THERE is a real genuineness in Jean Thomas’ voice when she talks about her 47-year love affair with golf.
“It started in July 1967,” the Redcliffe Golf Club stalwart said. “I was a 23-year-old school teacher when a staff member asked me if I wanted to join the golf club.
“I said I’d have a crack at it and was immediately hooked.”
It seems Jean, 70, was born to play the game.
She broke 100 in only her third round of golf and was given a handicap of 31. Within four months, she was down to 15 and by year’s end off 11.
Within a couple of years, Jean was off three and contesting club championships but had to wait until 1977 to claim her first of 13 titles.
She has lost count of the number of club championship matchplay finals she had lost, but knows it’s many more than she’s won.
“It’s been difficult to win because Redcliffe has always had a number of quality state team players like Simone Williams, Carmen Savy, Louise Foran, Netta McCullough, Lyn Garred and Kirsty Hogdkins,” Jean said.
“Young Kirsty, who I played in the final this year, is an up-and-coming player who could be anything,” said Jean, who reached the final despite recovering from a broken ankle.
“I was outclassed by Kirsty, who was two-under for the first 18 holes but I don’t mind because it’s good to see her produce such good scores.”
Jean last won the title in 2011 and hasn’t given up hope of winning a 14th title.
“It’s been a joy so far and there’s plenty more to come,” she said.
Still, Jean is happy to see young players excel and happily helps those who seek her advice … just as former state champion Joan Fletcher encouraged her when she was starting out.
“When I first started playing golf, I didn’t drive a car so Joan Fletcher used to come from Mt Gravatt, take me to Brisbane Golf Club for a game, drive me home and then drive home,” Jean said.
That’s a round trip of about 170 kilometres.
“She was just trying to encourage me and give me the experience of playing other courses. I thought that was marvellous.”
Of course, that encouragement and experience led to many more victories.
A good driver and top long-iron player, Jean has won three Queensland Foursomes titles, 15 mixed club foursomes titles and 25 women’s club foursomes titles.
“I love foursomes,” said Jean, who plays off six and has three career holes-in-one.
But the highlight of her career is undoubtedly the 1979 State Championship.
“I beat Judy Byrne in the final at Keperra and made myself unavailable for the State team due to work and having my young son to care for,” Jean said.
However, she did represent Queensland earlier.
In 1973, she caught the attention of state selectors after finishing runner-up in the State Championship.
They wanted her in the state team for the Interstate Series at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne.
“I was granted two weeks leave without pay,” Jean explained. “For me, golf was just getting better and better all the time because of the ride I was on. At the time I thought, ‘how good is this’.”
Later, Jean served on the QLGU committee as junior development co-ordinator for four years and was a state selector for six years.
That was around the time Karrie Webb and Rachel Hetherington arrived on the scene.
In fact, Jean would meet the Greyhound bus carrying Karrie from Ayr in north Queensland.
“I’d meet the bus, pick up Karrie and she’d stay at my place and I’d take her to where she had to go to play and practice.”
These days Jean assists with Redcliffe’s thriving junior program.
“I help the kids with their swing, show them the proper grip and make sure they are enjoying the game.”
No one will ever know how many juniors Jean encouraged to play the game over the past 47 years.
“Because I was teaching I used to bring the schoolkids to the club for sports afternoon on a Friday,” she said.
“But when I was coming up to play in the State Championship or preparing to go away with the state team, I would say to the kids just before lunch ‘who wants to come and fox golf balls’?
“I’d have three boys that would say ‘yes Miss’ and I’d stick them in the back of the car with a couple of buckets of golf balls and head for the course.
“I’d hit the balls, they would pick them up, put them back in the buckets, back in the car and go back to school. That was our lunch break.
“The kids loved it, but you couldn’t do that today.”
Throughout her long and distinguished career, Jean has never tired of playing the game.
“I just love golf, the camaraderie and the challenge. With golf, every day is a different challenge.
“To me golf is a way of life … and it’s a game for life.”