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CCRI golfer is first woman to compete at nationals
July 11, 2013
Gina Bartolotta’s teammates on the CCRI golf team may consider her to be just one of the guys, but it’s more true to say that she is, in fact, a category of one. Bartolotta, who helped the Knights place 11th at the NJCAA Division III Golf National Championship, was more than just another elite golfer on the greens that day.
“I found out after we’d got there that I was the first woman to ever play in the tournament since it began in 1990,” she said, recalling the surprise she felt upon hearing the news. “I knew I’d be the only woman golfer playing, but I didn’t know that I was the first one.”
Bartolotta took the news in stride, shooting a three-day total of 277 and finishing out the tournament in the 83rd place. She admitted to feeling a little pressure—“when you’re the only girl, it feels a little like you have to prove yourself”—but tamped that down using her characteristic calm. “When it comes down to it, it’s just you and the course,” she said.
Although she’s only 18, the Wakefield native has had a lot of practice, both with the courses themselves and mastering the psychology of the game. Her father, who picked up the sport as a hobby late in life, started her at the age of 11. Since then, Bartolotta hasn’t looked back, devoting her athletic career along with much of her spare time—not that she has too much of that these days, she said—to the game. A standout at South Kingstown High School, Bartolotta collected several feathers in her cap, among them the bragging rights that come with making First Team All-State three out of her four years.
Coach Brian Deighan said that it’s a bit of a coup for a two-year college like CCRI to get a player of Bartolotta’s caliber on its roster. She was introduced to him through 2013 co-captain Anthony Lovechio, another South Kingstown grad. “At her level, she could easily play on a women’s team at a four-year school,” he said.
But Bartolotta said she knew fairly quickly that CCRI would be her next step after high school. She felt that she wanted more time to mature academically and socially, in addition to wanting to develop her golf skills on a smaller team. There was an added bonus to the decision, too: she got to have two more years in close proximity to her family, including her younger sister, who also golfs for South Kingstown. “We’re best friends,” she said, adding that when Bartolotta graduates from CCRI, she and her sister hope to play golf at either the same school or a school near one another, potentially in the south, where there are several strong programs.
Bartolotta’s father started the two playing golf at the same time, and although she demurs when asked who’s the better golfer—“It depends on the day,” she said with a laugh—you can sense that the two keep each other on their game. Eventually, she said, they hope to start a business together, potentially in retail. To that end, Bartolotta hopes to major in business or accounting when she does reach her bachelor degree-granting destination. “I’m a very organized person, so I love numbers and accounting,” she said.
When Bartolotta makes it to the next level, she will have to transition from being the only female player on a coed squad to an all-women’s team. She said that this will be a big change for her, but one she looks forward to. Deighan noted that Bartolotta’s preparation thus far, which often has her teeing off from longer distances than women typically play from, could give her a leg up on her competition. “The first time I ever saw her hit a golf ball, I couldn’t believe she could generate that much power,” said Deighan, who added that the primary difference between male and female golfers is the physicality and strength required to drive from the farther tees.
Other than stretching her drives, Bartolotta said that spending her life playing alongside men is that it’s made her more competitive. “Men just see the game in a different way. Just the fact that they can swing harder, drive longer. It makes them more competitive and challenging, and it’s brought out my competitive side,” she said.
Bartolotta knows that she’s a role model for other young women who aspire to walk the fairways someday, and hopes to offer them the same support she’s enjoyed throughout her life. Although she admitted that it can be challenging, at times, to be the lone woman on the team, she said that “I’ve been fortunate because the team accepted me right away and respects me, too.”
Bartolotta said that while she hasn’t heard specific stories of other female players failing to find that acceptance, she understands the reality that “there are always going to be guys that don’t feel like women have the right to compete with them,” she said. “But it’s just something you have to deal with and push through. It only makes us want to fight more.”
Another side effect of her involvement with the CCRI team is that Bartolotta has felt herself open up more and become more outgoing. She described the team as a family from the first moment she joined them, remarking that they were brought even closer together by the loss of Assistant Coach Paul Andrade, as well as Deighan’s battle with cancer. “Players like Gina are my reward for fighting so hard; they really are what keep me going,” said Deighan, who is now in his sixth year of defying a terminal cancer diagnosis.
“He’s absolutely an inspiration,” Bartolotta said of her coach. Other than Deighan, Bartolotta credits her father and the many female players she encounters at the Potowomut Golf Club, where she works in the summers, with driving her to succeed and improve.
Deighan described Bartolotta as a “tenacious” player who, though not a sore loser, can’t wait to get back out on the greens again if she feels she’s fallen short. “She has a real drive to get better every day,” he said.
Bartolotta said that she tries to get as many rounds in as possible during practice—while other players may spend more time driving or working on their short game, she takes a holistic approach to the work. This gives her a better appreciation of the myriad factors that can affect one’s game—wind conditions, weather, diversity of courses, and so on. While she doesn’t have a pre-match routine, per se, she did note that she tries to approach each round with a sense of relaxation and calm, just as she does in practice. It’s not hard to imagine the unflappable 18-year-old standout feeling at home no matter what the conditions; she has, after all, trained for nearly half her life.