When asked what’s important to her these days, pro golfer Martha Nause of Inver Grove Heights thought for a moment and said, “balance”. She, of course, meant living a balanced life, but in the early 1990s, a disease that caused the loss of physical balance nearly ended her playing career.
On Monday, Nause will be playing 36 holes at the Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, Ill., trying to qualify for the Women’s U.S. Open, which will be held at Interlachen Country Club in Edina June 26-29. If she makes it in, it will be her first LPGA event since she retired nine years ago.
At 53, Nause knows her best playing days are behind her and that it will take two very good rounds to qualify. Her competitive spirit is as strong today as when she was playing the tour regularly from 1978 through 1999—but it’s different now. She says she enjoys competitive golf more now, because she doesn’t need to make a living at it. “When it’s your livelihood,” she says, “that’s a lot of stress”.
For most of her playing career, Nause lived a life that totally revolved around golf. “From the moment I woke up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep at night, my entire life was devoted to trying to be a better golfer,” she says. She won three tournaments during her career on the LPGA tour.
In July of 1992, she was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a debilitating disease of the inner ear, causing her to have a great deal of difficulty maintaining her balance. Doctors told her that she might never recover completely enough compete on the pro tour again. But she didn’t give up, fighting through many months of the disease to have the highest winnings of her career in 1994, capped off by a victory in the du Maurier Classic in Ottawa, Canada, one of the LPGA’s major tournaments.
After retiring from the tour, Nause was offered the job of coaching the men’s golf team at Macalester College in St. Paul. She worked hard the first year to change the culture of the team and produce some respectable showings in a tough golf conference. The next year the administration asked her to take on the women’s team as well. She blended the two programs and has brought them around to being competitive again. Nause says she enjoys teaching young players almost as much as she enjoyed her first career.
Interlachen Country Club, the host for this year’s Women’s U.S. Open, is best known as the site of Bobby Jones’ U.S. Open win during his “grand slam” of majors in 1930 and as the home course of Patty Berg, Minnesota golf legend and one of the founders of the LPGA. It was also the site of the Solheim Cup in 2002.
Nause knew Berg and enjoyed a friendly relationship with her. “My first putter that I purchased as a 10 year old was a Patty Berg putter, so I feel I have a long relationship with Patty,” she says.
Nause grew up in Sheboygan, Wis. Her parents were accomplished golfers and she was inspired by watching her mother compete in events. Nause attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and played on the college golf team. By graduation, she had her sights on the pro circuit, earning her tour card in her first attempt in 1978.
Nause looks forward to playing in front of a hometown crowd, surrounded by family and friends. She says she expects capacity crowds at Interlachen and thinks it’s important for Minnesota to continue to host major tournaments.
The du Maurier win exempts Nause from local qualifying for the U.S. Open and moves her to the sectional tournament at the Skokie Country Club. When she tees it up on Monday, she’ll be hoping to earn a ticket to Interlachen and revisit her past life, at least for a few days.
“I really want to make it,” she says, “but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world anymore.”
Her life seems to be in balance now.
Nause is one of eight Minnesota golfers among 90 trying to qualify in Glencoe, Ill., for 19 available slots in the Women’s U.S. Open. For more information, go here.
UPDATE: Martha Nause grabbed one of 19 berths available at the qualifier in Glencoe, Ill. Nause shot 152, three strokes behind the leaders.