WIVES OF THE PGA: Steel Magnolias or Three Irons?
Author: Paula Magrini
This month all eyes turn to Harbour Town and the 42nd annual Verizon Heritage Golf Tournament.
While the majority of focus is on the players’ performance and daily leader board, CH2 found another attraction in the women who stand beside those in pursuit of the Tartan plaid jacket. In the pages ahead, three PGA wives talk openly about their experience on the Tour, balancing their family life and how they stay poised and polished under pressure.
Getting in Tune with the Tour
It’s bright and early on the morning of round three of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and Kelly Bettencourt has put her frenetic schedule on hold to talk with the media. She’s vibrant, articulate…and recently married to 2008 Nationwide Champion Matt Bettencourt. Matt’s now making his mark on the PGA Tour, and Kelly is counting down the days until the couple arrives on Hilton Head Island for the Verizon Heritage Tournament.
“We rarely get to participate in tournaments in my home state,” says Kelly, a 28-year-old native of Greenville, South Carolina. “The Verizon Heritage is just around the corner and one of our favorites, especially since Matt has relocated to Greenville. We just moved into a new home.” Kelly hopes both of their families, including Matt’s twin sister, will be on hand in Harbour Town the third week of April.
Originally from Modesto, California, Matt made the cross country transition after marrying Kelly last March. “He knew he would be on the road a lot and wanted to be sure I was surrounded by family when I’m not traveling with him,” Kelly explains. But there haven’t been many occasions when the newlyweds haven’t been together. “In the past year I may have missed just two or three tournaments,” she says. “I don’t miss a single hole, though, when I’m there to watch Matt, and he always knows exactly where I am.”Kelly feels completely embraced by her new extended “family” on the PGA TOUR. “I was immediately assigned a PGA Big Sister,” she shares. Her big sis is another more experienced player’s wife who is Kelly’s go-to friend when she has questions about where to stay at tournament destinations or other details about travel and protocol. PGA couples are responsible for their own travel and accommodations arrangements because the players operate as independent contractors.
Players’ sponsors provide tournament apparel, but not so much for the wives. Kelly admits she plans her course-side couture in advance since tournaments often run back-to-back, at least several in a row. She says there isn’t time to fret over the details of her outfit when she needs to be showered and dressed at the crack of dawn to accompany Matt for practice before he tees off each day. She laughs as she says, “In the months ahead I may take the PGA courtesy shuttle and arrive closer to that actual tee off time!”
Kelly applauds the planning and organization behind the PGA Tour, citing examples like a highly-personalized daycare program for players’ children and the PGA Tour Wives Association, which is committed to fundraising for special causes and charities in host communities across the country. She adds, “There’s a real unity among PGA families. I can walk up to a table of players, wives and kids and they’ll invite me to join them.” Kelly recently posted a comment about her first wedding anniversary on Facebook and there was rush of responses from PGA pals.
There have been a lot of pleasant surprises in her new role as a PGA player’s wife, so Kelly only occasionally misses her previous career in pharmaceutical sales. Her favorite surprise is a touching discovery. “I’ve learned how important my role as a wife is. On and off the course, I didn’t realize at first how much Matt would depend on me for support,” she says. “We have become an awesome team together!”
Kelly closes the interview with the recollection of the day team Bettencourt officially took flight. “Matt and I had been dating for several years, and after another sad good-bye, I went inside my home and there on a table were four plane tickets in my name to his upcoming tournaments.” She was at the airport in no time.
At Home on Harbour Town’s Red Carpet
By the time she arrives on Hilton Head Island this month, Kimberly Gay will have completed an impressive to do list: pack, unpack and repack her family’s bags for four consecutive golf tournaments, carefully coordinate dozens of travel and lodging reservations and juggle assorted school assignments, healthy meals and daddy time for her two daughters on the road. The next items on Kimberly’s list are to relax and enjoy the island when she returns with reigning Verizon Heritage champion, Brian Gay. Can she catch her breath? Hopefully, yes, since Hilton Head is one of the Gays’ favorite tournament stops after Brian’s memorable 2009 victory at Harbour Town propelled him to his best year so far on the PGA TOUR.
“We’re really excited to be back, but it’s a little bittersweet too,” Kimberly admits. “I feel a little like the beauty queen who has to give up her crown.” Based on her natural appeal and engaging charm, Kimberly’s tiara will likely sparkle beyond the year Brian Gay made history at the Verizon Heritage. Brian earned rights to the Tartan plaid jacket when he won the tournament by 10 strokes, finishing 20 under par at the Harbour Town Links. It was a PGA record and just his second victory since he qualified to play on the Tour in 1999.
“We’ve come a long way,” Kimberly says, dwelling on the Gays’ 12-year ride on the PGA Tour that has finally led to her husband’s first shot at the Masters tournament and all four championships this year. “The secret is not to let desires take over your entire life. Balance is so important, and for Brian and me, family comes first.” Last year during the final rounds of the Verizon Heritage Kimberly coordinated the arrival of 38 family members on Hilton Head to cheer for Brian. “It was one huge Hilton Head tailgater,” she notes, laughing.
Kimberly reminisces about life pre-PGA TOUR, recalling how she met Brian at the Gainesville airport. He had a golf scholarship at the University of Florida and led the Gators to a national championship in 1993. At the time, Kimberly was working for Bristol Myers-Squibb, a pharmaceutical rep who knew instantly that Brian was the guy she would marry. “It was the assistant golf coach at Florida who introduced us, and Brian worried about interfering with our friendship,” she recalls. “But we soon realized the connection was bigger than both of us.”
Similar personal values and morals were at the heart of their chemistry, Kimberly believes. She was touched by Brian’s life story, growing up as an only child on an army base (Fort Tucker, Alabama) where he rarely saw his dad, a scratch golfer for the all-Army team. “It’s poignant,” she says. “Brian had this dream to play professional golf since he was 10 years old.” The young Gay honed his skills by practicing with military retirees and eventually gained enough recognition to earn the scholarship at Florida. “His mom was so supportive of him,” Kimberly points out. “Today she and I are really good friends.”
Kimberly and Brian married in 1997 while Brian was teeing it up at a series of tournaments in the Far East. He flew home from China for the wedding ceremony, and the newlyweds returned to Singapore together. In fact, Kimberly joined Brian on the golf course as his new wife—and caddie! “It was quite a honeymoon,” she says. “We traveled to seven countries in nine weeks. I caddied for Brian because I wanted to learn and experience every aspect of golf. But as newlyweds we didn’t agree on everything.” She recalls an incident where she was summoned to attend to a bunker and resisted. Thankfully, Brian shot a 68 during Kimberly’s first round as his caddie.
Kimberly traded her caddying skills for motherhood, bringing daughter Makinley into the world the year Brian officially joined the PGA TOUR. Four years later, the Gays had a second daughter, Brantley. Though her daughters keep her busy with homework, dance competition, piano lessons, Bible camp and more, Kimberly remains the tour director, as Brian is known to call her. “I handle all our travel and hotel plans and am involved in hiring Brian’s trainers and caddies,” Kimberly says. “We’re always a team when it comes to making decisions.” Somehow she also finds time to regularly join the PGA Tour Wives Association team, pitching in on various fundraisers.
Makinley, now 10, and Brantley, 6, are enrolled at a private school, allowing them to modify their schedule when necessary. Most of their extracurricular activities are slated at the beginning of the week so they can make the first round of most of their dad’s next tournaments. Brian Gay typically plays in 25-27 tournaments each year. “We do the best we can getting from point A to point B. Often I’m rushing and may show up on the course with wet hair and a baseball cap,” Kimberly confesses. “I don’t live in a glass house and realize there is a price to pay with success on the Tour…the higher you go, the harder you can fall.”
Kimberly says she and her friends were shocked over Tiger Woods’ fall from grace following reports of infidelity. They support Elin Woods and believe she’ll survive the ordeal. “She’s tougher than the world knew. She’s strong and private, a girl who doesn’t relish the spotlight,” Kimberly adds. She and Brian live about 500 yards from the Woods in Orlando. They, too, value their private time as a family.
“We like to hang out together, just the girls and us. We’ll watch TV, go to concerts or ride bikes with the kids,” Kimberly says. “In fact we look forward to getting on the bike paths at Harbour Town!”
Assistant Turns Bride
Lisa Pavin reaches out on Twitter as she and two-year-old daughter, Alexis, prepare for their next tournament destination in Tampa Bay, Florida. “Another airport, another week. Headed to the East Coast. It’s gonna be a looong travel day,” she tweets, attaching a photo of her adorable young travel companion. Lisa’s just finished three weeks of bed rest due to back pain, but her focus is on the pending reunion between Alexis and her father, PGA veteran, Corey Pavin.
Formerly Lisa Nguyen and Pavin’s personal assistant, the grounded, gregarious Midwest native is now Corey’s wife and a source of new perspective for him as he takes the helm at the 38th Annual Ryder’s Cup in Wales this September. Corey is in his 27th year on the PGA TOUR, sharing his time with the Champions Tour and teeing it up for the first time this fall at the Legends Tournament in Savannah.
It’s been a busy past four months for the Ryder Cup Captain and Captainess as they steer the esteemed biennial golf event. On his blog, Corey charts travels to New York, London, Vail and Maui along with details of PGA awards and engagements, Ryder Cup uniform designs, and a little time for play on the ski slopes and later the beaches of Hawaii.
“Over New Year’s, Corey and Alexis flew to Vail for some father-daughter bonding,” Lisa shares. “No matter how demanding our schedules get, we’ll always make time for each other.” Lisa fully expects the months leading up to the Ryder Cup will be über-demanding, but she’s quick to point out that the Pavins have their priorities in check as they raise their daughter. “We believe in God, family and golf, in that order,” she says.
Life with Lisa and Alexis is refreshing for Corey who dominated the PGA Tour from 1991-96 with his short game and a knack for being aloof. When his performance faltered at the turn of the century, he struggled to realign his game. In 2000, he divorced his first wife, the mother of his two sons. By all accounts, it was a challenging time for one of the PGA’s more prominent personalities. “He had to look inside himself and ask, ‘Why do I feel defined by golf?’” Lisa says. But she acknowledges that she “hasn’t weathered all the trenches with him on the Tour.”
Lisa and Corey became life partners after Lisa left her job with IBM in Dallas to become his personal assistant, a position she explains was arranged by Corey’s caddie and a third party. She says the relationship started casually, with a bite to eat together, then a movie date, and “the rest is history.” Lisa and Corey were married in Maui in 2003, and Alexis Le arrived five years later, a true island child, as Lisa notes their daughter was conceived on Hilton Head!
Credited with bringing out the extrovert in Corey, Lisa grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, the oldest of four who lost her mother when she was only 11 years old. “It’s those kinds of hardships that shape us,” she says. Lisa is close with her two sisters and younger brother and has encouraged Corey to stay in touch with his extended family. It goes back to their trio of priorities she points out, wherein family prevails.
Lisa speaks candidly about the impact of the Tiger Woods scandal on the Tour family. “The PGA will go on with or without Tiger. It will ride out the storm,” she asserts. Tiger will work out his family problems and the 150 other players will continue their careers.” Like Kimberly Gay, Lisa observes, “As quickly as you rise on the Tour, you fall.” She adds that she and Corey don’t perceive their life as one compromised by fame. “Corey has a God-given talent. That by no means makes us a celebrity family.”
The Pavins have demonstrated their grass roots mentality in years past on Hilton Head, rolling up their sleeves to support charities like Hilton Head Heroes, founded by Gregg and Lindy Russell. Lisa has also been involved with Habitat for Humanity, through the PGA Tour Wives Association. “This spring and summer, our efforts are all about the Ryder Cup,” Lisa says. As the U-S Team Captain assembles his roster of players for the September showdown, no doubt he’s counting on Lisa’s energy and communication savvy to help navigate the daunting schedule that lies ahead. And no doubt the Captainess will deliver.