TERRE HAUTE —
Shirley Langley had just visited her family in Terre Haute a few weeks earlier.
But when the Florida resident received a plea from her granddaughter, Alexandria Bryant, to help the 15-year-old prepare for the Terre Haute City Junior Golf Tournament this week — Langley couldn’t say no.
On Saturday, the 74-year-old Langley drove nonstop — about 14 hours — from Ormond Beach, Fla. Grandmother and granddaughter practiced Sunday at Rea Park and spent more time on the golf course Monday. The tournament started Tuesday.
“I wanted her to help me practice beforehand so I could at least try to win,” Bryant explained Wednesday.
Langley takes great pride in Bryant’s accomplishments, and the Terre Haute North Vigo junior looks up to her grandmother. The two share a love of golf and a talent for the sport.
Langley became the first African-American woman to win the Terre Haute Women’s City tournament, doing so in 1998. A trophy at the Rea Park clubhouse has her name inscribed on it. That moment was “unbelievable,” Langley recalls. She defeated eight-time winner Nancy Groth.
Bryant appears to be following in her grandmother’s footsteps. She is on the Terre Haute North Vigo High School girls’ golf team and lettered both her freshmen and sophomore years; she is the first African-American on the girls’ golf team there, according to Carolyn Roberts, the Vigo County School Corp. diversity consultant.
Bryant finished second in the girls junior city golf tournament last year in the age 13/14 division.
In asking her grandmother to be present for the tournament, Bryant said, “She helps me out all the time and motivates me to do better,” she said.
Her grandmother introduced her to golf by entering her in The First Tee program several years ago, when Bryant lived in Florida. “I’ve loved it ever since,” Bryant said.
Two years ago, Bryant, her brother, Aaron, and mom, LaDonna Bryant, moved to Terre Haute. “Alex” has been involved in golf and track, student organizations and she’s made top-notch grades.
“Gran,” as Bryant calls her grandmother, is a mentor and role model who has high expectations for her. “OK, Alex, how are those grades?” her grandmother will ask. “Who are we associating with? How is our attitude?”
Langley says seeing her granddaughter do so well “is wonderful. She’s very smart. I want her to accomplish. She has everything in the world laying out here in front of her. She can do it. All she has to do is keep her mind on it and do it.”
A Terre Haute native, Langley was a physical education teacher in Vigo County and later worked at Eli Lilly and Co. for 22 years before retiring to Florida. “I’ve always loved sports,” she said. As an adult, she played fast pitch softball for many years until a motorcycle accident forced her to give up that sport.
She then tried golf and “the bug hit me. … Whenever I go into something, I just — boom — I go at it all the way,” she said. “In Florida, I eat, sleep and pretty much golf.”
On Thursday morning, before the tournament play began, Bryant warmed up and practiced her golf strokes under her grandmother’s tutelage. “I was trying to get her to check her lineup and her stance,” Langley said. “Her drives were beautiful.”
She tells Alex to “remember to have fun. Don’t get down on yourself.” She also tells her: “Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Play the course like you know it needs to be played.”
Once play began, she could cheer her granddaughter on — but she couldn’t coach or offer advice. “Good luck, break a leg, as they say,” she told her granddaughter.
It’s tough to just sit back and watch, Langley said. “It’s nerve-wracking. … I feel her pain when things don’t go right, but I’m happy for her when it goes well.”
Bryant said her future goals include playing golf at the college level and possibly studying medicine. She’d like to attend Florida State University in Tallahassee — just a few hours from Langley.
Bryant’s strategy Thursday was to “stay calm, keep my head down and putt well.”
Langley’s mentoring and Bryant’s efforts were a winning combination — Bryant placed first in the 15 to 17 age group in the junior city tournament.
LaDonna Bryant, Langley’s daughter and Alexandria’s mother, said Langley “has always been supportive. It gives Alex that edge having that support here.”
LaDonna Bryant said her mother had her take golf lessons, too, “But I don’t love it as much as they do,” she said.
She joined her family to watch tournament play at Rea Park.
Abe Nasser Jr., North’s golf coach, said Alexandria Bryant is a talented golfer who has “tremendous potential.” He credits Langley with helping Bryant improve her game.
“I can see a huge improvement this year,” Nasser said. “I wish her grandmother was here every day.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com.