Q&A: Former World Cup hero Brandi Chastain
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The amateur field at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is 156 deep. It is a list that features more than one billionaire, several musical superstars, a handful of actors, too many investment honchos to mention and a healthy number of lawyers.
But there’s only one player in the field who brought national pride to a fever pitch with an unforgettable soccer goal.
You remember the moment – a penalty-shot score that beat China for the gold medal in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. You also remember the reaction – Chastain ripping off her shirt to bare her black athletic bra and competitive fire.
Now 32, Chastain is retired from soccer, but still loves a competitive athletic challenge. Thus did she three years ago jump at the opportunity to play in this iconic PGA Tour tournament at Pebble Beach.
In 2009, Chastain played with Krik Triplett. A year ago her partner was Ricky Barnes. This year, PGA Tour veteran Billy Andrade will be alongside and Golfweek caught up with the soccer hero, and 15-handicap, for a few questions.
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Q: You played in front of 50,000 to 75,000 soccer fans, so what gets you nervous at this tournament?
A: It’s not the crowds. In soccer, I thought it was important to try and engage the crowds, though I could close down and focus, for instance, on penalty kicks. But golf is not my comfort zone, that’s what gets me nervous.
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Q: What is the toughest part of playing?
A: It’s tough to be on the range when the pros are smacking drives 300 yards to the back of the range, then I hit my 58-degree wedge a few feet and they’re all looking at me. You know they’re not, but you think they are.
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Q: And the best part of playing?
A: I’m amazed how the players practice and the conversations they have with their caddies. I’m fascinated by that part, the sports psychology part.
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Q: When you first got the invitation, was there any hestitation to play?
A: None. In fact, I jumped on it immediately and called (tournament chairman) Ollie Nutt to say I’d play because I didn’t want to miss out.
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Q: You’re from San Jose, so do you have a history with the tournament?
A: Our family would come down to watch. The grandfather I was closest to (Karl Lillge) would tell me about the lore of the tournament and we’d go down to the 18th fairway and eat strawberry shortcake. That’s why I wish he were alive to see me playing in this tournament.
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Q: Soccer was obviously your game, but how did you get into golf?
A: My grandfather would take me to the range when I was a little girl. He’d stand behind me and tell me things, keep my eye on the ball, how to hold the club, how to swing. Soccer then became my passion, but later, when we were in Florida training for the 1996 Olympics, me, Mia (Hamm) and Julie (Foudy) had free time and were looking for a way to be outside to keep active, but not tire our legs out. We played golf.
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Q: But from there, how’d you end up playing in the AT&T?
A: My husband (Jerry Smith) and I joined San Jose CC, then about 2 1/2 years ago I started to get invited to various tournaments – the Michael Jordan Tournament, Edgewood, Lake Tahoe . . . all wonderful events, so I said I should work on my game. Playing golf with my husband was a great way to spend time together.
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Q: This summer will mark the 12-year anniversary of your gold medal-winning penalty goal. Does it seem possible so much time has passed?
A: No. It’s like this giving birth to our son 4 1/2 years ago, but all of a sudden he’s 4 1/2 years ago. But I get asked all the time about the goal and I love that part of it because it keeps people talking about women’s game, where it is going and what chance does the game have.