Gabby Lemieux Has Native American Community at Her Back
The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic is rolling around again, and I followed several young golfers this week who are playing on a sponsor’s exemption. Alexa Pano will be there, and I seldom pass up an opportunity to write on her progress. This time, though, someone else with an interesting story caught my eye, Gabby Lemieux, likely the only Native American player currently on her tour.
I have written extensively on 19th century American history, in the west, but find that after all that research, I know nothing about the Native experience other than what they tell me, not at the gut level. It is impossible to step inside the cellular memory of another culture. That’s why we are given the gift of empathy, if we choose to use it. It creates a bridge that cannot be created any other way. So, I proceed both ignorantly and eagerly to applaud the appearance of another Native American golfer hoping to make her mark as a pro.
Lemieux, of the Shoshone-Paiute tribe, probably overcame a lot of “it isn’t done” while working her way through the competitive channels to reach the Symetra Tour. There are often barriers that have no business being there. Lemieux certainly has three things going for her in that department. These would be her community, former PGA player Notah Begay, and husband Jared, who serves as a regular caddie when he can.
Lemieux started out at the age of six with a weekly trip to the range and practice greens, and the passion set in. Suddenly, it was a lot of more often than once a week, and by her late teens, Lemieux was getting interest from a multitude of college programs with scholarships in hand. Describing her tastes as leaning toward a smaller town life, she chose Texas Tech over other schools such as Brigham Young and Texas Christian. Lubbock, it seems, fit her preferred environment better than anywhere else. During that period, she managed a Big 12 Player of the Year Award.
As the professional launching process runs it course, Lemieux is not standing still in terms of her community. One of her favorite new associations is with Moya Strategic Solutions, through which hopes to inspire young Native Americans to follow her lead by following what moves them. If it’s golf, great. If it’s another sport, also great. If it’s something else entirely, equally great. Lemieux is also on the Nike Roster, a pretty good sign if you’re working at becoming a professional golfer.
While golf in the west is going through obligatory changes in response to environmental issues and the modern cultural personality, it seems to be thriving in Native America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. The casino system has helped with attached courses, and tribal concern for the health of the planet is producing a fresh new look at the way the game is played. At courses such as White Horse and Salish Cliffs, golf coexists with fish hatcheries, and the Squaxin Island tribe has declared their course to be “salmon safe.” Not bad for an outfit with 2,000 employees. Interest in the game runs high in such locations, and perhaps this ‘fresh new look’ will help to create the ‘fresh new players’ we see in Gabby Lemieux.
So, about that cellular memory thing. I have no idea what Lemieux’s experience has been, whether she encountered special difficulties not usually experienced. But, I know that she’s here, and ready to play. She made it, and the future appears open for business. As the game grows greater with the participation of cultures around the world, I am encouraged to see more of this continent’s original culture succeed as well.