Judy Penman, left, and longtime playing partner Chris Nelson

Judy Penman took a long and circuitous route to the United States Golf Association’s Senior Women’s Amateur championship. 

Penman, 57, grew up playing the sport at a high level in Muscatine, Iowa, before a 30-year teaching career and family consumed her attention. 

She took a three-decade-long sabbatical from the sport she loved, before retiring to Oro Valley three years ago and relearning the ropes from Oro Valley Country Club pro Scott Schultz. 

Penman was a quick study, going from competing for club and local tournaments to qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship. 

She’ll return to the USGA’s marquee senior amateur event later this month after shooting a 74 in a statewide qualifier at Rio Verde Country Club in Scottsdale on Thursday, July 18. 

That round, the best of the field, allowed Penman to return to her home state to compete in the premier senior women’s amateur tournament. She’ll play at the event, held at Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from Aug. 24-29. 

Penman will play the championship some 69 miles northwest of her childhood stomping grounds, a fact not lost on the former school teacher. 

“I had my sights set on this year because the tournament is back in Cedar Rapids, which is really close to where I grew up as a kid,” Penman said. “I continued to work on my game and work with Scott Schultz to strengthen my short game. I’m just so happy to qualify this year.” 

Penman attributed much of her success since her restart to Schultz’s teaching style, which has allowed her to regain confidence and skill promptly. 

“I had never had a golf lesson before I moved here,” Penman said. “I just kind of played by feel and tried to mimic my brother when I was a kid. [Schultz] really taught me a lot about my swing, so then when I am competing, and I get nervous and something goes wrong. I have a better chance of knowing how to fix it.” 

Schultz said Penman’s full-throttle attitude and love of competition were aspects that stood out when the pair started working together. 

The longtime OVCC pro said watching Penman succeed is a joy given her love for the game and all its intricacies. 

“To see her get that passion back now and play a little bit more, especially now that she doesn’t have kids at the house and stuff like that, it’s great,” Schultz said. “Like I said, I don’t see that type of passion for wanting to get better very often.” 

Penman definitely enjoys the pulse-pounding excitement of competitive golf, with success and failure hanging on every swing. 

She believes this year’s amateur championship will go better than last year’s, when she was eliminated after stroke play, thanks to her understanding of the event and its eccentricities. 

“Last year, I was so nervous that I could barely breathe, but I think this year, I’m just in a very different place with my game,” Penman said. “I’m hitting the ball really well…I’ve got a coach now, so I understand a little bit more about my swing, which gives me confidence.” 

Penman’s longtime playing partner and friend Chris Nelson has seen her on-course transformation and believes she’ll do well in Cedar Rapids. 

A source of Nelson’s confidence is the collective lumps that Penman took at last year’s event. Those setbacks, while brutal at the time, can help Penman in the long run, according to Nelson, as they taught her where she needed to improve for this year’s championship. 

“I think that she’ll do well, because she has the experience of having done it once before, and it’s not new and different and kind of scary,” Nelson said. “I think this time it will be very exciting to watch her, even when she has to scramble. I mean, everybody has a bad shot, right? And she is always able to recover from that without a penalty. So, it’ll be interesting to see how far she’ll go.” 

Schultz said that members of the club will huddle around the clubhouse restaurant during the tournament to cheer Penman on, some 1,500 miles away from the bucolic course. 

The tournament consists of two days of stroke play, followed by a single-elimination match play tournament between the top-64 finishers between Monday, Aug. 26 and Thursday, Aug. 29. 

According to Penman, her key to success in tournaments is to remain calm in the face of adversity, knowing that the six-day event is an unrelenting beast. She’s not afraid of the outsized stakes on each stroke, knowing how important each shot is to advancing in the tournament. 

She’s confident that this year’s event will be a coming out party, and that she’ll carry the pride of two states on her back at the tournament.

“I’m a very competitive person, actually, with everything that I do, even when it’s playing checkers, so I think I’m a good competitor,” Penman said. “I’m good at staying calm and trying to stay level-headed. But I think my game is just really all coming together now.”

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