Comfortable in elite senior competition
PRATTVILLE – Linda Jeffery is at ease whether it’s in the course of her duties as an instructor in the U.S. Air Force Reserve or standing on the first tee trying to qualify for the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
Jeffery, who plays at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Capitol Hill, has been playing good golf for a long time, dating back to high school. Although well known for her play in Alabama, Jeffery, 50, burst onto the national scene this past summer when she qualified for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship on her first try and then made it all the way to the semifinals before bowing out.
Along the way, she knocked off a couple of the game’s heavyweights – former Alabama resident and close friend Kathy Hartwiger and Tennessee’s Sarah Ingram, a two-time U.S. Curtis Cup captain. By reaching the semifinals, Jeffery earned a berth in the 2024 U.S. Senior Women’s Am.
A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Jeffery took a roundabout way to get from Texas to Alabama, with stops in North Dakota, Colorado, Oregon and Virginia along the way. She currently works at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery where she is an instructor at Squadron Officer School. It’s the third time she and her husband have been stationed in Alabama, and says it also will be their last stop.
Although she had contemplated a military career, it wasn’t until Jeffery met her future husband, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, that she decided to leave coaching and teaching behind and follow his career path.
“Eventually I decided to get my Master’s degree and went through ROTC. I got my commission and was on active duty for a few years,” Jeffery said. “And then the Air Force and the magic that it does, decided to move my husband to Virginia and I wasn’t getting an assignment to join him. I was pregnant with twins and I wasn’t going to do two years and two babies by myself, so I got out and went into the reserve.”
Through all of the stops and raising twins, Jeffery never lost her love for golf and her thirst to compete. But it wasn’t until her children started school when her competitive juices began to flow again. She played in numerous military tournaments and, at the urging of a friend, Ann Walton, began playing in USGA qualifiers.
“She was like, you need to do this,” Jeffery recalled. “I didn’t think I was good enough for that. I tried when I was a kid and after college a little bit. I didn’t pick the easy ones and was not good enough. But she told me I needed to go try.”
Her first shot at qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am came in Savannah, Georgia, in 2010.
“Lo and behold, I qualified. From then on it was like I can do this,” Jeffery said.
Linda Jeffery got a late start in golf
Jeffery didn’t begin playing golf until she was 14 years old.
“Nobody in my family played,” she said. “I played softball and soccer and some basketball. But when I got to high school we didn’t have soccer or softball for the girls and I wanted to do something. A friend from church played and I thought that was pretty good. I had an aunt who showed me a few things when I was 13, but I didn’t start playing until I was 14. I was not very good at the start, but by my sophomore year I actually knew what I was doing.”
Jeffery continued to progress and after a stint at Texas Tech, she ended up playing at Hardin-Simmons, a small Texas college that competed in NAIA and NCAA Division II/III.
“I didn’t make the travel team at Texas Tech and I wanted to play, not just be on the team,” she said. “In my three years at Hardin-Simmons, I ended up playing in five national championships. That was kind of fun.”
Jeffery’s best finish in the national championships was third and she also was a part of Hardin-Simmons national team title.
“So, I’ve got that going for me,” she said. “I’ve got the ring and everything.”
Jeffery will top out in the reserve with the lieutenant colonel rank by her own choice. She could have kept rising in rank, but opted out so that she could devote more time to playing.
“Part of it was because I knew I was hitting the senior time,” she said. “We only have so many years that you’re kind of young as a senior, and if you take a command, there’s just a lot less flexibility in scheduling. Knowing I wanted to be competitive and make a lot of tournaments, I just need a little bit more flexibility.”
Shining at the Senior Women’s Am
Ahead of her summer schedule, Linda Jeffery worked with Jeremy Gilbert of SQDx Golf Academy in Prattville to improve her short game and putting. Part of the short game improvement came from simply trusting her swing – playing more flop shots with confidence out of Capitol Hill’s gnarly Bermuda grass rough. Jeffery said her putting improved simply by establishing a routine and sticking with it. In a matter of just three days, Jeffery qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Am and then the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur, which was scheduled for Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Arizona.
In the lead-up to the Senior Am, Jeffery played in two military tournaments and arrived at Troon Country Club confident in her game.
“I just played a lot of golf and I knew pretty well where my game was to some degree, but I was playing against kids,” she said. “So I showed up at Troon on a Wednesday. We didn’t get to play a practice round until Thursday, but I think I liked desert golf, felt really comfortable on the range and funny, and when I played the practice round, I really felt the only time I felt this way, but I was like, I could win this thing. That’s how I felt. I was really kind of in a good groove.”
In the first round of the 36-hole qualifier to pare the field down to 64 for match play, Jeffery drew on her experience from playing in the west Texas wind. Playing in the afternoon draw and with wind whipping with 30 miles per hour gusts, Jeffery managed a nifty 78. One of her playing partners shot 79 – two scores of which they were extremely proud. Jeffery shot another 78 in the second round to easily qualify for match play.
On facing off against friend Kathy Hartwiger
She sailed through her first two matches before drawing her longtime friend Hartwiger in the Round of 16. How close are the two: Jeffery was a guest at Hartwiger’s house in Pinehurst, North Carolina, during the North-South Women’s Senior.
“For 13 years, I don’t think I have played much better than her on any occasion,” Jeffery said.
This time, Jeffery prevailed 2&1.
“So, that one was definitely an emotional victory and win and everything,” Jeffery said. “I’ve always looked up to her, not idolized necessarily, but she has always been a model golfer, a model person. I have a lot of admiration for her as a person, not just her golf game. She’s everything I always would love to be.”
Jeffery knocked off Ingram 2&1 in the quarterfinals before falling 2&1 to Brenda Corrie Kuehn in the semifinals. As a semifinalist, Jeffery secured her spot in the 2024 field.
She said she’s comfortable playing on that level, in part because she’s competed against many of the top players for the past 10 years in other USGA events. Can she take it a little further next year?
“I’m hoping to not put too much pressure on myself,” she said. “I’ve never seen that work out to a great effect.”
Now in the off-season, you can catch Linda Jeffery at the Capitol Hill – she’ll be the lady with the sweet swing usually walking on the Legislator course.
Photos courtesy of the Alabama Golf Association