Playing golf since age eight didn’t only help former pro golfer Tara Fleming build the confidence to defy stereotypes about society’s perception of what women can do — it also gave her the audacity to temporarily leave the sport entirely and pursue a career in business in 1996.

Confidence is key

“If you come in as a single woman in a zone that’s typically male-dominated and you don’t have the game to play, number one, or the confidence, number two, you’re going to have a hard time,” says Fleming, who lives in Jersey City, N.J. “I think, quite frankly, all of my experience as an athlete — of being eight, ten, 12 even — enables me to show up with that confidence.”

Five years ago, for example, she joined her current golf club, New Jersey National, and became a primary member — a classification typically held only by men there. So when she started showing up at 7 a.m. to enjoy the title’s perks, she admits fellow male club members were surprised. But, through sport, she was able to bridge the gap and diffuse any tension. 

Early encouragement

She explains that although many of her peers had different experiences as young women, she was never made to feel limited by her sex. In fact, as a teen in Houston, Texas, Fleming encouraged her high school to start a girls’ golf team, which she joined.

“I think you have to deal with your own experience, and I’ve never had it,” she says, “and I don’t know if that’s just because of who I am.”

Lessons from the links

Fleming explains that sport taught her three things she employs in her current career at a consulting firm: to be on time, to figure things out even if you don’t bring “your A game,” and to disassociate what you do with who you are. The latter lesson helped give her the gumption to take a three-year hiatus from golfing altogether.

“When you travel for sport, you have so many more experiences, and you can find more things that make us all similar.”

“I think the hardest thing to do in my career was to change careers,” she explains. “When you play a sport from high school through college and afterward, it becomes synonymous with your identity, so to step away and say, ‘this isn’t going to be my end all be all’ was a difficult decision to make.”

Her biggest fans

Also instrumental in her success? Her parents, who supported her all throughout her childhood as she explored basketball volleyball and track, as well as when she made her eventual choice to switch career paths.

“I would encourage parents to allow their kids to try as many things as they like to do. And if they don’t like it, it’s ok that they stop,” she says. “But if they make that commitment, make sure they see it through.”

Broadened horizons

In Fleming’s case, following through with golf, as a professional and now with her club, has helped her relate more — not just to men, she points out — but to all different kinds of people from various walks of life.

“When you travel for sport, you have so many more experiences, and you can find more things that make us all similar,” she says. “I think that’s what a career of life and sport and education and business has done for me.”