CSGA (October 31, 2020) The surprise is not that Jen Holland won her fourth consecutive Liz Janangelo Caron Player of the Year Award this year.
The surprise is that, in a year when teachers like Jen were forced to cope with the new world of distance learning, then adjust to half classes, and finally return to full-time knowing at some point they might return to more remote learning, she was able to play often and well enough to win.
Holland found a way.
At 57 a “senior” who still relegates her golf to the school recess, Holland won the Southern New England Women’s Golf Association Individual Championship by 11 shots at Richter Park Golf Course. It was her eighth championship since 1999. She finished second in the Connecticut Women’s Amateur at Fairview Farm. She finished second by a shot to Mercedese Large in the SNEWGA Senior Championship, an event she has won three times.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia Sarrazin, who won the Amateur, was second in the Player of the Year race, Large third.
Holland seems to love competing against old or young. She says she especially enjoys the mix that open events such as the Amateur provide. “I love to play against the kids,” she says. “I want to play against the very best players. Some of the young kids are really so good.”
Holland’s game remains unchanged. Strong off the tee, she focuses most of her practice on approaches and short game. She’s as long as the kids, too.
“It’s funny. All my life I played a fade, and then about 10 years ago I hurt both of my thumbs spotting kids in gymnastics. I can’t grip the club as hard now and the result is that it’s easier to square the face and even turn the ball over.”
During a summer when those high school and college players were around to compete in the Women’s Amateur, Holland nonetheless excelled, giving herself a chance to win her second Amateur exactly 12 years after she won her first.
Holland’s groundedness in this most topsy turvy of seasons sustained her.
“She is a master at managing her emotions and maintaining the same ‘energy level’ throughout the round—never quickening or slowing her routine, never losing her composure,” says fellow competitor and friend Gia Watkins, who finished third at the Amateur and fifth in the Player of the Year standings. “Jen is competitive…not against the field, but against herself. I get the sense she is always trying to achieve her personal best. And if that personal best wins the tournament, that’s even better.”
Patience is a job requirement for teachers who work with elementary school children, and Holland displays as much patience on the course as she does with her kids. It is one shot, one hole at a time, her demeanor rarely changing, her focus always forward. As she recalls her runner-up finish at Fairview Farm, she does not mention the front nine, where she lost ground to three Sarrazin birdies, but brings up No. 16, the par 5 where, now trailing by three, she miscalculated on her approach and made bogey, taking pressure off of Sarrazin. In Jen Holland’s mind, the tournament was still up for grabs.
There were other disappointments this year. For the first time in several seasons she will not play in a USGA event. She has qualified and played recently in both the Women’s Senior Amateur and the Women’s Mid-Amateur, both eliminated this year due to COVID. Her big goal in 2020 was to qualify for the Third U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn in July. That championship was cancelled, and then re-scheduled for this coming year. Holland’s major goal for 2021 is to make that field at Brooklawn.
The similar cancellation of the Connecticut Women’s Open at Rockrimmon Country Club was “disappointing but completely understandable,” says Holland. “All those players from out of town. You just couldn’t do it.”
Holland is as gracious when she finishes out of the top spot as she is when she wins. She’s a player other players want to compete against, a sportswoman who commands respect, and who respects fellow competitors.
“What impresses me the most about Jen is her willingness to help a fellow competitor (me) sort out a sticky rules situation with patience and genuine caring,” said Watkins, who won the Super Senior Division at the Amateur referring to a complicated relief situation at the Women’s Amateur. “Jen was definitely looking out for my best interest.”
Since the inauguration of the Women’s Player of the Year Award, Holland is its only winner.
We won’t be surprised to end with that same sentence next year.