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Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:03

Boomerang: Hittin' the Range with Gail Purdy-Brophy

SARATOGA SPRINGS – On a crisp, autumn morning surrounded by the meticulously-groomed landscaping at Saratoga National Golf Club, I watch as Gail Purdy-Brophy warms up on the driving range. She humbly mentions that she normally takes a couple dozen swings for her to warm up, adding that it takes a few more than it used to. You wouldn’t have guessed as much by watching. Each swing was consistent, making solid contact and sending it straight down the range about 200 yards from where we stood.

 

“Okay, I guess I’m ready to get serious now,” she said with a laugh.

To me, the extreme novice golfer, it was quite an impressive way to simply begin their day. To Gail, it was just another day on the range in a golf career that began before Title IX, and continues to prove that it’s never too late to pursue your passions.

“This summer I played quite a bit, I’d say I played in a tournament about every other week,” said Gail. “I played in both the New York State women’s and seniors’ amateur tournaments this year. I was quite proud of how I did in the women’s division. I’m 70 years old and I finished 17th overall in the state. I was out there playing against the college kids and the high school kids vying for scholarships.”

In high school Gail was a natural athlete, competing as a speed skater during the winters in her native Glens Falls. Golf, she said, was simply how she stayed in shape during the warmer months.

“That’s probably more than what most kids did at the time,” she said with a laugh.

The opportunity to play golf for a high school team would never materialize, as it was still illegal at the time for a girl to play on the boys’ team. Gail’s talent and desire to play inspired others to fight for gender equality in high school and collegiate sports, including long time Glens Falls High School coach and athletic director, Bernard “Putt” Lamay, citing her as a specific example while pushing for rules changes.

In 1961, Gail won her first New York State championship. She would return to defend her title, but came up short in 1962. Gail would then reclaim her top spot and win the tournament again in 1963. It seemed there was a bright future ahead of her, but as the saying goes, “life gets in the way of living.”

“In the fall of 1963 my father became very ill,” recalls Gail. “That’s when I quit college, I quit my sports and I returned home to tend to our family’s liquor store, which is where I’ve been ever since.”

Gail became the owner and operator of Purdy’s Discount Wine and Liquor, located at 70 Congress Place in Saratoga Springs.

“A few years later, I was married and had two children. They were both elite speed skaters, so I devoted a lot of my time to them. With the kids, my husband, and the store; there just wasn’t any time for golf,” recalls Gail.

Over the next 40 years, Gail says she didn’t have much time for the game, playing a round here or there along the way and occasionally hitting the driving range. She adds there was one particular stretch where she didn’t pick up a club for about 15 years.

“It was about 2006, after my husband had passed away, the kids were all grown up and my store was doing well, that I decided it was time to start paying attention to Gail again, so I joined Saratoga National.”

As could be expected, there have been quite a few significant changes in the golf world since 1963. While the courses themselves are much nicer and maintained better than in the past, Gail doesn’t hesitate for a moment before mentioning how much better the equipment has become.

“I remember the driver I used to win the 1963 state tournament had a club face roughly the size of a silver dollar,” recalls Gail. “I used men’s clubs, which were the best you could get at the time. When I came back to golf, my stepson and I went down to the driving range. The grips on my clubs were practically disintegrating. So when I brought them to be re-gripped, the man at the pro shop remarked about how small the sweet spot on the old clubs were. I told him they were the best you could get at the time! At that point, upgrading to newer equipment became practically psychological.”

Just one look inside her golf bag proves she’s not had any trouble embracing better golf technology. Along with a mammoth Callaway Razr driver, she carries two different hybrid clubs and a set of forged iron clubs.

If you think a return to golf means Gail’s slowing down, you are in for a surprise. Along with spending time with her four grandchildren, Gail regularly logs 50-hour work weeks at her store. If she’s not working, Gail can be found working out at the gym or at Saratoga National, where she estimates she hits about 200 balls a day at the range. She plays the course regularly, both with friends and by herself.

“I don’t get a lot of time to play, so when I come to the course, I like to play nine holes, but hit about three or four drives, then hitting those drives onto the green. By doing that, in a two-hour nine-hole round, I’ll really play closer to four rounds.”

After rolling with the punches back when she first left the game many years ago, Gail Purdy-Brophy is once again able to do what she loves.

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