Challenges of Game Inspire Dammann
(This is one in a series of articles on women in golf in the Sandhills.)
Katja Dammann has been prominent on the golf scene in the Sandhills for a decade. She’s been a strong contender in the Moore County Women’s Amateur Championship for years and is still hoping to claim that title.
A native of Germany, she has lived in this area for the past 10 years, seeking to complete her education and establish a career in golf.
She recently granted the following interview.
Q. You obviously love the game of golf. What about it attracts you so strongly?
A. Bobby Jones once said: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.” He was mostly right. My playing field only seems to be five inches, but it certainly is where most of competitive golf is played.
This is not to say that this is not the case in other sports, but I feel like it’s more pronounced in golf due to the resting nature of the golf ball and the long amount of time it takes to play. I really like this inner battle, because it’s probably the biggest challenge there is.
Q. How did you get hooked on the game and at what age?
A. Golf in Germany is nowhere near as popular and widespread as it is over here. I’d say it’s mostly played by rich folks, and you have to pass a playability test before they even let you on a course. I remember going to Sweden one time with a 36 handicap and they wouldn’t let me play because I needed a 35. It’s kind of like that in Germany, very formal and lots of rules.
So the first real contact I had with golf was when a course was built close to where I live in Germany. I was 18 at the time, and it was the only course within a two-hour radius or so.
However, the only reason I picked up a golf club was because my dad was interested in the sport and wanted to try it out. I just went with him one day (as I usually did when he went to do sports) and got hooked instantly.
It was a nice surprise to see that golf is so popular and widespread in the U.S. when I came over here as an au pair.
Q. How did you happen to leave Germany and come to the U.S.? Was it golf-related?
A. I’ve been playing golf for about 10 years, but the reason I came to the U.S. had nothing to do with golf. I finished high school in Germany in 2002 and thought: Why not spend another year abroad and improve my English and get some international experience? (I had previously been to the U.S. as an exchange student.) So I signed up to be an au pair (live-in nanny) and took the next plane over here. Next to my seat, I brought my only decent golf club, an Orlimar 3-wood, that I was hoping to swing a few times in my off time.
Q. Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to credit for enabling your pursuit of the game?
A. If it wasn’t for my dad, I may never have picked up a golf club. Also, I’m sure that a lot of my passion and talent for sports came from him, because he is a sport-a-holic like me. From a specific golf point of view, there is also one person who deserves a lot of the credit, because without him I would probably not have taken a golf lesson, and it would have never occurred to me to play professional golf. He is Bob Montello, who lives in Pinehurst.
Q. I know your hope is to make it as a professional. Talk about how you’re attempting to pursue this and about some of the rewards and frustrations.
A. Competition on the Tour is fierce, and in order to excel you have to work on all aspects of your game, e.g., technique, equipment, fitness, nutrition and psychology. I work on all of those things on a daily basis, but I am very frustrated that there are only 24 hours in a day. I spend about 60 hours per week studying for my MBA and I also work two part-time jobs. Whatever time is left after that belongs to golf.
So, smart practice, time management and efficiency are key components of my daily routine. Basically, I practice whenever I can. Being a clubmaker, I have built a two-foot version of a pitching wedge, or hotel club, as I like to call it, to swing between study breaks. I believe that just doing that had a lot to do with me adding 10 yards of carry to my irons over the winter without being able to practice much. What keeps me on track is my high-speed camera and golf software on the iPad.
In case you’re wondering, I’m the one with the big black towel over my head on the range, analyzing my swing in between shots.
Q. Do you have a timetable for your quest and, if so, what kind of other career options would you pursue?
A. In golf you never know which way your ball will bounce, so you have to be prepared for all possible outcomes. By the same token, I don’t know where my ball in the game of life will bounce, so I’m preparing myself for different scenarios.
As a backup plan, I am currently working on an MBA. I’m hoping that a GPA of 4.0 and my international and golf experience will open some doors for me, if Plan A doesn’t work out. I know I would have a lot to offer working at a major golf company.
However, as long as I am making progress toward my goal, then my dream will continue indefinitely. Some LPGA players recommended giving myself at least two to three years on the mini-tour.
However, other than my continued improvement, another major hurdle to overcome is the significant cost of playing the mini-tours. I anticipate that I will have to raise more than $20,000 per year to enter tournaments and travel, quite a bit of money for a student with no financial help from family. Without support from sponsors, my dream may end before it even starts.
Q. Talk about some of the highlights you’ve experienced and also about the low point in your efforts.
A. Golf has been great to me and has given me many opportunities. I value the friendships I’ve made along the way and also being able to get a great education thanks to a golf scholarship. Golf has also made me a better person, no doubt.
Obviously some of the more concrete highlights have been my tournament results, most notably winning the Peach Belt Conference by six strokes last year, and finishing second at the North Carolina Amateur. There have been no major setbacks to speak of, except one time when my German ingenuity and passion to improve almost cost me my left hand.
As I was building a swing plane with the goal to improve the proper plane of my club on the takeaway, the circular saw slipped and went a good ways into my left hand, luckily without any major damage. I learned my lesson.
Q. Have you ever felt that you had had enough and were ready to give up the game?
A. Never! Quite the opposite, actually; I cannot get enough. I couldn’t be more driven and passionate about the game and I’m still looking forward to going out and practice every day (even after being “married” to golf for 10 years).
A lot of my friends and coaches have told me that they’ve never seen anybody as passionate about the game as I am.
Q. Now tell me about the magical round at National Golf Club and what you shot that day.
A. The 74 I shot that day certainly doesn’t compare to my lowest round of 65 score-wise, but it was memorable in many other ways. Great golf professionals have the ability to still produce decent scores even if they are struggling with their ball striking, because they are able to get the ball up and down to save par.
That particular day I only had 20 putts. I also had five birdies and 10 up-and- downs during that round, but the story gets better. I had one pitch-in, a chip-in and a holed-out bunker shot as well in the same round.
Somehow that day confirmed to me that I am able to compete with the best.
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