WNBA star Tamika Catchings opens home to Mariah Stackhouse

Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

WNBA star Tamika Catchings opens home to Mariah Stackhouse

LPGA Tour

WNBA star Tamika Catchings opens home to Mariah Stackhouse

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The life of a professional golfer can be an solitary, isolating existence.

Staring down the green abyss of the course with just your thoughts and a few helpful tips from your caddie is the ultimate test of mental toughness.

Away from the course, life on the road can be equally lonely. There are no teammates to talk to and bond with after a tough 18 holes, and traveling from city to city for days at a time creates another set of challenges.

Luckily for LPGA pro Mariah Stackhouse, whenever she comes to Indianapolis to play in the IWiT Championship at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course, she’s the houseguest of a legendary Indiana sports figure — WNBA champion and vice president of basketball operations for the Indiana Fever Tamika Catchings.

“So she’s fun. She’s just warm and welcoming,” Stackhouse said of Catchings. “It’s so very cool to see how everyone is around her and responds to her. That’s a testament to how warm and kind she is as person.”

‘The perfect person’

The connection between the rising pro golfer from Riverdale, Georgia, and the greatest player in Fever history started with a phone call in 2017.

Staying in hotels for extended periods of time can be pricey, so LPGA tour pros are often housed with host families in tournament cities.

Catchings’ friend Jennifer Pope Baker, the Executive Director of Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, said she knew a golfer coming into town that she’d like Catchings to meet and consider hosting.

Tamika Catchings played for the Indiana Fever for 15 seasons, and led them to the 2012 WNBA championship. Photo: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports

Catchings’ warm and outgoing personality made her an ideal host, but she wanted to make sure her guest would get along with her and husband, Parnell Smith.

“My only stipulation, please make sure it’s somebody cool,” Catchings said to Pope Baker.

“I’ve got the perfect person,” responded Pope Baker.

A few days later Stackhouse arrived at Catchings’ house sparking a relationship that would grow into a true friendship.

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The two hit it off immediately, quickly learning they have similar outgoing personalities and a love for laughing and telling jokes.

“Staying with Tamika has been awesome,” Stackhouse said. “She’s definitely become like my big sis. We just have a good time.”

Stackhouse, 25, said she hasn’t played a true round of golf with Catchings yet, but as a natural athlete, she thinks Catchings would learn the game quickly.

“She’s got a swing on her,” Stackhouse said. When asked about her own jumpshot, Stackhouse described it as “horrible.”

An athlete’s bond

Stackhouse learned the game from her father, Ken, a recreational golfer. She’d tag along at their home course, the Golf Club of Georgia, eventually picking at the clubs at age two. By age six, Stackhouse won her first tournament and by 17, she became the youngest African American woman to earn a spot in the U.S. Open.

Three years later, Stackhouse became the first African American woman to make the Curtis Cup team, a prestigious team competition for amateur golfers.

Mariah Stackhouse tees off on the 12th hole during the first round of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open. Photo: John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Following in the footsteps of her childhood idol Tiger Woods, Stackhouse went on to play four years of golf at Stanford, helping the Cardinal win a national championship as a junior in 2015.

Catchings was a prodigy in her own right. She recorded the first-ever quintuple double as a teenager in Texas and developed into a high school All-American before winning a national championship with the University of Tennessee in 1998.

Catchings knows exactly what Stackhouse is going through when she arrives in Indy. She knows the importance of routine and what it takes for a high-level athlete to get mentally prepared to compete.

A true ambassador

Catchings and Stackhouse have shared plenty of stories about what it takes to be successful athletes, but for the most part, when Stackhouse is staying with Catchings they just talk about life.

For Stackhouse, the most valuable thing she’s learned from Catchings wasn’t something she said but something she watched her do.

Before bed, while Stackhouse and Smith are watching TV — Catchings isn’t a big TV watcher, she’s usually busy watching WNBA games — the 10-time WNBA All-Star breaks out her foam roller and rolls out on the floor. Rolling out her legs and back, staying loose and limber as if the recently-retired star is getting ready to take the court for the Fever again.

“She’s not playing anymore but that’s just a glimpse of what it takes to make it. To have the type of success that she’s had,” Stackhouse said.

“Seeing something like that is just as strong as words. That was an unspoken action but that was something that I saw and was like ‘wow. This is how you get to be a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time).'”

Stackhouse is one of five African American women ever to earn an LPGA tour card. Every time she takes the course she has a chance to make history, but she doesn’t view being one of the few women of color on the LPGA tour as additional pressure to perform. She wants to inspire the next generation of golfers the same way Tiger Woods inspired her.

At the age of 25, Stackhouse is already an ambassador for women’s golf. Women helping other women. It’s a role she takes pride in. It’s a role she embraces. And she’s had the perfect role model in Catchings to provide her with the blueprint.

“Tamika is not just a ambassador for women’s basketball, she’s an ambassador for women’s sports in general,” Stackhouse said. “She’s willing to get invested in someone else who’s still in their career. To befriend them but also offer some mentorship toward them.

“Also to say, ‘I know how it is on the road, it’s hard, so I’m going to offer you a home and a place to stay so that you feel at ease this week.’ Even being retired she’s helping out other athletes and that’s special, and awesome, and I appreciate her for that.”

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