When Sally Little made the big jump to turning professional and pursuing her career in the USA, she often felt the need to justify her actions stating: “You see, the standard of amateur women’s golf in South Africa was not very good compared to the rest of the world. We only had about three or four good players – Judy Angel, Jeanette Burd, Lyn Whitfield – and a mere three tournaments a year. There’s no way of improving yourself – the spirit is lacking.”
It was those limited opportunities of play that restricted Sally’s growth and eventually forced her out of her own country in order to properly pursue her dream. Thirty years later and the improvements are less than staggering. “Playing time is vital” says Pro Golfer Helena Buitendag, and simply playing in a practice envormentment is not the same as competing in tournaments.
This also negatively impacts their play as not only do they have less practice in front of large crowds, they also adopt a more conservative play because of the increased risk. “Due to the few tournaments we actually play, the stakes are so much higher. Players are often scared to play a shot or take part in a tournament if they don’t feel totally ready because one mistake in the few tournaments available might lead to the loss of sponsors” says Pro Golfer Francesca Cuturi.
“It is pointless being a professional unless you have the chance to compete” remarked Pro Golfer Michelle Leigh. Sally is proof of how your game can grow when you are placed in a more competitive environment with more opportunities to prove yourself. When she transferred to America, she made an immediate impact, being voted Rookie of the Year, but had to wait another five years before claiming her first title, when she holed a lengthy bunker shot on the last hole at the 1976 Women’s International to snatch victory by a single shot from Jan Stephenson.
Stephenson would prove to be an opponent like no other and it is this competitive spirit that Sally used to push her game to new heights. Jan Stephenson, born in the same year as Sally (1951), was a formidable opponent. Like Sally, she too entered golf as a teenager, turning professional in 1973 and also winning the LPGA Rookie of the Year two years before Sally in 1974.
According the Sally’s friend and Director of the Southern African Golf Hall of Fame, Barry Cohen, “One of the few non-Americans Sally knew when she left for the States was Jan Stephenson, the Australian golfer.” It was only because of regular opportunities of play that both these golfer were able to explore the extent of their talent without limitations.
We can only wish the same for the Unimedia Pro players all these years later. To read more about how the flame of Sally Little continues to spread, purchase her soon to be released “Capturing the Fire” autobiography.