Hers is a story with much flavor and so many layers of humility and selflessness that you wonder where to begin.
The tie clip is as good as any starting point. It was awarded to her nearly 44 years ago and Sally Quinlan holds onto it as a reminder of how novel is her story. The tie clips were presented to members of the runner-up team (Dennis-Yarmouth) in the 1978 Massachusetts high school state golf championship, a competition that involved 71 boys and one girl.
The fact that that one girl, Quinlan, was as good as any of the boys – playing from the same tees, mind you – remains a timeless storyline easily embraced. “The tie clip reminds me how it was such an anomaly, so weird,” said Quinlan. She then laughed and added that D-Y won the state title the next year. “No tie clips for the winners.”
Her high school and amateur accolades – three straight wins in the Massachusetts Girls’ High School Invitational, a state junior title, the New England women’s amateur, 1983 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up, and four years at the University of Miami – carried her onto the LPGA where she won in her rookie year (1984).
Quinlan was checking all the boxes, because we love our athletes with polished resumes of achievement in the arena, do we not? Yes we do.
But what of those brothers and sisters who cherish the art of giving more than the act of taking, who strive to make a difference in others’ lives, who don’t judge success by material possessions but by the amount of peace in one’s heart? Do we not owe them our admiration? Yes we do, but we rarely pay off that debt.
Quinlan, a masterful giver, is a good place to start.
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As a reminder to what set in motion her eclectic, yet inspiring series of career moves, Quinlan talked about her decision to walk away from the LPGA before reaching the age of 30. In ’87 she had piled up $92,705, a personal best, and in ’88 there were five top 10s. She was a formidable competitor.
But in 1990, two tournaments into her seventh season, Quinlan was done. “I was really good at the sport, but I couldn’t grasp it. Who was I helping? Who was I serving?”
Who among us have the courage to ask such questions of ourselves? Quinlan not only did; she answered them by walking the walk. She helped, she served, she gave – and with a sense of symmetry that brings a smile to her face.
“My 20s were my pro golf days, my 30s were my volunteer days, my 40s my teaching golf days,” she said. In her 50s, she earned a second Masters to work as a speech therapist and now that Quinlan is 61, “I’m living in Florida, closer to family, just trying to avoid stress and have a calm life.”
Mister, her 4 ¼-pound Yorkie, is by her side constantly – a service dog, for sure – so different than all those years when Quinlan was in the role of comforter, mentor, helper.
Of the years she spent in Philadelphia working for the Siloam Ministries to counsel and work in wellness for the AIDS community, Quinlan once said: “I’ve always been drawn to the more marginalized population. A lot of things there fit for me.”
After getting sober at the age of 25, Quinlan pursued a Masters in criminal justice to become active in drug and alcohol counseling. “The correctional setting was the most helpful work I’ve done,” she said.
These were avenues far, far from pristine country club fairways and nowhere as financially rewarding as the LPGA. Yet, Quinlan was the real deal and remained so when she headed to Ventura County in Southern California. There, she returned to golf, first at Saticoy GC, then at Los Robles Greens GC, public facilities that catered to the type of golfer Quinlan was in her formative years when her family summered on Cape Cod.
“Twenty-five dollars, unlimited play (at Dennis Pines),” said Quinlan, the joy in her voice an unmistakable testament to the operation once run by the legendary Jim Knowles. “I’m a public course gal.”
There was a partnership with a First Tee chapter, an academy to introduce women to the game, and a Saturday morning program she called “Guppy Golf.” She is most proud of the work that was done on her watch and when she ventured into the Boys & Girls Clubs, Quinlan again met the “marginalized” and was inspired to direct herself into yet another cause: Speech therapy.
So much passion to give, and Quinlan offered a glimpse into what helped her change direction in her life. “I’ve been sober for 37 years and there’s nothing I’ve done that’s more important than that,” she said.
“I remember that after I got sober, I played better. Why? Because I had a better attitude.”
But even as the solid play continued, Quinlan was OK to walk away from the LPGA. Why? “What’s the saying, ‘Just because you can juggle, you don’t have to join the circus.’ ”
Don’t interpret her calling quits to pro golf as an indictment about the landscape; Quinlan cherishes everything she did in the game, still pays attention to the golf world, and wouldn’t change a thing.
In fact, when told that she would be part of the inaugural class of 10 inductees into the Dennis-Yarmouth HS Athletic Hall of Fame, “I was really flattered,” said Quinlan, who still talks fondly of Dennis Pines and its inclusive membership and for the camaraderie that revolved around golf on the Cape.
She said she knew it was time to pack it in as a competitive golfer when she’d think to herself, “you’ll still be a good person if you miss this.” Quinlan laughs, but the truth is, she stopped taking those putts seriously and guess what? Life has been lived on her terms, for the benefit of many.
“I’ve been a success at life. I think I’ve lived a meaningful life,” Quinlan said, when asked how she’d like the Hall of Fame attendees to measure her.
“I’ve helped people along the way. That’s my gig. There’s not one regret.”