Judy Alvarez is a PGA and LPGA member, as well as a Golf Digest Magazine Women Top 50 Teacher. One of her many accomplishments has been teaching golf to players with disabilities. She recounted some of her work with disabled veterans in her book, “Broken Tees and Mended Hearts.” Thirty percent of net sales of the book go to “Birdies for the Brave,” a charity supported by the PGA Tour and Phil Mickelson.
Golf Conversations: Where did it all start, Judy?
Judy Alvarez: Born in Seattle, raised on Long Island, and now I’m in Florida.
GC: You lived on Long Island for your Wonder Bread years?
JA: Yes. I always wanted to be an athlete when I was a kid. In “those days,” you had, as a woman, a choice of tennis or golf. So I went after golf. When I was old enough, my mom got me a membership to the local club. I started playing and realized I enjoyed it.
GC: Where was this?
JA: Glen Cove, on the north shore of Long Island. I went to Hofstra University; I was a walk-on and the first woman to play for a varsity team in the school’s history. That is, first female on a male team.
GC: There was no woman’s golf team?
JA: No woman’s team.
GC: What year was this?
JA: 1977. Can we just bleep the year out?
GC: We bleep my stuff, Judy, not yours! The only woman playing with the men. Wow! What did the men think of that?
JA: 99.9% of them embraced it. It was a good experience. After graduation, I chased my card … moved out to California to play on the mini-tour. Didn’t get my card and ran out of money. Reality set in. I sold my clubs and got out of the business. I spent about three years in the car business. I learned how to sell and used those sales tools later on in life.
GC: When you were selling cars … tell me the truth: were you pushing the undercoating?
JA: You had to.
GC: What prompted you to get back into golf?
JA: I missed it. I said, “If I’m gonna pursue a career, I might as well do it in the world of golf.” So I got my PGA card within 3 years. I got a head pro job …
JA: The first one was at Southwinds Golf Course in Boca Raton … a county-owned facility. A few years later I was head pro at a semi-private club in Delray Beach, Villa Del Ray Golf Club. From there, I worked for the PGA at their learning center. But the whole time, I’d always been teaching.
GC: Was teaching your first love?
JA: It became my first love because it paid more and it paid my bills. Being a “desk jockey” didn’t pay the bills. But I also realized that I really liked teaching.
GC: A teaching pro often gets paid in cash, yes?
JA: Barter, cash, credit card, charged to a member’s account, sure.
GC: Where I’m going with this … I’m trying to determine if you declared your cash earnings on your tax returns.
But seriously, how did you learn how to teach golf?
JA: That’s a good question. A lot of it is trial and error. Plus, you go through the PGA program and the LPGA program.
GC: Those organizations taught you how to teach?
JA: Yes. But what you do with that information and how well you become at it is a different story. In our industry, there are many hats you can wear: you can be in retail, you can run tournaments, you can be a fitter, you can be the GM and oversee operations, or own your own facility. There are so many things you get to choose from. But there’s this magnet that ultimately pulls you towards what your passion is. And mine became teaching.
Some things are in the right place at the right time. When I took over as the head pro at Southlinks, the county had a program called “Special Populations.” On Saturdays from 4:00 to 5:30, they had a golf program for people with disabilities.
When I took over this business, it had a five-year contract. The two pros that had it before me moved on; I bought them out and took over the business for the remaining three years.
GC: What year did you do this?
JA: This was in the mid ‘90s. Right about the time the Americans With Disabilities Act was going to be passed. So I inherited this program and had to teach the remaining portion of the 6-week program to people with disabilities. I had not done that before. That was my awareness, my exposure to something that I’m still doing 20 years later. I just took it and ran with it. So when you asked me, “How did you learn how to teach?” … I called the PGA and LPGA and I said, “How do I learn how to do this?” There really wasn’t anything out there.
GC: So you were learning as you went.
JA: Yes. Your question — “How did you learn to teach?” — is one everybody has always asked me. I also hear, “How do you teach people with disabilities?” Those questions are answered in my book.
GC: Name of the book?
JA: Broken Tees and Mended Hearts.
GC: You can purchase this book on your web site?
GC: When’s the movie’s coming out?
JA: Find me a producer! Producers wanted!
I’m looking for a female voice to read the book, if you know anybody.
GC: [falsetto voice]: I’d love to do that for you, Judy!
JA: He/she’s been in front of me all the time!
GC: Before you were teaching people with disabilities, were you using any particular swing theory?
JA: You’ve got your ball flight laws and principles. They’re the underlying thing. You learn what causes a ball to curve. Why’d the ball go in the air? Why’d the ball go straight and turn right? Why’d they top the ball? Hit the ball fat? Why’d the ball go down the middle?
GC: There’s the “Big Muscle” swing theory … then you’ve got Mr. Toski and Mr. Flick who say it’s “hands and arms.” Your thoughts?
JA: You’re introduced to different philosophies and over the years you pick and choose from somebody who may have impressed you.
GC: So if you took me on tomorrow as a new student who’d never played golf before, how would you introduce me to the golf swing?
JA: I would see what you’re bringing to the table. I’d watch you swing a golf club. It’s pretty interesting that most people have something to work with. Then you establish a relationship with them and find out “Why do you want to do this?” And “Do you have anything that hurts?” “What do you want to get out of this?”
GC: Or “How much is in your checking account?”
JA: So you find out these things and then you start helping them build their swing. You’re trying to establish some kind of relationship with this other human being. If you two can hit it off, you’ve got a lifetime friendship.
GC: Hey, you can never have too many friends. So what motivated you to write Broken Tees and Mended Hearts … and when did the project start?
JA: 2009 or 2010. I wrote my first story, “Moment of Impact.”
GC: This is non-fiction, right?
JA: Yes, these are all true stories. It took about two years, part time, to complete. I had some other people who helped me. My editor is Bob Denney; he’s a senior writer for the PGA of America. I didn’t write in the winter because it’s the height of the season in South Florida…
GC: When you teach…
JA: Right. So I’d put the book away. Like an NFL coach who wraps his clubs in Saran Wrap, sticks them in the closet and says, “I’ll catch up with you in the winter.”
GC: Is that what they do? They wrap them in Saran Wrap?
JA: Yeah. I worked for the Dolphins as an intern when I was getting my Master’s Degree. The Special Teams coach was Mike Westhoff. I’d go into his office and we’d shoot the breeze. He’s a die-hard golfer. He would wrap his clubs in Saran Wrap and stick them in the closet and say, “I’ll see you when we’re out of season.”
So during the summer months, I would get into the mindset to write. In one week, I punched out three stories. But there were weeks when I couldn’t write anything.
GC: Did you ever punch out any students?
GC: How long did it take you to complete the book and send it to the printer?
JA: To include pictures, or if I wanted to include a person’s name, I had to go find them and get their permission. With some of these stories, I’m going back in time 20 years. There were 7 people I could not find and I became a little FBI agent, trying to track them down.
Some of them I found on Facebook. I reached out to them and they said, “Of course, we’ll sign.” Everybody signed a release. I asked them to send me pictures. A buddy of mine is a graphic designer and she helped me tremendously: “What kind of text font will we use? What kind of paper are we going to use? How big is the book gonna be? What’s the crease gonna look like?”
I had a vision of what I wanted for the cover. I flew a guy down from Detroit; we spent 3 days doing a photo shoot. There was so much involved that I hadn’t thought about.
GC: And the book is self-published, right?
JA: Yes. I got it printed.
GC: It’s a lot of work. And you have to put up your own money.
JA: It’s a never-ending money process. I am the warehouse, the fulfillment center, the shipping department.
GC: Judy, I admire what you’ve done. And I don’t want you giving me a copy of the book. I’m buying a copy.
JA: No, I want you to have a copy.
GC: No, I’m buying a copy. But are you also in charge of the Returns Department?
JA: No returns! But I say this to everybody: “If you don’t like it, I’ll give you all your money back.” But I think once they’ve read the book, they’re not gonna send it back. I haven’t had anybody say that yet.
GC: Were there people you couldn’t find?
JA: There were a handful of people I couldn’t find. I found out that two people had passed away. And I couldn’t find their loved ones. I had to research their family tree. It took two years to find one gentleman. I did track down one of the veterans I had met in San Diego. I got in touch with somebody at the Naval Base there, the vet’s therapist. She said she remembered him but couldn’t release his name because of privacy concerns.
I told her I understood. I said, “Would you consider taking my name and number, reaching out to him, and have him call me?” Going through different chains of command in the Navy, some guy with a big title calls me back and gets me in touch with the person I needed. Tim remembered me, he remembered the experience we had. Unfortunately, he was medically discharged. He had a huge disability. His life will never, ever be the same. So I felt even more compelled to make sure his story was in the book. He was so excited to be in the book.
GC: And that, I’m sure, makes you feel good.
JA: With all sincerity, it’s priceless.
GC: You’re a good person, Judy Alvarez.
JA: There were many, many, many stories in the book like that. There’s John Barton who had 109 surgeries and was literally considered dead. But he used golf to motivate himself to come back from those surgeries.
GC: How long has the book been out?
JA: About two-and-a-half years. The first year was paperback. The second phase of the plan was to do an e-book. Now we’re trying to find a voice to read the book for people that can’t see or people that like books-on-tape.
And now we’ve tied the book into a charity, “Birdies For The Brave,” which helps vets and their families. Phil Mickelson donates $100 for birdies and $500 for eagles to “Birdies For The Brave.” And you can now see my book on their web site, along with shirts and hats and sweatshirts. Thirty percent of all net proceeds from the sale of my book go to this organization.
GC: That’s wonderful, Judy. Thank you for your time and for writing this important book. I would encourage all you golfers out there to help our veterans by purchasing Broken Tees and Mended Hearts.