Elevation

Walking in the Shadow of the Mountain – Sharing a Moment with Sally Little

- By Carien von Backstrom

What defines the values of success? Is it measured in monetary amounts, status or career achievemen­ts? Or can we benchmark the following characteri­stics as core values to a successful person - honour, integrity, perseveran­ce, punctualit­y, honesty and encouragem­ent. These golden threads weave through every part of Sally Little’s life. She is a remarkable woman by all accounts. I took a moment to delve a bit deeper into this legendary golfer’s life.

Sally Little’s amateur golfing career started at a young age. By the age of 17 she had quite a few national and regional amateur titles under the belt. She also managed to rank 5th in the US Lady’s Carling Open.

In 1971 She was named as the LPGA’s Rookie of the year. Thereafter winning the Women’s Internatio­nal at Moss Creek in 1976. Between the periods 1979 to 1982, Sally raked in another 12 more titles, one of which being her first major LPGA Championsh­ip.

For the next 10 years, Sally managed to rank in the top five in the golfing world. In 1988 she clinched yet another one, the Du Maurier Canadian Women’s Championsh­ip.

“My heritage is rooted in South Africa. I was born and bred here. In 1971, at a very tender age of 20, I took the leap and travelled to the USA to further pursue my golfing career. My mother and father were both very supportive and brave at the same time for sending me off into the big wide world on my own.”

Little explained that in the USA she was part of quite a few ladies who belonged to the Ladies Profession­al Golf Associatio­n (LPGA), the oldest women’s sports associatio­n in the world.

“At the time, we used to play on city-owned golf courses in Los Angeles. Considerin­g the current situation at the time and ultimate lack of female involvemen­t in the sport, we decided to have a consultati­on with Tom Bradley to try and remedy the situation. Tom Bradley was the first black mayor in the USA, at that time mayor of Los Angeles. The method behind our madness was to take girls off the streets. Our aim was to provide opportunit­ies to women and girls not otherwise able to indulge in the same privilege.”

The Mayor challenged Little, planting the seed for the community work she has pursued later in her life: “Tom Bradley put me in the hotspot. His first

question to me was what are you doing for your country?’. I was kind of caught off guard. This was not exactly the goal behind our meeting but would still give me some food for thought further into my career, as it harbours a common thread.”

Little explained that as a group they had decided five female teachers would offer up one hour’s training per day for free to these girls. “The only catch was we needed an investment of about $100 000 dollars. Quite a lot of money at the time!”

Our dream started small but had a huge ripple effect. In the first month, we only had five girls that we coached and trained. After a 12-month period, we increased the number to 1800 girls.

This achievemen­t was well documented in the golfing environmen­t. The girls would attend and receive coaching from golfing profession­als. Their outreach programme was such a huge success that the LPGA requested a chapter to be adopted for each town.

“My heritage is rooted in South Africa. I was born and bred here. In 1971, at a very tender age of 20, I took the leap and travelled to the USA to further pursue my golfing career. My mother and father were both very supportive and brave at the same time for sending me off into the big wide world on my own.”

The proudest moment of this whole initiative was when the PGA President adopted this project into his tour. This initiative is still very much alive to this day, currently known as the First Tee Chapter.

With sheer guts and tenacity, Sally Little has achieved in her life so far what most of us can only dream about. Golf is her passion; it is the essence that flows through every vein in her body, but just as big is her heart. Experienci­ng the world with all its many different cultures is a far cry from South Africa.

“The mountain in Cape Town is my North Star. Although I walk the earth, my feet still seek the soil of Africa. I achieved many great things in my golfing career. One of my proudest moments was when I received the Steve Tshwete Award in Parliament in South Africa. Upon receiving the award, I was asked what my give back would be to the country,” Little explained. “I consider golf a give-back sport. There is so much to give back from what you benefit in the game, and I am not specifical­ly referring to monetary value.”

Four years ago, Little started a similar project as the USA counterpar­t in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.

“I wanted to make a difference, even in just one little girl’s life. A lot of South African Schools do not offer quite the same sporting opportunit­ies to girls than to boys. And what a lot of primary schools provide is not carried through to High School level” said Little.

Considerin­g that this initiative grew over many years, it might be appropriat­e to note that

With sheer guts and tenacity, Sally Little has achieved in her life so far what most of us can only dream about. Golf is her passion; it is the essence that flows through every vein in her body

the driving range Sally was able to acquire has a heritage dating back more than 100 years. Strategica­lly situated close to a host of schools, this venue is ideal. “A big supporter of this initiative of mine is the CEO of Nedbank, Mike Brown”.

Golf and schoolwork are a similar game. The characteri­stics of a good golfer and the play involved in a good game, so closely resemble qualities needed to excel in a school environmen­t.

Little believes in learning through sport: “Golf is a very all-round sport. Apart from the fact that it teaches you good sportsmans­hip, it also teaches you valuable life lessons. We have determined that a child’s overall performanc­e in school and elsewhere can improve within the period of three months after starting this training … Golf can improve overall hand-eye coordinati­on in a child as well as improve general math skills, to name a few.”

Little emphasised the role of mentorship: “I believe it is imperative to be a role model to those amongst us. When we train girls on primary school level, the aim would be to enhance it to high school level. I want the girls to live their dreams, whether it being to start a business in the golf environmen­t or even to become a teacher, the sky is the limit … Golf is also something that can greatly influence the future of the business world. It is astounding how quick one can learn about a person’s character on the golf course. Golfers have

also learnt the art of taking time off as well as the importance of building relationsh­ips.”

Sally Little is a well-rounded individual, although golf is an essential part of her life, she still active in her community.

Her golf outreach took an unlikely turn to a business venture for the local community: Situated close to the Garden Village, a total of 165 families live next to the course. Recently, a beading project was started that involves quite a few of the local ladies. A beading company has joined forces with the project and provide relevant training and skills to young women and girls of the community. An NGO buys back the completed projects. The ladies are also able to sell some of their products on a separate platform.

“These people have truly captured my heart. They have got such a drive and passion to work, but some of them lack in skills and experience. The beading project aims to skill these people so that they are able to provide an income to their families,” Little spoke warmly. “There are also quite a lot of the people in the surroundin­g areas that are employed in the village and at the golf course.”

Sally places high value on friends and family. Her relatives are divided between the USA and Cape Town, but her extended family reaches further. Every girl taught, every worker employed, as well as their family members all have a special place in her heart.

“The other day we dedicated a bit of time to a relaxing past time we love to do. One Friday we decided it was a good time to braai some boerewors rolls at the driving range. The inviting smell drew people from the surroundin­g areas that later joined in the festivitie­s.

This is what I love, the closeness and the community. We are all a family. And I love to spend time with my family.”

REFERENCE LIST • First Tee. (2021). Homepage. https://firsttee.org/ • Von Backstrom, C. (2021). Personal Interview: Sally Little. • Sally Little Golf. (2021). Homepage. https://www.sallylittl­egolf.com • Wikipedia. (2021). Sally Little. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Little

Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash

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Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash
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Sally Little
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