For Angela Stewart, golf was a last-resort sport.
“I got too old to play softball,” she said with a laugh.
Year after year, Stewart was a regular on the rec league ball fields of Greenville, N.C. When she tore her ACL at 38, it was time to leave the diamond life behind.
“That’s when I decided it was time to look for another sport to play in my older years,” she said.
Golf, it turns out, is her game.
Stewart won the North Carolina Women’s Senior Championship in April, becoming the first African-American to win a Carolinas Golf Association event. Her 76-75-151 at Pinewood Country Club in Asheboro was good enough for a one-stroke victory over defending champion Pat Brogden of Garner.
“I was not aware of it at the time,” Stewart said of her landmark win. “I was very surprised. I thought one of the amateurs or someone in junior golf would have won by now. I feel very honored. It’s nice to have a little bit of history that no one can ever take away.”
The event was a tight battle from the start. She played with Brogden both days, each shooting a 76 in the opening round. That was good for a three-way tie with New Bern’s Kim Briele. Stewart made a three-foot putt on the final hole to secure the one-stroke win.
It wasn’t so long ago that Stewart scoffed at golf. She began playing softball on the streets of Chicago and played three sports at the University of Chicago, adding volleyball and basketball.
“I had been very against playing golf growing up,” she said. “Golf came on TV, and it ruined everything. It was just chasing this little ball and I didn’t see any sense in it.”
That was before she made her way to North Carolina. After undergraduate school, Stewart earned a National Health Service Corps scholarship for medical school. When she learned she would be placed in an under-served area in the Southeast, she chose to do her residency at East Carolina University.
She began her medical career by opening a pediatric clinic in Hookerton, N.C., and later opened a private practice in Greenville. That’s where softball finally gave way to golf.
A college friend took her out to the driving range, promising to take the 40-year-old beginner on the course when should could hit a crisp shot seven out of 10 times. A few months later, Stewart was ready.
“I started shooting around 100,” she said. “You just take your natural abilities and play. But golf is the hardest sport I’ve ever tried. The short game is the hardest part. That’s the “feel” part of the game. You have to just let your body do it.”
Once she reached the green, however, life got easier.
“I’ve always been a good putter. That’s probably from being athletic and having good hand-eye coordination. I don’t spend a lot of time (over a putt). I don’t try to overthink it.”
Soon she felt comfortable playing in local events, often finishing in the top 10. About a decade ago, she began venturing out into regional events.
“It was a lot of fun. You go to great places and meet lots of great people. Soon it became a social vehicle for me — a stress reliever from work.”
Stewart had some success, too. In 2008, she teamed with Diane Lang — a three-time senior USGA champ — to win the Trans Senior Four Ball championship at Tubac Golf Resort in Arizona.
But it’s the recent Senior Championship that gives her the most satisfaction.
“Pat Brogden has been beating me day in and day out for years at all these events.” she joked. “I was just happy to get the win. It’s not so much beating Pat as finally being able to put together two solid rounds and win.”
Of course, she’s played well enough to win in smaller events. She has won the women’s club championship a couple times at her home course, Ironwood Golf and Country Club.
“It’s amazing what she has accomplished, considering that she took up golf so late,” says Ironwood head pro John LaMonica. “She’s very dedicated. The fact that she travels and plays in several events is probably what’s helped her become so good — plus her love of the game. She has a good basic swing and a great attitude.”
With her recent success, one might think she would be motivated to rule the North Carolina senior ranks. That’s not necessarily true.
“I enjoy the game. I want to play well,” Stewart said. “To me, it’s not necessarily about beating a person. I want to do well on that course.”
When it comes to winning, she saves that determination for the office.
“I am very competitive as a physician. I think I am very good at that, but I have to do well because the outcome is dependent on your ability.
“With the kids, I enjoy having a rapport with them. The child is the patient, so I ask them the questions. I try to empower them. I want them to take control of their bodies and their health care. They have to get on board.”
And after years of devoting her time to both golf and children, she sees the value of relating her two pursuits.
“I think it’s great to get kids involved in the game,” she says. “You can learn so many lessons, both about yourself, about other people — about how to deal with conflict, unfulfilled expectations. You learn about failure, and how to be a humble winner.”
Stewart will play at least 15 tournaments this year, half of them on the road. As a USGA committee member, she will help officiate the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championships at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon in late June. Of course, she will try to qualify for the event, too.
If she does make the field, she will be proud to enjoy another senior moment. The trick is to remember that it’s just a game.