In this space, we regularly discuss the fairway feats of the famous, from media stars to pro athletes. For this final column of 2014, we focus on a golfer who truly embodies the moniker hero.
For more than 33 years, Ken Bourassa served the people of Methuen, MA as a member of the city’s fire department. These days, hoses and ladders have been replaced by clubs and tees. The 63 year-old Bourassa is the head golf coach at Windham (NH) High School. His love of the game took root more than a decade ago.
“The guys at the fire station got me into it and I loved it,” explains Bourassa, who served as Methuen’s Fire Chief from 1995 until his retirement in 2005. “I’ve studied the game and hit about a million balls. My handicap is about a 10. If I break 80, I am playing well.”
Bourassa is a certified teaching pro, having passed a rigorous Professional Golf Teachers Association of America (PGTAA) course. He relates, “There were over 100 essay questions for the course. In addition, you had to shoot two supervised rounds of 82 or better.”
Armed with his PGTAA certificate, Bourassa began teaching a summer youth golf program at Methuen’s Hickory Hill Golf Course. Fully bitten by the coaching bug, Bourassa was in the right place at the right time when Windham High School called in 2011.
He explains, “Athletic director Bill Raycraft sent an email to everyone in the school system. My daughter was a special needs teacher at Windham, and she saw a second email from Raycraft. I said I’d love to do it.”
Simple as that, a firefighting lifer traded in his helmet and boots for a Windham Jaguars golf shirt and khakis. “Normally, there are 20-24 kids on a high school golf team. We only had 14 kids try out that first year, so we kept everyone. Some were very good and others had never even played golf.”
Golf is not only about skill, but also about socializing. Says Bourassa, “They make new friends and help each other with their games. I spend extra time teaching them balance and how to loosen their grips on the clubs. They have all improved so much.”
That improvement is a direct result of Bourassa’s rigorous practice schedule. He explains, “We practice as often as we can, working on chipping, putting and any other weaknesses.
“Learning how to read a putt uphill versus downhill, and not going for the home run on every swing are important. Most golfers have a hard time 40-60 yards from the green. Getting the feel of it is a key.”
For a hopeful high school competitor, golf can be an exercise in frustration. Coach Bourassa relates an anecdote. “I had a freshman who hit every ball right down the middle at the driving range. I’m not sure he even knew how well he was doing.
“When I played him in a varsity match, his first two holes were horrendous. I felt so bad for the kid. He was in tears. ‘Coach, I’m awful. I’m not a golfer,’ he told me. I told him to just loosen his grip, stop gritting his teeth, and have fun. From the fourth hole on, he shot either par or single bogie. He just needed to relax.”
After more than three decades protecting the lives of others, Bourassa is no stranger to leadership, but he is pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of his latest charges. “I think I enjoy coaching even more than they enjoy playing. They have such great demeanors. They are like sponges. They want to learn everything about the game.”
John Molori is the co-author of “The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players.” Like him on Facebook at John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email firstname.lastname@example.orgWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?