“Don’t mind me,” says Tasha Bohlig with an infectious laugh. “I come from a long line of huggers. I hug everybody. Especially my students.”
It’s not every day that a simple golf lesson commences with a warm and friendly hug from an acclaimed golf instructor. But Bohlig is hardly your everyday teaching professional. As golf enjoys its first unshackled spring since COVID-19 loosed its grip, fueled by reports that women of all ages are taking up the game in encouraging numbers, I’ve traveled across an entire continent to pretty El Caballero Golf Club in Tarzana, California, to gain perspective on this welcome development from a young woman who could well be the poster gal for the new American teaching pro.
Bohlig gives a dismissive laugh when I mention this. But the words aren’t mine. Several well-connected friends in the game describe Coach Tasha in precisely these terms, noting that this charming 2019 PGA Southern California Teacher of the Year, rated “Best in the State Instructor” by Golf Digest, is worth every accolade that has come her way of late, too numerous to note here.
As a result, I’ve dropped by to see for myself why her approach to teaching this ancient game is so refreshing and unique.
Bohlig’s official title at El Caballero is head golf professional, but that doesn’t begin to describe the impact she has on the club’s membership.
“Anyone who takes a lesson from her or looks through the classy merchandise mix she picks out for the shop or plays in one of our events that she works tirelessly on to make special, speaks of her in the highest regard,” says Brett Mormann, El Cab’s director of golf. “If you looked only at her work, Tasha would be a star in the golf industry. But what puts her in a class of her own is her ability to do all that she does and make the day of everyone around her better while doing so. I feel fortunate to have one of our industry’s best on our team.”
At a time when the game is showing promising green shoots of growth, it’s people like Tasha Bohlig who are on the front lines, keeping that growth healthy and meaningful.
“One of the few good things about the COVID crisis is that the appeal of golf was showcased,” she says as we sit down for a chat after her morning of lessons. “It was one of the few things people could do outside their homes. As a result, we’ve definitely witnessed a lot of new folks coming into golf, especially women and girls. The great challenge for those of us who love the game is whether we can keep their interest strong enough to grow with the game – to whatever level that works best for them. That’s my job,” she adds with yet another engaging smile. “To keep it fun and personal.”
That’s not a calling Bohlig, 42, a petite and youthful mother of one and former college standout and mini-tour veteran, takes lightly. Rather, as she points out, hers is a natural passion for learning and joyfully sharing the game, one might say, that began at home.
Her late father, Jerry Browner, was a sensational athlete who played pro baseball for the Mets organization until an injury prematurely ended his career and he headed west to California where he worked for a cousin’s clothing business and met her mom, Joan, who was modeling. “They were both very young when they decided to get married, just 20 and 22,” Bohlig notes, “and very different in so many ways. But they were great parents, loving and involved. My older sister, Dina, and I were so lucky to have parents like that.”
Unabashedly, Tasha was a natural daddy’s girl. “My sister wasn’t into sports. But from the beginning my dad and I shared a passion for almost every sport. He didn’t have to push, either. I loved competing, whatever the game, and I played everything I could,” she adds.
At Montclair Prep, a small private academy she attended in nearby Van Nuys, Tasha played varsity soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball and eventually golf — as the only girl on the boys’ squad, no less. “I literally would play in a basketball game, go shower, put on my cheerleading outfit and go cheer for the boys’ basketball team. Then, on weekends, I’d play golf matches,” she remembers with a modest blush. “It sounds like a lot, I know, but I was driven and just loved competing. I realized early that anything I did, from sports to academics, I devoted my energy and focus to it 1,000 percent.”
Fortunately, she points out, her father was always there to keep her love of games balanced and in perspective. “He understood – and stressed – the value of sports to teach you how to compete honorably in life and have fun doing it, not only when you succeed but also when you fail, to learn from both experiences with gratitude and grace.”
Jerry Browner, she says, used only positive reinforcement to encourage his daughter’s passion for sports, whatever the game. “He never criticized or over-coached. He taught me that whether you’re a perfectionist or not, making a mistake is OK – the way you learn. No one likes to hit a bad shot or spend hours doing something you love poorly. So, you have to find a silver lining and learn to cope and grow. That’s what my dad did for me. He showed me the way. I miss him every day.”
Jerry Browner passed away in 2019. “I’m so lucky my son got to know his grandfather. I keep my dad’s way in mind with everything I do. That’s something I hope to pass along to my son.”
“… I learned that to play well and enjoy golf, it has less to do with the swing than most people realize. That was a key lesson for me, coming off a life that drills only the importance of technique.” –Tasha Bohlig
Tasha’s mom, a psychologist, meanwhile, influenced her decision to study sports psychology in college.
By high school, regularly shooting in the 70s, Tasha accepted a scholarship from Washington State University, where she played first or second during her final two years and made Pac-10 All-Conference and Academic All-American. In the process, she earned a degree in psychology and graduated magna cum laude with two minor degrees from the school’s Honors College.
“Maybe best of all,” she reflects, “is what I learned about people and other values. I grew up in L.A., your quintessential ‘valley girl.’ ” She pauses and smiles at a sudden memory. “My dad used to keep a jar in which my sister and I had to deposit a quarter every time we said the word ‘like.’ In many ways, Pullman, Washington is about as far as you can get from Tarzana, California, where everyone drives a Lexus and celebrities are everywhere. That’s not the real world most people know. Pullman is rural, on the other hand, smalltown America. All my friends at college came from other places. I had a wonderful broadening experience there, making many friendships I keep to this day. But when I finished, I was ready to come back to L.A. with a different perspective.”
She considered graduate school until her dad pointed out that she might get only one chance to play professional golf. So, in 2002, Tasha took a job at El Caballero Country Club working in the golf shop three or four days a week, teaching junior golf, helping with clinics and working on her own game with a goal of taking her shot at the tour. A short time later, she joined the Futures Tour in Florida and Arizona, only to discover that the touring life was not for her.
“I think it was my second event on the Futures Tour in Lakeland, Florida. I finished third and lost money for the week due to the cost of the flight there, the rental car, caddie and hotel.” During the final round, she missed four greens in a row but, being a superb short-game player, got up and down all four times. “I walked off exhausted. Those were the four hardest-working pars I’d ever made. By contrast, the nice girl I was playing with clearly loved being there and grinding it out. Things that are hard aren’t always fun,” she allows. “That’s OK. That’s usually where you learn a great deal about yourself. But when you’re 21 and super driven to play and actually lose money, life becomes very different. That was an eye-opener for me.”
She walked off the course and called her dad to say she was finished with the tour life.
“I’m very grateful for what I learned, however,” she says. “Roadblocks are what help you determine your best path in life. Sometimes they send you into a different lane. That’s what happened to me in golf.”
The other positive from this time of awakening was meeting her future husband, Brian Bohlig, during PGA Golf School in Florida. “I went through all three levels of the program with 300 men and just two women in the class,” she remembers with a laugh. “A group of us always hung out together, and that’s where I met Brian and our friendship turned into a lot of long conversations on the phone after the schools were over.”
Bohlig moved to L.A. in 2012. The pair married two years later. Today he works as head professional at Annandale Golf Club, and they have a six-year-old son.
Upon reflection, it was the time she also spent in Arizona attending and briefly helping out at the acclaimed Vision 54 Tour Academy, started by Lynn Marriot and Pia Nillson in Scottsdale, that placed her in the lane where she found her greatest happiness and fulfillment. Vision 54 has been called the world’s finest golf school and coaching academy.
“It was there that I learned that to play well and enjoy golf, it has less to do with the swing than most people realize. That was a key lesson for me, coming off a life that drills only the importance of technique. It was there I realized my real calling was to be a coach and use my social skills and knowledge to help people of all skill levels to enjoy the game.”
“I have a unique perspective of learning to play golf with joy, … I have a unique opportunity to share the game’s many gifts with others. I think my dad would be very pleased.” –Tasha Bohlig
When a spot opened up back home on the staff at El Cab in 2008, Tasha jumped at the chance to become a full-time coach and was promoted to director of golf just two years later, placed in charge of planning and running all of the club’s programs and special golf events.
She estimates that 95 percent of her current students are adults, ranging from club champions to rank beginners, with a ratio of roughly 50 percent men and women. Over the past decade, she’s also integrated the science of biomechanics into her coaching, which takes a student’s age and injuries into account.
“I’ve learned to meet people wherever they are. They want to play golf well but without pain. And many who take a lesson can’t or simply don’t want to radically change their golf swing. They just want to enjoy it more and see some improvement. So that’s my job: to help them find that happy place in the game.”
A key ingredient of Tasha Bohlig’s own happy place, she concedes, comes from running her many innovative golf programs, especially one for very young children called “Golf & Me,” a program for 2- and 3-year-olds that uses foam noodles and blown-up balloons to introduce little ones to the joy of motion with their bodies. “We work on their swings just bopping balloons and having a blast. It brings them so much visible joy. Maybe someday they will actually discover the pleasure of playing real golf, but this is about sensory play for pure fun and using their bodies, totally uncomplicated and natural joy. They just love it. You can see it in their eyes.”
The natural happiness of her young prodigies, she agrees, serves as a fitting reminder of the lessons learned from her own long journey and return to the game she loves like no other.
“I have a unique perspective of learning to play golf with joy, only to have competitive golf strip away that joy. I had to find my way back to that lost joy by discovering I have a unique opportunity to share the game’s many gifts with others. I think my dad would be very pleased.”
Glancing out at El Cab’s attractive range where her 1 o’clock pupil – a young woman dressed in pink with a long ponytail – is already warming up, Coach Tasha pauses and smiles at the sight.
“That’s something I always keep in mind, especially at a time when so many women of all ages and abilities are coming into the game,” she reflects. “There is so much that women and girls can benefit from golf – the wide social contacts, learning to find their comfort zones among men, and the pleasure of learning to play the game at whatever natural level brings them the greatest happiness.”
And with a final laugh and hug, this natural daddy’s girl and gifted grown-up teacher heads off to grow the game one more lesson at a time.
Top photo: Coach Tasha with a participant of the Golf & Me program at El Caballero CC. All photos courtesy Tasha Bohlig
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