Every golfer gets a glimpse of the zone. It may be only for a couple of holes or on special occasions, for an entire round. But for Cathy Sherk, the transcendental state of golfing grace lasted for more than two years.
For Sherk, who grew up in the Niagara region, the phenomenal run started in the summer of 1976. Unlike today’s teen queen golfers who are ready to turn pro before they are old enough to apply for a driver’s license, Cathy Sherk was a late bloomer and was 26 years old and the mother of a baby boy when she won the Ontario Amateur. The win though made the soft-spoken Sherk realize that she was in possession of a true "A" game. In 1977, she captured the Canadian Amateur crown by breaking the competitive course record in the final round. In that same season, she took future US Hall of Famer Beth Daniel to the 35th hole in the US Amateur final.
It was in 1978 though, when Sherk fully entered the zone. She kicked off the year by winning the prestigious North & South Championship, defeating future LPGA regular Laurie Rinker over the classic No. 2 course at Pinehurst. Next up was the Ontario Amateur at York Downs where she was facing her friend, mentor and nemesis Marlene Stewart Streit. Sherk ran away from the field and runner-up Streit, winning the title by a Tiger like 12 strokes.
The win over Marlene was a huge boost. Although diminutive, with her astounding winning record, Streit cast an especially long shadow. She and Sherk played out of the same club, Lookout Point and shared the same coach, Gord McInnis. In fact Sherk attributes her success to three main sources. The first was her relationship with Gord McInnis. “He was the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Sherk. The second was her friendly rivalry with Marlene Streit. “My ultimate goal was to beat Marlene. Everything fell into place after that happened.” The final ingredient was practice and then more practice. “There was a lot of hard work, but it was what I wanted to do, so it was fun,” she says.
About a month after the Ontario win, Sherk drove out to the Mactaquac Golf Club in Fredericton, New Brunswick to defend her Canadian Amateur title. Again she battled Streit and again was the winner, taking a five shot victory over her friend.
Almost as soon as she had posed for pictures and made her thank you’s, Sherk loaded up the car and made a round the clock drive southwest to the Sunnybrook Golf Club in Pennsylvania for the US Amateur. Brimming with confidence, Sherk was also determined to fulfill a promise she had made to herself the year before when she played and lost in the final to Rinker. “The trophy sat outside of the locker room and I became mesmerized by it, so when I went back to the US in 1978 for the tournament, I told it, ‘I think you better come home with me.’
The trophy listened and with Gord McInnis in the gallery, Sherk beat Curtis Cup member Judith Oliver 4&3 over the 36 hole final to win the coveted US Amateur title. (She and Marlene are still the only Canadians to have won this title.)
Sherk capped off the year by leading the Canadian team to a second place finish at the World Amateur Team Championship held in Fiji. The Canadian was obviously inspired by the exotic surroundings and beat Beth Daniel to shoot the low individual score at the Championship. Golf Digest tagged her as the game’s number one amateur player on the planet.
After her domination of the amateur world, Sherk turned pro in 1979 and spent a six year stint on the LPGA Tour where her best finish was second place to Donna Caponi in the 1983 WRAL Classic. In Canada, Sherk won the CPGA Championship in 1988, 1990 and 1991 and after playing very little competitive golf, she returned in 2000 at the age of 40 to win the Ontario PGA Ladies’ title. But for the last 30 years, Sherk’s real passion has been as a golf teacher, where she has gained acclaim, especially with younger players. In recognition of her success as a player and coach, in 1995 she was enshrined in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and in 2000, entered the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame.
With the kind of success she’s achieved, you would think that Cathy Sherk might have an ego the size of a Rory McIlroy European Tour appearance fee. However, even at the height of her game, swagger was never part of Sherk’s persona. She has always radiated an endearing, small town charm. Her strongest admonition is, ` O Godfrey’ and she doesn’t get rattled even when she sees students with Charles Barkley like hitches in their swings. Currently she is the Director of the highly acclaimed Skills Development Centre at the Black Bear Ridge Golf Club in Belleville, Ontario. Here Cathy Sherk helps students reach their own zone, one swing at a time.
More columns by Ian Cruickshank
Ian Cruickshank is a Toronto-based golf and travel writer who has been chasing the little white ball around the globe for the past 15 years.