UCR Women’s Golf Coach Mary Ritchie played a lot of sports growing up in the Montreal area. When the days grew shorter and the roads were slick with snow, she went downhill skiing, and played basketball and badminton indoors. In the warmth of spring and summer, she took on soccer, rugby, and field hockey. But it wasn’t until she was 14 that Ritchie picked up a golf club, and after playing nine holes, she was smitten. “I’m a hands-on kind of person, and from the first time I played golf I felt an instant connection to the sport. There are so many different things you have to get right to pull off a good shot, and I embraced the challenge early on.”
After high school, Ritchie was recruited by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where she found herself on a team that had five coaches in four years. Receiving significant guidance was a challenge, but Ritchie believes it fully shaped the kind of player and coach she became. “I’m a voracious learner, and in college I was eager to improve my mental game the most. Because of the revolving door of coaches I had in college, I became a sponge, picking up information from different sources, and putting it together myself.”
Immediately after graduating, Ritchie began her collegiate coaching career at UAB. There for three years, she then set her sights on playing professionally on the Canadian Tour, and the LPGA Futures Golf Tour while attempting to qualify for the LPGA Tour. Though she enjoyed the experience of competing as a professional, she found herself drawn more to teaching and coaching, so she became a member of the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Division. Her other projects were always connected to golf; she was a photographer on the LPGA Tour, a tech expert, and seminar presenter on incorporating technology in golf coaching and player development. Her interest in coaching remained a captivating force.
Because of the revolving door of coaches I had in college, I became a sponge, picking up information from different sources, and putting it together myself.
While she was the director of instruction at Moreno Valley Ranch Golf Club, one of the courses used by the UCR golf teams, a friend and UCR employee approached her about the opening for head coach of the women’s golf team. Ritchie was intrigued and decided to interview. And so in July 2014 she became the first full-time women’s golf coach in the 14-year history of the program. After meeting her student-athletes, she began to crunch the numbers on what it would take to improve the team’s national ranking.
Once the school year started, Ritchie realized that each player’s needs were unique, and that her role was to tailor the program to make sure each player could improve her competitive strategy and scoring. And it worked. In her first year, Ritchie took the team from 128th in the country to 76th. The team won three tournaments and had a player advance to the NCAA Regional tournament (a first for the team). Major accomplishments followed. The team set new scoring records, and added an additional three team titles in the 2015–16 season, including the Big West Conference Championship. They also advanced as a team to NCAA postseason competition. Ritchie believes the team is raising the bar every year, and she anticipates more records will be broken.
On an early October morning, Ritchie picked up the phone to hear LPGA National President Deb Vangellow tell her that she had won the 2016 LPGA National Coach of the Year Award. She was elated. “To be selected from a group of people who are on the cutting edge of the golf profession is an enormous honor. Particularly given the year we had here at UCR — it’s a great feeling of momentum.”
Working with student athletes has become the cornerstone of Ritchie’s life, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “The women I work with are coming into who they are [while] I’m coaching them. Golf is a microcosm for life, so it’s amazing to see how much my players bring to their game each and every day as they grow and change. It’s a real privilege and honor to be part of such a special time in their lives.”