During my recent swing through the California desert, I was playing at Freedom Park. It just so happens three time British Open champion Sherri Steinhauer was playing that day as well. As she and her 4.5 partner were preparing for a tournament, I asked if we could play.
Professional Athletes Taking Up Pickleball
I’m always excited to meet accomplished athletes from other sports who take up pickleball. Sherri Steinhauer was an All American (University of Texas) before joining the LPGA tour in 1986. During her 26 year career she was an 8 time tournament winner and represented the USA on 4 Solheim Cup teams. I asked her how she was introduced to pickleball. Sherri explained:
I started playing pickleball in January 2016 after a fellow pro golfer and former University of Texas teammate, Lisa DePaulo introduced me to the game. She first mentioned the game to me about 3 years ago but I was still competing on The Legends (Senior) Tour and didn’t want to take up another sport with a different swing motion which might interfere with my golf swing. January 2016 I was ready to play pickleball since I fully retired from golf. Lisa took me to the courts with some friends of hers that played tennis and had taken up pickleball and I had a blast….I’ve hardly missed a day since.
Applying Golf Lessons to Pickleball
I asked Sherri what lessons she learned playing professional golf that she applied to her pickleball game. It turned out there were quite a few. She explains:
There are a lot of takeaways from golf that I can apply to pickleball. First, keeping your eye on the ball. Although the ball is stationary in golf it is important to stay focused on the ball through contact. This is equally as important with a moving ball in pickleball.
Second, staying balanced in golf is one factor that results in an efficient swing which generates maximum
power. I know this translates to pickleball too but without a tennis background I have a lot to learn. I am working on my footwork and proper swing mechanics in order to be in balance for shots to create power. When dinking it is also important to be as balanced as possible in order to make solid, consistent contact.
Of course in golf, you need to say mentally focused in order to perform at your peak. The same holds true for pickleball. If my mind is wandering or still thinking of a poor shot this will create a negative mindset resulting in inconsistent play. In golf there is a lot more time to think in between shots, in pickleball not so much time. I allow myself 3 seconds to be upset over a missed shot but then it’s time to erase that shot and get my mind back to the present.
Finally, I find a lot of similarity as it relates to practicing patience. In golf practicing patience means firing at a pin when the opportunity arises otherwise taking the safe route and playing to the middle of the green. In pickleball I focus on waiting for the best time to attack. I have taken many lessons from Dave Weinbach. He has taught me that when you have to lift the ball from knee level or below stay patient, keep dinking, and wait for the right opportunity to attack.
Sherri and I also talked about the importance of strategy to both pickleball and golf.
The strategy of pickleball is probably what I love most. When I played golf, I was figuring a way to navigate my way around a golf course to give myself the best chance to score well. In pickleball I’m navigating the ball each point to create a way for my opponent to make an error or lift the ball in order to create a return shot my partner and I can put away.
Now in theory this all sounds great, but I have a long way to go to be my best self. I have no idea how far I will get in this game , but I will continue to work hard to improve.
Continuing to Improve
Sherri takes lessons from several pickleball professionals during her winters in Palm Desert. “I love to learn”, she explained. I wondered what she learned from our short time playing together.
I was so excited when you asked me to play. My 4.5 partner and I were preparing for Nationals so our first game was against you and another 5.0 player. Okay, that didn’t go so well … so I paired with the 5.0 player and my partner paired with you. Having you on the other side of the net was the best scenario because now I could return shots and observe what you did with the ball.
It was just fun to watch your third shot drops, your blocking, and power returns. We had some dink battles which was great. Of course I was on the losing end of most of it but it was a great learning experience. Your patience and calmness during a point was great to observe. But it was your balance, sound techniques, and power that impressed me the most.
Continuing to Compete
Sherri has filled the competition void she experienced after leaving the tour, with pickleball tournaments. In fact, she is entering as many tournaments as she can. So it is possible you will run into Sherri Steinhauer at a tournament or just picking up a game at a local park. If you do, be certain to ask her to play. (BTW: Sherri and her partner Mike Moonan took Gold at this year’s Nationals in the 55+, 4.5 skill level event.)