LeslieÂ Bender has been around golf for most of her life. Growing up, she experienced not the green of a tree house but rather of the golf course. Her father, Moe Demling, who has been a PGA Club Professional, kept her around the course, where she was able to see other professionals practice and play.
â€œAt a young age, I learned not just the competing of golf but the lifelong game of golf,â€ she says. â€œIt was something that was always a part of our lives. I am very fortunate I have that because I donâ€™t just look at it as a game but as an opportunity for careers and everything in life.â€
As she grew older, she played golf at Assumption High School. She then went on to Vanderbilt University, where she walked on and played golf all four years. During this chapter of golf, she claims that she didnâ€™t have a competitive edge for the game. â€œI never took it real seriously. I always loved it, and I got into teaching the game when I was in college. I started to teach juniors and found out that was where my passion was â€“ in junior golf.â€
Now, as the golf coach at Sacred Heart Academy, she expresses how this chapter of golf is most meaningful to her. â€œMy ultimate goal is for as many girls as possible to be able to use the game to better themselves, whether that isÂ helping them get to the college they want or help them get the job they want. Or maybe just later on to go out with their family and be with their kids. If they quit playing the game, I feel I failed as a coach. If they keep playing, I feel I have done my job.â€
Her job duties have been fulfilled as a coach thus far. Sacred Heart has been state champions in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. This year, she led the team to a sixth place finish in the 2015 Leachman/KHSAA Girls State Golf Championship.
But itâ€™s not state championships that bring the greatest joys of coaching for Bender. Rather, â€œWhen I have a girl who comes in as a freshman and she leaves as a senior and plays college golf â€“ that is the greatest joy for me,â€ she says. â€œYou see how hard they work for four years and how they improve and how the sport has given back to them. It is my most favorite time, when they leave with state championships and college offers. There is nothing better than that feeling.â€
Minus the competition and minus players going on to play in college, at the end of the day, Bender as a coach has been able to use golf to impact her playersâ€™ everyday life. â€œGolf shows your character on the golf course,â€ she asserts. â€œYou are going to be challenged, and you are going to face difficulties and be able to deal with success and failure. I think I try to instill in the girls that they can do that, and every time they go out there, they are going to have obstacles. It teaches the importance of preparation. When you are prepared and can face them, you can accept whatever happens. That is a good life lesson for them.â€
When Bender arrived as head coach of the golf program, she had only six girls on the team. She realized that golf for some may not be the most thrilling sport. So to expand the program, she incorporated a â€œfunâ€ aspect to the game. As a result, the program expanded, and now 12 to 14 girls are on the team every year.
â€œWe try to make it fun for the girls, and golf is very lonely when you are on the golf course,â€ she describes. â€œYou donâ€™t get to talk to anyone, and it is different and quiet. So when we practice, we try to bring music out. We do drills and contests. I try to get them excited and show that there is a team element to it. As we started to be successful, other people in the school began see that and wanted to be a part of that.â€
Moving forward, Bender feels good about her coaching duties and the future of Sacred Heart golf. â€œI think they will be successful for quite a while, and we will be contending. That is my goal for them: to play the best they can play. As long as they are playing well and feeling good about it, thatâ€™s what I want.â€ VT