The AT&T National Has Something for Everyone, Including Life Lessons for Women (Photos)

The annual golf tournament launched with an executive women’s day.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

The AT&T National is the biggest golf tournament to come to Washington this year. It is sponsored by the Tiger Woods Foundation, and even though the foundation’s eponymous superstar won’t be playing, due to a strained elbow, the contest is still a draw. The Pro-Am tees off Wednesday morning, with Woods expected to attend, and tournament rounds begin Thursday. Woods may also attend for the presentation of the trophy on Sunday.

Should you go? If you are a golf fan, of course. Even if you are not, it’s an interesting outing. Tickets are available in a range of price levels, and there’s ample parking, albeit in satellite lots with shuttle bus service. The tournament will be broadcast live on CBS, but the location, Congressional Country Club in Potomac, Maryland, is lush, sweeping, elegant, and shady. The shady part matters because the forecast is for the oppressive steam heat—temperatures around 90, with comparable humidity—that is a Washington summer staple. Last year the tournament had roughly the same heat, but also the deadly derecho storm that caused deaths and injuries in the metro area, massive power outages, and damage to the Congressional trees and greens. The clean-up of 50 uprooted trees necessitated an unheard-of Saturday day of play with no spectators or volunteers allowed on the course.

Regardless of the weather, it’s a rare opportunity to see a field of interesting players, including some of the world’s best, here at home. This year’s approximately 150 competitors on the leaderboard include three top-20 players: Adam Scott, who won the Masters, Brandt Snedeker, and Jason Day. Also in the field are Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Nick Watney, Davis Love III, Bo Van Pelt, and K.J. Choi, as well as some promising newer faces. It’s been a disappointment that Woods can’t play and that US Open winner Justin Rose dropped out at the last minute, but for golf enthusiasts that’s not reason enough to stay home.

The AT&T National has something for everyone—it’s family-friendly, emphasizes honoring the military, and offers golf lessons, food, and golf-related shopping. This year the tournament began with a focus on women—not a talk about golf necessarily, but about life, careers, and success. It’s part of the PGA Tour’s new “women’s initiative,” described as an effort to integrate women into a tournament for men. The day-long program featured a buffet breakfast with a panel discussion, a behind-the-scenes tour of the tournament setup, a seated luncheon with a motivational speech from a female sports agent, and an afternoon “networking” session. More than 140 women attended, and when a show of hands was called for, fewer than half indicated they play golf. Being an executive wasn’t required, either.

What did they learn? During the panel discussion, moderated by WJLA’s Rebecca Cooper, Army major general Lee S. Price gave advice on pushing through challenges with determination, AT&T executive Kay Kapoor talked about the power of mentoring, and Dr. Cheryl Burgess, a DC dermatologist and dermatological surgeon, shared tips for taking care of one’s skin and overall wellness. Hilary Fordwich, host of a weekly government contracting broadcast on WUSA, and a golfer, brought golf and men into the conversation. “Women who can’t golf don’t,” she said, “men who can’t golf do.” She wanted the audience, which included a handful of men, to know that learning the sport does not need to be intimidating. She said the key is lessons, and women are better than men at taking lessons. “You know why men won’t take lessons? Because they have to listen to somebody,” she said. General Price added, “Women listen better, but they don’t always hear.” This prompted Cooper to note, “Men, we’re not picking on you. We’re building ourselves up.”

Molly Fletcher was introduced as the “female Jerry Maguire,” and at first we weren’t sure whether that was a reference to her professional or personal life—because she opened with anecdotes about breastfeeding twin babies—but soon enough it became clear she’s the business and “can do” side of Jerry. She founded and runs an Atlanta-based sports representation agency, MWF Enterprises. She used her involvement with pro athletes as the thread of an hourlong talk on how women can “unleash their potential,” which she broke down into five categories: belief, discovery, clarity, discipline, and execution.

Fletcher wanted her avid listeners to know that they should avoid negative people and surround themselves with those who “support the way you feel about yourself,” that they should “create a platform that reminds you how good you are,” that they need to “embrace change fearlessly and not be afraid of failure,” and that “vulnerability is courage. It allows you to grow.” She urged women to make a change if they feel stuck and to recognize their own complicity in whatever their situation may be. “If you are stuck, it is because it is serving you. Ask yourself, ‘What is at risk for me to make a change?’” While not saying whether they are her clients, she used NFL quarterback Tom Brady, NBA basketball player Kevin Durant, and college basketball coach Billy Donovan as examples of her message. “Be present in your lives,” she implored. “Be in the moment.”

The behind-the-scenes tour of Congressional included a golf cart ride around the grounds; a look inside the massive media center; a visit to the tribute wall of signatures saluting the military; a drop-by at the Grey Goose 19th Hole Lounge, where the women were offered a vodka, pineapple, and soda cocktail called the 19th Hole; a visit to the ShotLink trailer, where the minute data of the tournament is tracked and recorded by lasers and cameras; and a spin in the pro shop, with a 20 percent discount chit in hand. Everywhere outside there were golfers—some of them pros, in town early for a practice round, some of them participants in the mini Pro-Am. Women, too, because the two Pro-Am days include women in the play.

It’s notable, and possibly encouraging for Tiger Woods, that in a day of many question-and-answer sessions with the speakers and Woods Foundation executives and Congressional Country Club staff, not one woman brought up Woods’s personal life, which for a spell was way too colorful. In fact, there was only one question about Woods, which was asked in the ShotLink trailer and had to do with the basically mundane: how his ball drop at the Masters got measured. Were the women being polite? Likely not. The golf world, including women, has made peace with Tiger.