Tuesday, 23 July 2024

YuYu interview Sadami Imai


Can you describe the “teaching professional”?

Professional golfers in the United States include tour professionals who play in tours, such as Shigeki Maruyama, and teaching professionals who specialize in teaching golf. Compared to tour professionals who have a glamorous image, teaching professionals are not very well known. Yet, even top tour pros, such as Tiger Woods, take lessons from their teaching pros. A teaching professional is a member of either the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA) or the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
To become a teaching professional, one must first pass a playing ability test, and then take classes in teaching methods, psychology, motor learning, golf club fitting, etc. to earn the required credits. Only those who have passed a series of written tests can become certified teaching professionals.
The LPGA Teaching Division was set up in 1959, nine years after the establishment of the LPGA. In Japan, such a division was set up only two to three years ago, so it's not well known. Many Japanese think I am a tour pro and often ask me if I play golf every day, but my job is to teach golf so I play golf only once or twice a month. There is an annual quota on the number of tour professionals and only top performers can automatically renew their membership. If you fail to renew your membership you have to start again. I think life as a tour pro, living in that highly competitive world, is tough. A prominent pro may practice for more than eight hours a day when he or she is not playing in tournaments. But, they don't have to take written tests. That's nice! (Laughter) Meanwhile, teaching professionals are required to take classes and continue studying so as to maintain their credentials. The classes usually take place in Florida or Arizona, so it costs me money and time to attend.

Skin diving with her husband in Izu, Japan, 1970
—— PWhat are the differences between PGA teaching pros and LPGA teaching pros?

The goal for a PGA teaching professional is to eventually become the head professional for a golf course, in addition to teaching golf. In other words, it's like becoming the president of a golf course, who has a variety of responsibilities, including overall club management and human resource matters. So, you have to study more than ten subjects that are mostly in golf business management, including how to buy and sell merchandise, display merchandise, and design golf courses. Meanwhile, the LPGA focuses more on teaching itself, so the study areas are limited to psychology, motor learning, swing mechanics, golf club fitting, tournament instruction, rules, and so on.
To maintain your certified professional credential as a LPGA teaching pro, you are required to work in the golf industry twenty hours a week, and as a PGA teaching pro, forty hours a week is required. Early on, I passed the PGA playing ability test and was a member of the PGA for three years. Later on, I realized that I wanted to focus on teaching golf, so I moved my membership to the LPGA. I've never dreamed of becoming a golf course head pro.

Holding a cooking class in Montreal, 1986. A Christmas party with students (front, wearing a white dress)
—— What made you start playing golf?

I came to San Diego in 1993 because my husband's company transferred him to its office here. Later, I started helping a Japanese friend, who had just started learning golf, as interpreter for her in her golf lessons. One day, she had something that came up at the last minute and couldn't attend the lesson. She asked me to fill in for her because they wouldn't accept a same-day cancellation. So I took her lesson that day. During the lesson, the teaching pro examined my swing and said, "You can become an advanced amateur golfer. I've never seen a golfer who has such a beautiful swing!" I fell under the spell of his words. (Laughter) On that day, I put aside my interest in tennis and I've focused only on golf since then. Before that, I'd had no passion for golf, playing it maybe twice a year, but his words made me decide to study golf seriously. I was 45 years old then, but I decided to become a teaching pro before reaching the age of 60.
From the outset, I never considered becoming a tour professional. In the world of professional tour golf, one isn't successful just because he or she has energy, passion, and the will to work hard. Besides, I was already old enough to play in LPGA senior's tour. (Laughter) If I had discovered golf thirty years ago things would have been different, I guess.... In terms of physical strength, I didn't think it was too late to start preparing, at age 45, for my career as a teaching professional.

—— How did you prepare for the tests to become a teaching professional?

Early on, I wanted to go to golf school, but I gave up because I was too busy dealing with daily life, like taking our children to school. Instead, I decided to practice at the Eastlake Country Club, which was close to our home. In a golf school, students take lessons and play rounds, so I thought I would set up a similar schedule for myself and keep following it. I signed up for a 3-year membership at the Country Club and took as many lessons as I could. Taking into account my age and physical strength, I was anxious to improve my skills before I'd have to go back to Japan, so I spent as much time as possible playing golf. My efforts paid off; I passed the tests and became a teaching professional after three and a half years. While our children were in school during the day, I practiced from 7:00 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and never played at all on Fridays or weekends. My husband was supportive, letting me know that although I might fail to become a pro, our children would be inspired by their mother who was working hard pursuing her dream. I am very thankful to all the members of my family who encouraged me to pursue my dream.

The winning team at an amateur tennis championship in Montreal, 1988 (second from the left in the first row)
—— What do you keep in mind when you are teaching golf?

Before coming to San Diego, we lived in Montreal for six years due to my husband's assignment. Actually, when we lived in Montreal, I tried to learn tennis. I was 36 years old when I picked up a tennis racket for the first time, but after awhile I was good enough to win an amateur competition. Thanks to good instruction and support from the people around me I was able to improve my skills in both tennis and golf. In the same way, I believe it is my job as a professional to motivate students and help them to improve their golf skills to the maximum. Everybody is a beginner when he or she starts something and it is normal that things don't go well at first. I keep in mind to always treat students with courtesy and kindness while recalling my early days of golfing.
As different people have different personalities, they also have different golf swings. There isn't a model swing that everybody must follow, but there are certainly wrong swings. A student may have confidence in his or her swing and just believe that it's proper. To correct such a swing, a teaching professional is required to use techniques to avoid offending the student. That's why we also study psychology. I believe I am in a similar position as a physician. I make a diagnosis by looking at each student's record and treat symptoms, if any. If somebody says that his or her golf skills have not improved, then that's his or her teaching pro's fault. It's up to us, teaching professionals, to help students enjoy golf or hate it so much so that they never want to play it again.

—— You seem to get really hooked on something you like, tennis, golf, or whatever.

46_4.gifI think so. I'm not good at doing two things at the same time, but once I've made up my mind to do something, I fully focus on it. For example, after we got married, I started learning the Electone, a type of electronic organ. I was interested in it because it was different from the piano and it allowed me to arrange music in the way I liked. I had played the piano in my own way since childhood, but I was a complete beginner at the Electone. Half a year after I started playing the Electone, I was able to pass an audition to play background music player at a wedding hall Bridal Produce Yokohama. I kept this job until our first child was born. I enjoyed it very much. When my husband was told of his transfer to Montreal, I was 34 years old. The name didn't ring a bell and I was like, "Where is Montreal?" But once I got the news, I got serious about studying English. The next day, I bought a conversation tape and listened to it very carefully while watching our little children playing in a park. One day, my family and I went to Tokyo Disneyland. Whenever I saw a foreigner, on a train or in Disneyland, I would come up to him or her and say, "Hi! How are you?" I wanted to find out if I could make myself understood in English. They responded to my English, which made me believe that I could handle communicating in English, so I wasn't worried about living overseas at all.

—— What have you learned while living outside of Japan?

I've learned that regardless of race or language, people can communicate with each other with their hearts. The day after we started our first day in Montreal, I went to a park with our children. When we came home, I found that the lock on our front door was broken and we couldn't get into the house. There were no Japanese people living in that neighborhood and I didn't know anybody there. I didn't have my wallet with me, so I couldn't even contact my husband. It was September, but it was getting colder outside in the evening, so we didn't want to wait outside for my husband. I plucked up the courage to visit the next-door neighbor, but unfortunately nobody answered. We visited another home and the lady there kindly welcomed us, even though we were complete strangers to her. Although I had learned some English in Japan, I couldn't communicate with her at all. But I guess somehow she understood that we were at a loss because we couldn't get into our house. After that we became friends with her and our other neighbors, whom we would frequently visit or welcome to our home. When we were leaving Montreal, I was so sad to leave them that I wept a lot in the airplane, shedding a lifetime's worth of tears. I thought I would never see them again, but two years later they visited us at our Tokyo home. This time I realized that leaving a friend didn't mean saying farewell, but "see you again."

Farewell competition for graduating students, 2002 (second from the right in the first row)
—— Can you tell us about your dreams for the future?

I'd like to help increase the number of women and junior golfers because the majority of golfers are still men. Many women are worried about getting sunburned, so I hope XXX Corporation will develop more effective sunblock cosmetics. (Laughter) Someday, I'd like to hold a "San Diego Japanese Tournament," in which all the Japanese golfers in San Diego would participate. Who is the best player in San Diego?-I am interested to know that. This may sound audacious, but I also have a desire to set up a "Sadami Cup" in which everybody could participate as an annual event.

Sadami Imai ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Sadami Imai is an LPGA teaching and club professional. She was born in Tokyo on June 8, 1950. Because of her husband's transfer to Montreal, Canada, she lived there for six years. In 1993, she started her life in San Diego because of her husband's new assignment. She was fascinated by golf when she was 45; in only three and a half years, she passed the tests to become a PGA teaching professional. After staying with the PGA for three years, she transferred her teaching professional membership to the LPGA. While teaching golf at The Auld Course, she writes a column "Oh, My Golf!" for the YU-YU and another for Tee Up Golf Magazine. Ms. Imai currently lives with her husband in Rancho Del Ray.

(08-01-2004 issue)