World’s Fastest Golfer
Carmelita Jeter is known as many things – sprinter, Olympian, gold medal winner, world’s fastest woman and breast cancer activist among them. Golfer was never on her to-do list.
But when Jeter’s agent, Chris Layne, told her about an email he received with an invitation asking her to participate in a charity golf tournament, it became an instant challenge to become a golfer, too. Never mind that the tournament was the following week.
“I’d never played golf, but I thought before you tell them no, how about we see how it goes?” Jeter said. “I didn’t want to fill a spot for someone who could actually play. So he called them to tell them I’m not that great and if someone else wants the spot I’ll decline. The guys said they wanted me there. So I said I better go hit some balls and learn how to play golf in five days.”
And so, Jeter did just that.
Naturally, she turned to her fellow track star and training partner Willie Gault, who she knew played golf. He gave her a three-hour lesson.
“He’s trying to teach me how to hit and putt, but I run track and with everything I’m doing, I think ‘I’m going to crush this,’” Jeter said with a laugh. “He told me, ‘in this sport, I need you to be a little more soft and gracefully hit the ball.’ He kept shaking his head.”
Jeter’s preparation also included turning to her team and finding a cute golf outfit and golf clubs to use. The 37-year-old Jeter is a world-class athlete. She won three medals in the 2012 Olympics, including a gold in the 400-meter relay. She ran a 10.64 in the 100 meters in the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix in 2009 to earn the distinction as the world’s fastest woman. She’d run the second-fastest 100 meters in history after Florence Griffith-Joyner.
But playing golf for the first time on a course made the usually confident Jeter a little apprehensive. She flew to New York for the White Plains Hospital & Mariano Rivera Celebrity Golf Tournament at Winged Foot, a course that played host to the U.S. Open. Talk about a challenge.
“I was very intimidated at first,” said Jeter, who was born in Los Angeles and graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills. “I was playing with people who knew how to play. If I was on the track and someone got on the track and didn’t know the rules, I would’ve been annoyed and irritated. I didn’t want to ruin their day. I was listening and paying attention. But they showed me how to do things and they were helpful and made everything comfortable. I was playing and jaw jacking a little more. One of the guys didn’t hit it far once and I said, ‘at least I hit it farther than you.’ The rest of the day was great.”
Jeter has embraced learning the intricacies of the golf swing and now takes lessons. It’s a nice break from her track workouts, but she’s found similarities in the sports.
“I think the No. 1 thing track and golf have in common is strategy,” Jeter said. “They’re strategic sports where you have to think. People think that when you’re on the line you just run. In the first round (at a track meet), you want to get out good so you can set up for the semifinals and the finals. In golf, you can hit the ball soft or hard. In a track meet you might need to run hard or if you have the opportunity to cruise that day, you can cruise.”
Jeter does so many things fast, and her livelihood depends on it. But golf can be a slow lesson in patience, especially on crowded courses or charity events where you spend a lot of time waiting for groups on the tee in six-hour rounds.
“I was bored out of my mind at first,” Jeter said. “But I didn’t understand the sport. I want to do everything fast. In track and field, you have a time limit. In golf, there’s no schedule. You’re just hoping to finish before the sun goes down. Once I started to enjoy it, the time didn’t faze me anymore.”
“In track and field, you’re not talking to your competitors. You’re not laughing and joking. Once I accepted that, I thought, ‘OK, golf is a sport where I can befriend these guys and still have a great game.’ In track, if you’re too nice to someone that means you’re soft.”
Now, Jeter has the golf bug. And it all started with an email about a charity tournament she didn’t disregard. She’s also intent on getting more women involved in the game since she noticed there were precious few females in that charity tournament.
“I was thinking, where are the women? There weren’t a lot of us,” Jeter said. “I was like, ‘oh OK! We need to start getting more women in these events.’ I’m sure there’s a lot of others who would like to play.”