By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Three years ago, Patty Atkins' career was in full swing. After working for more than a decade as a critical care nurse, this mother of two was at the top of her game as a director for Sharp Health Care and her team had just earned the highly prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, which was given by President George W. Bush. But it was at this professional pinnacle that she did something out of the ordinary. She walked away from it all so she pursue her dream of becoming a golf coach.
"I kept feeling this pull," Atkins said of the constant tugging at the heart toward golf, a game she'd loved since she was a little girl.
Atkins decided to finally let her heart take the lead after reading a book that changed her life: "The King of Swings: Johnny Goodman, The Last Amateur to Beat the Pros at Their Own Game." The book about Johnny Goodman winning the U.S. Open struck an especially deep chord because that man is her great uncle.
"My great uncle gave me golf lessons when I was about 7, but died soon after. His legacy really lived on through my father. He was such a huge inspiration to my dad, so my dad made sure that my sisters and I always played golf. I always knew who my great uncle was, but this book helped me to see him in a new light. This put him and golf in a whole new perspective for me, and it was just the push I needed to finally follow my heart."
During her farewell party at Sharp Health Care, Atkins told her co-workers she was leaving to follow her dream, prompting a conversation about "dream jobs."
"We each went around the room and said what our 'dream job' would be. There was a pharmacist who dreamed of being a rock star, another director who said he wanted to be a chef, a supervisor who aspired to be a professional athlete — out of all those people, only one woman could honestly say she was working her dream job."
Soon, however, Atkins would be like that woman. She got to work, professionally recreating herself from scratch. Atkins went from being a self-confessed "number-cruncher and Excel junkie" at Sharp Healthcare, where she also earned her Six Sigma black belt certification, one of the highest certifications in business management — to becoming a freshman at Golf Academy of America. She graduated from there as valedictorian, with a degree in business with a golf focus, a curriculum typically intended for people who want to manage a country club or golf resort.
"It took a lot of courage. I had to go from expert to novice. But, I've always been on some sort of learning curve. I believe there's always more to learn, so I always keep pushing myself."
Keeping in that vein, she's still furthering her golf education. She's earned her certification from the Titelist Performance Institute. She's also now a level two coach with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and she's poised to hit the third and highest level soon.
These days Atkins splits her time between Women on Course, where she introduces ladies to the golf lifestyle, and at Golf Tech in La Jolla, where she helps people perfect their game techniques.
As director of player development for Women On Course, Atkins teaches women the basics of the game, "like how to make a tee time and where to stand on the putting green." She also gives them the scoop on golf culture, covering etiquette and attire. The women also get to socialize at events throughout the year, giving them a chance to network. It's important for women to master golf for a couple of reasons, Atkins said.
"There's a sense of empowerment that comes when a woman can hold her own on the golf course. Her confidence booms, and that translates into other areas of her life. Plus, a lot of business deals are made on the golf course. It's second only to the fancy steakhouse. If a woman can't play golf, she's missing out on some valuable opportunities, whether it's getting face time with the CEO of her company, or playing in a corporate scramble, or entertaining clients."
As a coach at Golf Tech, Atkins helps people improve the "physical, technical, and mental aspects of the game." About 30 percent of her clientele are women, which is high considering the national percentage of women golfers is closer to 24 percent. She said her coaching philosophy is all about tailoring to the player.
"I can figure out in a short period of time how you learn best. If you're a visual learner I have one lesson plan, and if your kinesthetic person I have a whole other approach."
Atkins said watching someone finally master a new golf skill "sometimes causes goose bumps," and that for the first time in her life she wakes up "and can't wait to get to work." She's living her dream, one that pay homage to a family legacy she treasures.
"When I got my LPGA card I made a copy and mailed it to my dad," she said beaming. "He keeps it in his wallet and shows it to all his friends. I know how much he admired my great uncle, and I know he's proud of me."
"In April, my husband and I took my dad to play Pebble Beach for the first time. It was an especially poignant moment when we were standing on the 18th green, where exactly 80 years earlier Johnny Goodman beat the legendary Bobby Jones in the U.S. Amateur in 1929. It was a lifelong dream for my dad to play Pebble Beach and I was honored to help make it happen.
"I feel like I'm carrying on the family legacy in my own way, and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing it every day."
For more information about Patty Atkins, visit