
And that is Bartolotta's future plan and one of the reasons she went to CCRI. Another is her younger sister, Mia, who is also a golfer.
''Mostly I wanted to save money and stay close to home to be there for my sister because she's a junior in high school,'' Bartolotta said. ''Now when I finish with CCRI, she'll be finishing and graduating high school and we'll go off to hopefully the same college or ones close to each other.''
And where would that be?
''Hopefully somewhere warm,'' Bartolotta said.
When that happens, it will be a great loss to the CCRI team and particularly Deighan.
''Six years ago I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and actually had a seven percent chance of living two years,'' he said. ''Like I said, that was six years ago so the things I've gotten rewarded for and put back in my life are getting the opportunity to coach people like Gina. They are the ones that keep me going.''