July 2022 ~
One day in the mid-1950s, after playing sandlot football and baseball in Northeast Portland with her big brother and his friends, young Linda Vollstedt (Madison, 1964) in all seriousness asked her parents what organized sports were available for girls.
That question didn’t have much of an answer in those days.
“Well,” Linda said, “do little girls play golf?”
Yes, she was told.
“OK, then I can play a lot of golf, and that can be my sport,” she said.
Did she ever, and was it ever.
Linda started swinging a club at age 10 at Riverside Golf & Country Club, and the rest, as they say, is her story.
Now 75, Vollstedt can fill a pro shop’s worth of golf bags with her successes and accomplishments.
The list includes membership in 10 halls of fame/honor – including the International Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, the LPGA Professionals Hall of Fame and the PIL Hall of Fame, which the 1964 Madison High grad entered in 2018.
Vollstedt led the Senators girls golf team to three city championships while enjoying a good year-round career in Oregon junior golf as well.
All that led her to Arizona State – on an academic scholarship, as in those days women golfers weren’t receiving athletic scholarships.
The 5-3 Vollstedt was four-year player for the Sun Devils.
She returned to the school as its women’s golf coach in 1980 and proceeded to make more and even bigger history.
She had a 21-year run and built the program into a dynasty. The Sun Devils won nine conference championships. They captured six NCAA women’s golf titles in the 1990s, going undefeated in 1995.
She coached 42 All-Americans and 22 Arizona State golfers who made it to the LPGA Tour.
She was voted national women’s golf coach of the year five times.
Vollstedt’s teams went to the NCAA championships 10 times in her final decade as coach, and they finished in the top 10 in 11 of her last 15 seasons. In her final 99 tournaments, the Sun Devils were first or second 57 times.
In 2016, she was selected as Pac-12 Women’s Golf Coach of the Century.
A freak golf cart accident in 1997 – she flew out of a bouncing cart and cracked a tibial plateau – led to multiple knee surgeries and forced her to step down as coach.
She lives on a golf course, but hasn’t been able to play golf since the accident.
But she continues to be an important figure and employee in the Arizona State athletic department. She serves as Development Director, oversees marketing and promotions for ASU golf, and enjoys an ambassador role, in which she helps mentor Sun Devil coaches.
She is the most successful sports coach in ASU history.
And it all goes back to her formative years and girls golf competition in the Portland Interscholastic League.
“Sometimes when you’re involved in something, you don’t realize until later how wonderful it is,” she says. “I look back at the PIL in those days and think about how lucky we were that they had girls golf and the girls sports we had. A lot of schools in other places still didn’t.”
Her father was a meat cutter, her mom stayed at home. They were members at Riverside, “and they both loved golf,” Vollstedt says. Her dad was able to get away for regular rounds of golf only on Thursdays and Sundays, but he got his handicap as low as 6. He and Linda’s mom both enjoyed competing in amateur tournaments around the state. And golf “became a family affair” with vacations to Oregon courses and with Linda quickly showing her prowess.
She learned the game under a local legend, Riverside pro Eddie Hogan.
“He had all the little boys and girls there play golf,” she says. “We started with four-holer tournaments.”
Junior golf was a big deal in Oregon, even then. Vollstedt fondly remembers competing with other Riverside kids in matches against all the other local clubs.
“In those days, it wasn’t that expensive for families to join a country club,” she said. “You didn’t have to be part of the elite or live on the west side of town.”
Golf was her ticket to high school athletics, and the only sport she played for the school now known as McDaniel (she played basketball, but it wasn’t a sanctioned high school sport). She recalls many a round at Rose City, Madison’s home course.
“We didn’t have organized softball. Soccer? I didn’t even know what that was, it was non-existent,” she says.
As a girl, she clipped newspaper and golf magazine articles on women’s golf and put them in a scrapbook she still has today. She was inspired as well when Patty Berg came to Riverside for a clinic and by going to Eugene in the 1960s to watch the LPGA Tour’s Pacific Ladies Classic.
“I wanted to be out there, be a pro,” she says.
Vollsetdt wanted to play college golf first, but where, how? Few colleges offered women’s golf.
A friend and fellow golfer, Wendy Mulberry from La Grande, was on the women’s team at Arizona State. Mulberry invited Vollstedt to Tempe. So, for Linda’s “recruiting visit,” the 16-year-old Madison student bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Arizona and back for spring break. She met the Sun Devils women’s coach, who later helped Linda get an academic scholarship, and Vollstedt wound up a Sun Devil.
Vollstedt returned to Portland after graduating from ASU, but she didn’t last long.
She was working in the Riverside pro shop for Hogan when, one dark and dreary October day, she looked out the window and said to herself, “I can’t do this anymore.” She simply missed the sun too much.
The only way she could convince her parents to let her go back to Arizona was if she enrolled in graduate school. She was back in Phoenix by 1969, earned a masters in math education, and has never left the Valley of the Sun.
Vollstedt, whose bachelor’s degree was in education, settled into a job teaching math and coaching girls golf at Phoenix’s Alhambra High. To supplement her income, she sold parimutuel wagering tickets at night at Phoenix Greyhound Park.
Vollstedt had to build the Alhambra golf program from very little. For whatever reasons, girls golf was not yet that big a deal in the area.
“The weather was beautiful every day, but there were very few girls golf teams. Most schools, even if they wanted to have a team, couldn’t get enough girls to turn out,” Vollstedt says.
Her Alhambra teams broke through for state championships in 1971 and 1977 and finished second in 1970 and 1978.
After the 1979 college season, the ASU women’s golf coach quit. One of Vollstedt’s former high school players, who was now on the Sun Devils team, told Linda she should apply for the job. Vollstedt was concerned about her lack of experience, but ASU player Lauri Merten gave her some, uh, ringing encouragement.
“You’ve got to be better than what we had,” Merten said.
Linda applied and got the job in what now looks like possibly the best hire in Arizona State sports history.
Not that she was paid that way, certainly not off the bat. The men’s golf got $40,000 a year and a big office with a huge window and a view. Linda? Eight grand and a desk in a storage room in the basement of the basketball arena.
Worse, the men’s team practiced at a local country club, while the women had to hit their own golf balls on a dirt field behind a P.E. building.
A hand injury had kept Vollstedt from playing much competitive golf after college. But she also was about to discover that she had plenty of ability to coach collegians – and to do it her way.
“I was mostly a mental coach,” she says. “I worked on a lot on my players’ course management and mental skills.”
Fast forward to 1990, one of the highlight years in the Vollstedt era. The ASU men won the NCAA championship; a guy named Phil Mickelson was the individual champion.
The ASU women were their equals. They won the national title, too.
During that first decade, Vollstedt brought much equality to the women’s golf program and shined light on the need for schools to follow through on Title IX, which had become law in 1972 but still was a real work in progress.
“I realized when I became a coach that it was a mission to have women’s sports be recognized more, and just have things be fair,” she says.
Vollstedt got her athletes the attention they deserved an old-fashioned way.
“I just quietly went about my business,” she says.
Her coaching emphasis was a little different, though. It wasn’t focused much on honing a swing plane or on hitting huge buckets of range balls. More important were ideas Vollstedt had gleaned from “The Power of Positive Thinking,” by Norman Vincent Peale, “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz, and other such thinkers.
She’d learned more of this ilk in a hands-on way by selling Amway soaps and beauty products on the side, and by devouring the books and motivational cassette tapes Amway provided its force.
“I didn’t know if I could make my players better golfers,” Vollstedt says, “but I knew I could make them better people.
“I had a lot of sayings. Like, ‘Whatever you do, do it with love in your heart.’ And, ‘There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities.’
“People talk about the ‘culture’ of a program; the culture of our team was always to stay positive. I wouldn’t let my players talk about anything negative. I’ve always been ahead of my time, and I was into energy fields and so forth.
“At our team meetings, I would make everyone talk about their best shot. I wanted the players going to bed upbeat and positive, no matter what their score was that day. I wanted them to remember all the putts they made, not the ones they didn’t.”
She’s guided other coaches in “Coaching Fore the Soul” seminars since retiring as the Sun Devils’ coach.
And in Arizona especially, Vollstedt is still recognized for her impact on women’s sports. In late June, she was honored at halftime of a Phoenix Mercury WNBA game as part of the team’s “Believe in Women” series, which has recognized other influential women in sports such as Billie Jean King, Tara VanDerveer and Ann Meyers Drysdale.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you made a difference,” she said. “I’m humbled. I’ve never thought of myself as being exceptional.”
Does Vollstedt ever wonder what she would have done if she hadn’t been able to play girls golf as a Harvey Scott Elementary School and Madison High student?
“All the time I think about that,” she says. “I have no idea what my life would have been like if I didn’t have golf in it.
“You look at everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done, and it’s like a bicycle wheel with all these spokes, and golf is the hub.”
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)