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Former Buc athletic standout

Passion for golf helps King chart course to steady improvement

Appleton Village School teacher stays physically active in variety of ways, but has special place in heart for teeing it up
By Ken Waltz | Sep 10, 2020
Photo by: Ken Waltz Tammy King practices blasting out of the sand.

Thomaston — As one of the most dedicated and talented three-sport athletes in George Valley High School history, Tamara (Tammy) Stinson King forged incredible individual and team success in field hockey, basketball and track and field.

King continued that athletic prowess in college and into adulthood her drive to stay physically active and fit through a variety of methods, from running to biking to hiking and downhill skiing, kept her focused, in good health and enjoying life to its fullest.

Well, with a personality always willing to try new things and accept mental or athletic challenges, at about age 40, King, naturally, jumped head first into a new activity — namely, golf.

And from that first swing, like so many, she was hooked. And when King becomes hooked on something — meaning focused and sees a positive, achievable outcome — she cannot be stopped.

With a competitive spirit and athletic chops to pull it off, she sought to become the best golfer she could as quickly as possible. And her level of course prowess has become pretty darn good pretty darn fast.

She has worked hard to become one of the Midcoast's most consistent and overall skilled golfers.

That has been evident in her success in Rockland Golf Club tournaments — she has been the club's women's champion in the past — and the fact she often can be seen walking the course as she hones her impressive drives, iron play, chips and putts.

But how did the 50-year-old Thomaston resident, a high school All-State field hockey player and state champion track-and-field athlete, go from a golf newbie to one of the most consistent players — male or female — at her club?

Teacher becomes student of game

The Appleton Village School teacher, now in her 25th year in education after a brief career in business and finance, was bitten by the golf bug about 10 years ago and simply loves all aspects of the sport, from striving to improve to being her best round to round to making new golf buddies.

King, who also coaches middle school cross country and skiing, always had wanted to play golf, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was her love of the outdoors and being physically active with a keen eye on fitness and mental health.

"I had seen some gorgeous golf courses and I was thrilled at the thought of playing them some day," she said. "I also knew that golf was a lifelong sport. This was appealing. I just had this feeling that I would like it. So about nine or 10 years ago, my sons got me a gift certificate for the ladies clinic at Rockland Golf Club for Mother's Day. I think it was for three or four sessions and it was a great opportunity to get started.

"After that, I just started playing. I did not play very often and I recall getting between eight and 11 on most holes. The next year I became a member and played sometimes with my son, Andrew. Oftentimes, I would play by myself until it was time to pick one of my sons up at practice or some other school event. Some days I would just have time for five holes. My handicap started to drop when I began to make time for 18 holes. I started to get into a bit of a rhythm. There is always a lot of room to make a mistake in golf, but there is always the chance to hit the next shot really well. I liked that."

The 5-foot 8-inch King discovered golf is something one can do solo or with others, each being fun, rewarding experiences.

"I like both," she said. "There is always an opportunity to improve as well as an opportunity to be humbled. I love walking the course. I never tire of it, it seems. Playing new courses is a thrill for me. To be honest, I have not played a lot of different courses so each summer I try to play a new one. This year I played Boothbay Country Club. My favorite aspects of the sport: Approaching the green and picking an iron. It is never the same. Closer, further away, wet, dry, into the wind, wind behind me ... it's all about feel. It's not as easy as ... 'Okay, I am at the 100-yard marker, I will hit an 8 iron.' "

Like all golfers, King said she continues to work on all aspects of the game as perfection is unattainable — most of the time — for even the best professionals.

But she continues to strive to improve the larger and smaller aspects of the game.

"I would like to get really good at five-foot putts," she said.

King said she broke 80 for 18 holes — she shot 79 — last summer. "What a thrill. I got my first eagle this season. I was playing with my mom and a friend of hers so this made it really special. I have been the club champion a few times. When I did not win, I always felt that I took something away from it that would help me improve my overall game."

More tourneys in future?

Due to her busy work and personal schedules, King does not play many local or state tournaments.

"I haven't really had the time to devote to tournaments in the past," she said. "I bet it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the game of golf. I enjoy playing for fun. I do try to do my best and I find that if I keep score it makes a difference. If I just go out and play, I don't approach each shot the same and I don't look at the entire hole and how it will play."

Drawing from her high school basketball foul-shooting routine or a track-and-field high-jump approach, King has developed a unique, deliberate and effective pre-shot routine. She stands behind the ball, lifts her club parallel with the ground, looks at her target, approaches the ball, stands next to it, makes a deep knee bend to engage her entire body in the upcoming shot, rises up and usually hits the ball solidly down the fairway or to the green.

"I don't really have a golf style, that I know of," she said. "I know that I have a routine, but I never analyzed what it is or how it came to be. I just know that it is mine. I don't think anyone told me what routine to use. I think part of it happened naturally after doing track and field and basketball where I would set up for the approach or shot. I think through what I am going to do while I bend my knees and focus on the ball, then I stop and do it. Swing. Even though the course is the same most times, the game never is and I like that."

The mother of two adult sons, Andrew and Sam, enjoys the solace and experience of walking the course by herself, but also can play with golfers of all experiences.

And, potential playing partners be warned, she does move quickly around the course so be ready to move along. There is no dilly-dallying, dozens of practice swings or studying a putt from 12 angles. She keeps a deliberate, steady pace.

"I enjoy the social aspect of golf and I think that when one is new at golf, they look forward to playing with others and are eager to get out there and learn," King said. "At least, this is how I was. Since I work during the week, teach summer school and paint, I cannot play at a set time every week for the most part, so I try to play with other people when I can. My mother and her friend are new at golf, so I enjoy playing with them because that was me once. When I play with different people I learn something new about the game. Just this past weekend I learned that if you are in a tournament you are not allowed to let others play through. I love learning things like this."

King said she mostly plays golf to have fun, however, she does play a few competitive club events. "I could challenge myself and enter a tournament or two in the future, but I am not at all sure about that," she said. "Since I have been asked, it will give me something to think about. It would be terrific to have a lower handicap and the best way to accomplish that is to keep playing."

In her youth, King accomplished much by playing anything and everything. And, as in adulthood, it did not matter what she played because she had the natural and honed athletic talent, dedication and focus to be among the best.

Standout Dragon, Buc athlete

King lived in Tenants Harbor and attended school in St. George through eighth grade (she was a standout Dragon student-athlete) until her four standout years at the now defunct GVHS (which combined with Rockland District High School to create Oceanside High School). Her family moved to Thomaston during her high school years because her parents, Brenda and Wayne (Beaver) Stinson, "got tired of trucking us up and down Rt. 131 10 times a day."

In high school for the Buccaneers, she excelled in four years of field hockey, basketball and track and field. She was deemed an All-State link in field hockey and was part of the Bucs' 1987 regional championship team.

"Loved it," King said of her field hockey experience. "We were in such great shape. We did so many drills ...18 lengths, up and back, running and with the ball, at the end of every practice. I remember playing the entire game and never getting tired. Field hockey taught me how to focus and be in the moment. Right there. Our team was very solid and we had a tremendous coach. I had never been part of a team like that."

King's basketball teams also excelled and often had stellar regular-season records and even ranked high before falling a bit short of their desired goals in the playoffs.

She said one of the neat things about hoops during her high school days was the 3-point line was added to courts and the ball size for girls was made smaller and easier to handle.

"My foul shooting was never as good after they changed the size of the ball," she said, having always shot with a larger, boys-sized ball.

In track and field, King won state titles in the high jump and as a member of the Bucs' 4x400-meter relay team. She also was state runner-up in high jump twice and always placed in triple jump and long jump in state and regional meets.

King said most of her high school athletic memories were "vivid, devastating, exciting and still touch me today."

One was the fact her grandparents, George and Roberta Weeks, never missed a basketball game. "Not only that, they were there 45 minutes early, walking in, my grandfather's cane in hand. They would sit on the bottom bleacher at halfcourt. They were a permanent fixture at every basketball game. Every time our team warmed up, my grandparents were already there."

She said a "wonderful part" is her grandfather's basketball stories that lasted until he died at age 93. As a proud grandfather, he spent the rest of his life telling people about when King played against Oak Hill of Sabattus and sank four straight 3-pointers from the corner (she thinks it was three straight baskets, but it was his story and she never corrected him).

"He told the story over and over, even into his 90s," she said. "I was very close to my grandparents. They would join us for pizza after every home basketball game. This is what made basketball so special. Knowing that watching me play basketball brought my grandparents so much pleasure was a wonderful gift. A gift I still treasure and will never forget."

Good, bad athletic memories

On the flip side were a few painful memories. The Buc 4x400-meter relay team won the state title with King as a member, but the team fell short of their championship aspirations and expectations in King's sophomore and junior years — due to infractions she will never forget.

As a sophomore, King tripped receiving the baton from a teammate, fell out of the lane and and the GVHS foursome was disqualified, their state titles dreams dashed.

"I was devastated, mostly because there were seniors that missed their opportunity to win," she said.

In her junior year, the Buc coach decided to have King go first and hand the baton to a teammate instead of being handed the baton.

"Since I was a jumper, I always got to start when 'I' was ready, not with a gun," she said. "I had my own start routine and I would rock back and forth with my feet in place before I started my high-jump, long-jump or triple-jump approach. So when the word 'set' came, I was set ... feet not moving, but I rocked back and forth ... the gun went off and then went off again, bang ... bang. False start. I was feeling badly for someone else, having no idea it was me until they called out my lane number. Disqualified again and there went our hopes and dreams for a state championship. Feeling defeat was always real for me, but never as real as missing the opportunity.

"Again, I was crushed. My teammates were supportive, but deep down inside I had let them down. They were seniors. But as is often said, the third time's a charm. Needless to say, going first was no longer in the cards so I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced the handoff with my team [my senior year]. The state meet came. We were flawless. When I handed the baton off, I knew we had won. We did it. I still have the baton."

King is a natural athlete who was not as competitive-minded in high school as she now wishes she had been, but she participated in sports because it was fun. Despite that approach, she experienced tremendous individual and team success.

In fact, she at one time held several school track-and-field records which may have stood through the end of the school. Her best high jump height was 5 feet 2 inches.

After graduating from GVHS in 1988, she earned a business degree, with a concentration in finance and marketing, from the University of Maine in Orono in 1992.

King focused on her academics at UMaine her first year, but as a sophomore she felt something was missing — namely, participation in sports. She realized it was her final chance to compete against other Division I athletes at the collegiate level. Even though she played intramural soccer and basketball at the UMaine, that was not enough.

"So one day, I got brave enough to just walk into the track office" and met the Black Bear jumping coach. " I simply said, 'I would like to join the track team.' [The coach]  looked at me for a minute and then said, 'Well, what can you do?' So I told him that I was a jumper and what times and how far/high I jumped in high school. Wallah! He put me on the team."

Educator at heart

After college, King worked in finance in Portland. She had clients, gave investment advice and helped people with life insurance. She also taught broker's license material to new employees.

"I loved teaching adults," she said. "I knew deep down that I really wanted to teach children. I had done tutoring and worked with children in high school. I also did volunteer coaching for basketball, softball and clinics. I wanted to teach at a school … so I took my boss out to lunch and explained my desire to go back to college. She was so supportive. Finance is not a major that aligns itself very well with teaching … yet, in three weeks I was back in college. It took two years, including student teaching, to get certified to teach, but I never looked back. I was a substitute teacher every chance I got during those two years of classes."

After heading back to UMaine to earn another degree, King took her first full-time teaching job at AVS and has been a faculty member at the small, rural school a quarter of a century.

"Why do I teach? … I love it," King said. "It feels like where I am supposed to be. I enjoy my students so much and get incredible amounts of joy out of inspiring them to do their best. My students teach me things about myself that I never knew. Being creative is so much fun for me and I have an opportunity to be creative every single day. I have always wanted to make a difference and in teaching the opportunities never end. There is nothing like helping students succeed or cheering them up when they are down. I have found that a little encouragement goes a long way."

She also is involved in other aspects of school, including coaching sports.

And she continues to promote a healthy, active lifestyle by talking the talk and walking the walk. She leads by example and is a role model to all children — especially young girls.

"When I was young, my parents encouraged me to be active," she said. "I think they also recognized that I had an incredible amount of energy, as did my brothers, and my mother realized that channeling that energy was needed. So I did gymnastics, I used to make up dance routines, I played peewee basketball, my parents set up monkey bars in the woods, I ran and rode my bike everywhere. I ran cross country in middle school. I grew up during the age of 'free-range parenting' so I was active most of the day until dinner time. Then in high school I started playing other sports. I started field hockey as a freshman and could not get enough of it. I tried out during preseason and met many girls. It set me at ease about high school. I was nervous, yet excited about leaving St. George. Meeting other girls really helped me transition to high school."

King continued that athletic journey through school and into adulthood. She even tried women's ice hockey and said skates were a challenge. "Really enjoyable and the most incredible workouts of my lifetime," she said of the rink/pond sport.

King also is a downhill skier, runner, hiker, works out at the YMCA in the winter and, of course, plays golf in the spring, summer and fall.

She said running is a wonderful way to exercise and be outside. "It's a great time to think or not think at all," she said. "During the [state's pandemic] stay-at-home order when I was teaching fifth grade in the basement I was going for long runs. I needed it. I was sitting so much compared to what I was used to. This summer my runs are five miles. I truly enjoy my runs and would miss them so much if I couldn't run."

Of course, she also takes brisk walks around the golf course, stopping only long enough to hit another well-aimed, well-struck shot down the fairway or onto the green.

"I have always been highly motivated," she said. "I like to improve. I am competitive, but I think overall, I am highly-motivated to learn something new and improve. Being active and having an opportunity to hit a great shot or two each round is so much fun. When I started golf it was a little bit like when I started playing basketball. When I was young, I would shovel the foul line and shoot foul shots in the snow. I knew it was the only way to get good at them. When I started golf, I couldn't chip. I realized it was just like shooting foul shots. It was going to take a lot of practice, so I cleared a spot on the lawn and began. And soon, they started going in the air. Now if they would only land exactly where I want them to."

Spoken like a true, die-hard golf fanatic.

Tammy King golf
Tammy King hits golf balls. (Video by: Ken Waltz and Zack Miller)
Tammy King practices her chipping. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her chipping. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her chipping. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her chipping. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her sand shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her iron shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King practices her iron shots. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King goes through her pre-shot routine. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King goes through her pre-shot routine. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King goes through her pre-shot routine. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Tammy King goes through her pre-shot routine. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: cathy Cleaveland | Sep 10, 2020 15:41

Way to go Tammy!

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