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The Prodigal Daughter

After walking away from a promising collegiate career, Christy Longfield is back in love with the game. And this time, it's for good

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Christy Longfield is finally settled. Since 2014, she has worked as the Director of Instruction at Austin’s Spanish Oaks Golf Club, helping build it into one of the best in Texas. That six-year stint may well represent her longest time spent in one place: Daughter of an itinerant oilman, once a military spouse, and now a born-again devotee to the game, Longfield implores her pupils to trust their journey—on and off the course. It’s a lesson she wishes she had learned before walking away from golf at 17, despite multiple Division I offers. Never mind that though, because three kids and 12 years later, she dusted off the sticks and picked up right where she left off. She’s returned, and isn’t going anywhere.

RV Where did you grow up?

CL My dad was in oil and gas, so we moved up and down I-35. We lived in Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa, and every two years we would move to a new place. We settled in Iowa when I was in middle school.

RV How did that shape you? 

CL I’ve been around strangers my whole life, and I always had to make new friends. So going out to play golf with strangers is natural for me.

RV When does the golf story begin?

CL When I was eight, [my dad] signed me up for a clinic….I took to it immediately. I loved it! I became friendly with the people on the putting green and then you know what happens when you’re there: “Hey, let’s play a game. Let’s keep score.” My brother and I would use our lunch money to gamble with the old guys at the course. Some days you would triple your lunch money, and then other days you would completely lose it.

RV When did your game really start to take off?  

CL I was probably 11 or 12, and my parents got us a membership at a public course. My dad would drop me off on his way to work, and I would help the guys in the cart barn haul the carts. The minute the sun was up, I would practice and play. [My friend] Lisa and I would compete against each other and it was cutthroat. [In high school], when one would get to play in the No. 1 spot and the other one had to play No. 2, we would get furious—typical teenage girls. We wouldn’t talk to each other. 

RV How good did you get during those years? 

CL Well, this is what got really hard for me: I thought I should be better than I was. I didn’t win our state tournament, and I was shooting low- to mid-70s, so nothing groundbreaking. There were girls who were running circles around me, but I was competitive. Anytime I would get to any tournament, I was so nervous. A bad shot would send me spiraling.

I was angry and didn’t take it upon myself to get better—I just played the blame game. I even fired my parents from coming to my tournaments! Junior year, it got to the point where I would see my dad at the end of the green, and I would miss a putt, and I would look up. I was disappointed. He was disappointed. We’re all shaking our heads, and I was like, “You know what? I don’t think we should do this anymore.” 

RV Even with Division I scholarship offers? 

CL They were high Division I, but not top-25 [schools]. As a 17-year-old dramatic girl, I felt I was better than those schools.

RV Can you name any?

CL: I won’t. I can’t do it.

RV Because?

CL It’s embarrassing…what an awful mindset to have. I’ve done this complete 360 in life and now I’m coaching these girls who have the same mentality that I had, and I have to dig really deep to help them in a way that’s going to impact them instead of just letting them spiral.

RV Let’s get back to that. So you quit golf, went to the University of Kansas, and dropped out after a year and a half. What happened? 

CL I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Golf consumed a lot of my time, and then when it wasn’t there, I was trying to figure out who I was because I had nothing else in my life. I went home and started nannying for a family, then I started working in a restaurant in Iowa City and started a new chapter: I got married and started a family. [At this point,] golf was in the rearview mirror. It was never going to happen again. 

RV This is tough to ask, but were you happy?

CL Yes, I had a great life. I loved raising my kids. I married an officer in the Army. Growing up, we moved every two years, and in the military we did the same thing. I was cut out for moving, meeting new people, and I was vibrant and happy. Unfortunately, over the span of the 15 years that I was married, he was deployed a lot. I was essentially playing the part of single mom most of the time. 

I did all the mom things and loved it, but when my youngest went to preschool, there was a day where all three of my kids were in school and they weren’t going to be home for six hours. There was no way I was going to sit at home or do neighborhood mom stuff…I needed to be me. On our base where we lived, there was a driving range. So one day, I pulled my golf clubs out of the closet. The sun was shining, and it was spring, and I went to hit balls. And I could hit the ball just as good as I did all those years ago.

RV How long had it been, exactly?

CL 12 years.

RV What?! Did the joy of hitting a good shot fire you back up?

CL Yes, that’s what brought me back. You strike the 7-iron and five balls into it you’re like, “Holy crap, this is fun!” There’s nothing riding on it. I’m not trying to get to college. I’m not trying to beat the person next to me, and it’s flooding back. I can’t describe how impactful it was. I would drop my kids off every day at school and I would go straight to the golf course and I would stay there until the very last minute I had to pick them up.

RV So when did you get back to actually playing?

CL One day I’m on the range hitting balls and this older gentleman invites me [to play]. He’s like, “I see you here every day. You should come play golf with us.” So on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I dropped my kids off at school, went to the golf course and played 18 holes with this regular group of retired guys. We had the same game every time. It was a blast.

RV Seems like a happy ending? 

CL Well, golf began to consume my life. I don’t mean “consume” in a bad way. I just mean that it became the hobby that I needed outside of raising my family. I was a full-time stay-at-home mom whose husband was frequently gone. Golf became my outlet and it kept me grounded. 

On Saturday morning when I would play golf, I’d hear all the husbands say, “I got my wife to say it’s OK to play golf.” It was reversed for me: I had to make sure it was OK with my family for me to go. One day, my husband said, “I would like to play golf with you on Saturdays.” I was like, “Heck no. This is my time.”

RV So is golf the reason why it didn’t work out between you two?

CL It wasn’t about the golf. But that was just a funny anecdote as to how it didn’t work, because golf was there.

I live and breathe golf, and if you ask my kids, they’ll say that golf might’ve got in the way. Now I have a great relationship with my kids and I’m so proud of them, but they’ll all tell you that golf is in the forefront of everything that I do.

Photo by Darren Carroll

I’ll be teaching on a Sunday and see one side of the range packed with dads and kids, and I just want to tell everyone to stop what they’re doing and leave their kids with me. Because I want them to love the game first, and get good at it later.

Christy Longfield

RV So how did you go from playing golf with retired Army vets to Director of Instruction at Spanish Oaks?

CL  I ended up getting a job at National Golf Club of Kansas City, and if you work in a golf shop, somebody is inevitably going to come to you and say, “Hey, you can give me a golf lesson?”

RV  Had you ever thought about teaching before that?

CL  Never. In my life, outside of the little clinics and classes, I had maybe 10 golf lessons. My golf instructor growing up was an electrician.

RV  [Laughs] Which one was he better at?

CL  Being an electrician.

RV I’m not surprised. 

CL I figured, “I can play golf, so I definitely know how to teach golf.” So I get out there, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t know anything about the golf swing. I just knew that I could hit the ball.

I was embarrassed and felt like I was cheating the person in front of me. I went home that day and I said, “I’ll never do that again.” [So] I emailed some guys I thought would be interesting to learn from, and I would fly to different cities. I flew to Charlotte to attend a teaching seminar that Jason Sutton put on, and Cameron McCormick, James Ridyard, John Graham, and Andrew Rice were there. I started studying the game and how to teach it.

RV When you started teaching, did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?

CL Not necessarily. I just knew that I was helping people. I would be working 45, 50 hours a week for the operation, and 30 or 40 hours a week teaching. I was working 90 hours a week, and I was more excited to teach a lesson on my day off than I was to take the balls out to No. 7 for Mr. So-and-So.

Then I presented Spanish Oak’s Director of Golf an opportunity for me to teach full-time because they didn’t have a female professional on staff.

RV And the rest is history. You teach everyone from beginners to plus handicaps. How do you help people through those same frustrations that turned you off from the game?

CL It’s really hard, but I try to put it in perspective. Let’s say I have someone who’s training for the U.S. Mid-Am: They put so much pressure on themselves. I don’t need to put more pressure on them. I need to give them ways to manage the pressure and make clear decisions. That’s where I failed as a player. If you walk away hating it, then we fail.

RV It almost sounds as if you never really truly fell in love with the game until you started teaching. Is that fair?

CL Oh, absolutely. I wish I had the opportunity to experience the love of golf first. It’s not on my parents, it’s not on my teachers, it’s not on any of my experiences—I think it’s just on the framework of how we did it.

But I now have that experience where I can take all of these juniors and all of these adults and frame it better for them. I encounter a lot of beginner golfers. I have these kids that come into my classes, and I’m the first experience at an instructional level outside of their parents. And no offense to all the dads out there trying to help their kids, but you can’t teach a little four, five, six-year-old like you teach an adult. Their brains aren’t equipped to handle that information.

So it’s a little gut-wrenching. I’ll be teaching on a Sunday and see one side of the range packed with dads and kids, and I just want to tell everyone to stop what they’re doing and leave their kids with me. Because I want them to love the game first, and get good at it later.

RV Shifting gears a bit. How is the golf world different now, especially with social media, than it was when you were growing up? 

CL Oh, it’s incredible. Twenty-five years ago, if you said, “Hey, I’m traveling to San Antonio to play golf with 75 strangers that I know from the internet,” people would think you were insane.

RV Is this a cult? Is there going to be Kool-Aid?

CL Exactly. I used to be hesitant to even tell people, but now I’m like, “Are you kidding me? I’m going to San Antonio. I’m going to play with all these strangers…and five of them live in my town!”

RV I’ve heard Christy Longfield isn’t afraid to throw some cash around on the course. Can you confirm?

CL Yes. If I’m playing golf somewhere, we’re having bets. When we went to play in The Ringer last year, we stayed over and played a quick round at Pinehurst. We got into a putting game while we were waiting to go catch our flight, and our 18-hole putting match turned into a 57-hole skins game. The last putt was worth $2,600. It started off at a dollar. Birdies doubled, and we kept playing, and finally we’re like, “We have to go. We’re going to miss our flights.” 

RV That’s wild! Did you win?

CL No, I lost. I’m paying it off in golf lessons.

RV Any good money game stories floating around Austin?

CL I’ve seen car keys get exchanged, cars drive away, and people have to call Ubers.

RV Please tell me that’s actually real.

CL That’s real. I’ve seen phone calls made to have an assistant go to the safe and bring cash. Not the ATM. The safe.