HARTFORD, CT – Trying to get through the coronavirus pandemic has been extremely trying for everyone, especially teachers who were never quite sure if or when they might get into the classroom.
Jen Holland tried to balance distance learning with adjusting to half classes and finally returning to full-time, knowing at some point she might have to return to more remote learning. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Holland also wanted to remain among the top women’s amateur golfers in Connecticut. She had earned the first three Connecticut State Golf Association Liz Janangelo Caron Women’s Player of the Year Award, but making it 4-for-4 would be more difficult than ever.
But the 57-year-old from Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield played enough and well enough to get the job done while mostly during school recess. Holland won a record eighth Southern New England Golf Association Individual Championship since 1999 by a staggering 11 strokes at Richter Park GC in Danbury. She finished second to 16-year-old Sophia Sarrazin of The Patterson Club in Fairfield in the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship at Fairview Farm GC in Harwinton and second by a shot to Mercedes Large of Rockledge CC in West Hartford in the SNEWGA Senior Championship, which she has won three times.
Holland accumulated 330 points, while Sarrazin was second with 300 and Large third with 220. Cody Paladino of the Country Club of Farmington won the CSGA Dick Tettlebach Player of the Year Award after finishing in the Top 10 in all of his 10 starts, including seconds in the State Amateur, Mid-Amateur, Russell C. Palmer Cup and Tournament of Champions. Dave Szewczul of TPC River Highlands in Cromwell won the Dick Siderowf Senior Player of the Year after he captured the Senior Tournament of Champions and Senior Four-Ball Championship with longtime friend, frequent playing partner and fellow Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame member Bill Hermanson of the Black Hall Club in Old Lyme.
Holland, meanwhile, enjoys competing against old and young foes, especially in open events such as the Women’s State Amateur.
“I love to play against the kids,” Holland said. “I want to play against the very best players. Some of the young kids are really so good.”
Holland remains among the longer women’s amateurs in the state so she focuses most of her practices on approaches and her short game.
“It’s funny,” she said. “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 the high school and college players were around to compete in the Women’s Amateur, Holland excelled, giving herself a chance to win her second Amateur 12 years after she won her first. And staying grounded 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,” said fellow competitor and friend Gia Watkins of Brooklawn CC in Fairfield, who finished third in the Women’s 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 of that quality on the course. 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 the par-5 16th hole, where when trailing by three, she miscalculated on her approach and made bogey, taking pressure off of Sarrazin. In her mind, the tournament was still up for grabs.
There were other disappointments 2020. For the first time in several seasons, she didn’t play in a U.S. Golf Association event. She qualified for and recently played in the Women’s Senior Amateur and the Women’s Mid-Amateur, but both were eliminated this year due to COVID. Her major goal was to qualify for the third U.S. Senior Women’s Open at Brooklawn CC, but that championship was cancelled and then re-scheduled for Dec. 10-13 at Champions GC in Houston, Texas. Her major goal for 2021 is to make that field at Brooklawn.
The cancellation of the Connecticut Women’s Open at Rockrimmon CC in Stamford was also “disappointing but completely understandable” to Holland. “All those players from out of town. You just couldn’t do it,” she said.
Holland is as gracious when she doesn’t win as when she does and someone that other players want to compete against because she’s a sportswoman who commands respect and respects fellow players.
“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,” Gia Watkins, who won the Super Senior Division at the Women’s Amateur, said, referring to a complicated relief situation at the tournament. “Jen was definitely looking out for my best interest.”
When the end of the 2021 season comes, you can be sure Holland will be among the best of the best.