She strides past players, cup of coffee in hand, stopping to say hello and answer a quick question or two from the best women golfers in the world. At a trim and athletic 50 – younger than her age and confident in her look and carriage – Vicki Goetze-Ackerman could easily be mistaken for a tour mom, or at least a favorite aunt out sharing a few laughs on the LPGA Tour.
Unfortunately, if one of those players runs afoul of a tour policy – showing up late for a pro-am or letting a colorful expletive fly during television coverage, for example – Goetze-Ackerman is the last person they want to see. As the LPGA Player President, Vicki is the one who raps knuckles when players step out of line. But she is also the one ready to lend a sympathetic ear or a shoulder where a few tears may be shed. While LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan is the front-facing voice of tour leadership, Goetze-Ackerman is the behind-the-scenes rock on which players rely.
“I took this position in 2012. I was 38. It was a complete blessing,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “Golf is all I’ve done since I was 5. It provided me opportunities and experiences that I’m forever grateful for. To be in a position to help players now is a gift, even though I didn’t play with any of them and some of them don’t even know that I played golf. I understand a lot more of what they’re going through than most of them realize.”
Of that there is no doubt. Goetze-Ackerman was golf’s wonderkid in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Born in Wisconsin, her parents moved to Athens, Georgia, when Vicki and her older brother Nick showed enough aptitude in golf that a warm climate made moving essential. As a 10-year-old, Vicki spent countless hours on the putting green at the University of Georgia Golf Course. Many sunsets she could be found standing over her tenth 10-footer in a row, vowing to stay there until she made them all. The Goetze family had a custom van that toured the country delivering Nick and Vicki to junior events around the country.
The work ethic paid off. In 1989, at age 16, she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She won the amateur again in 1992, defeating a shy 20-year-old from Bro, Sweden, named Annika Sorenstam in the finals. Earlier in ’92, she also won the NCAA individual title during an All-American season at Georgia. In short, Vicki was the best amateur golfer in the world.
When she qualified for the LPGA Tour in 1994, Vicki was heralded as the next big thing, a player with a tenacious spirit and a short game that everyone – man or woman – wanted.
After that, in her words, “It didn’t go very well. I made a lot of mistakes.”
The mistakes were not unique. Like many rookies, Goetze-Ackerman found herself lured by a long-term club contract, the kind of up-front money that solved a lot of expense worries but led to a game that she no longer understood. “I could never get (the clubs) dialed in correctly,” she said.
But equipment was only part of the problem. Almost immediately after she arrived on tour, Goetze-Ackerman received a barrage of criticism under the guise of concern. She was too short off the tee to compete at the next level, or so the argument went. Her own coach even got in on the act, telling Golf Digest all the things Vicki needed to do to gain length.
“The obsession became to hit the ball farther,” she said. “I left my longtime instructor and after that, I had what seemed like 50 million instructors.
“Then, I realized that it was pretty lonely out (on tour). We didn’t have a Big Sister program out here at the time (like it exists today). So the combination of playing bad and being lonely made life pretty miserable.
“I didn’t play the way I thought I should play or as well as I did as an amateur. And I felt like I was always on a search. When I was an amateur, if I was cutting it, I tried to hook it, and if I was hooking it, I tried to cut it. Then when I got out here, I felt like I was lost.
“My career obviously went in a direction that I didn’t want it to, and, quite honestly, I got my hair stood up a little bit because I had great instructors reaching out to help me and it upset me and made me angry. I was saying, ‘What’s so wrong with me? I was the No.1 amateur and now I’m not good enough?’ They were all telling me I wasn’t good enough.
“Quite honestly, I felt like I spent the majority of my career working on a golf swing that probably shouldn’t have been worked on.”
Those struggles, as painful as they were at the time, led Goetze-Ackerman to one of the most profound realizations in life — a lesson she now imparts on any and all who will listen.
“Now that I’m an instructor, I tell people to be true to who you are,” she said. “I should have stuck with who I was and what I had. I should have stuck to my game. It wasn’t until I met Fran Pirozzolo (a coach in Houston, Texas) that I had someone say to me, ‘You’re spending all this time trying to be something that you’re not. Take your assets and make them the best they can be. Then take the things that aren’t assets and make them not quite so bad.’
“That was when I broke through.”
“I just want to make sure the journey stays fun. When I played junior golf, we had a blast. Now, I think it’s great to have dreams, but what you do when you’re 11 or 12 is not massively impactful to your life at age 25.” – Vicki Goetze-Ackerman
She never won on tour but had a solid, 15-year LPGA career. Now Vicki serves on the board of the American Junior Golf Association and teaches in Tampa, Fla., where she lives with her husband, Jim, and their son, Jake.
“Not just in this position (with the LPGA), but with the juniors that I teach, I want to make everything in the game better. Whatever level you play, I want the game to be better for you,” she said.
“There are so many more young girls playing, which is so cool to see. The talent and athleticism are exceptional. Girls golf has really grown. Girls aspire to be out here (on tour) now, as opposed to having their peers say, ‘You play golf? Why would you do that?’
“I just want to make sure the journey stays fun. When I played junior golf, we had a blast. I didn’t even think about turning pro. I played because I loved it. Now, I think it’s great to have dreams, but what you do when you’re 11 or 12 is not massively impactful to your life at age 25.
“As parents and society, we have decided that if you don’t get into one sport very young, there isn’t a pathway for you. And that’s unfortunate. There are a lot of things to try in this world. And if you don’t have fun playing golf as a junior, don’t do it anymore, because it’s not going to get more fun after that.
“I’ve seen so many of my juniors get so worked up about college scholarships and saying that they can’t get in this or that event. I tell them, ‘This should not be stressful. This should be the best part of your life. Have fun. Enjoy it. Strive for a goal but enjoy the journey.’”
Be yourself. Play your game. Take your assets and make them the best they can be.
That’s more than a lesson for golfers. It’s a life lesson, learned through hardship, that Vicki Goetze-Ackerman continues to share far and wide.
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