Vernon golf pro Kyla Inaba has been named one of nine golfers to take part in the inaugural 2021 Women in Coaching program created by the BGA of Canada and the PGA of BC.
As a participant, she’ll receive in-depth coaching career development, hands-on training from Team Canada’s head and assistant coaches and a $2,500 bursary. The goal of the program is to increase the number of female mentors and role models in the sport in Canada, with a focus on producing elite-level coaches.
Last year was a difficult one for many, but it was a strong year for golf — among the few sports that are easily adaptable to social distancing protocols. It was a big year for Inaba as well, as she placed second at the PGA of BC Championship on top of other honours.
Though she can’t confirm the precise demographics, Inaba believes she’s the only active female golf instructor working full-time at an Okanagan golf course.
“It’s not uncommon to be the only female professional in the shop or the only female manager let’s say in the area for an academy,” she told the Morning Star.
Now 34, Inaba has had a storied playing career prior to her focus on instruction. She won the BC Women’s Mid-Am Championship in 2012, and turned pro the following year. She spent much of her time in Phoenix, Ariz. on the Cactus Tour, and then became a member of the Symetra Tour — the feeder tour for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
She didn’t quite make it onto the LPGA, instead competing in most of her professional events in Australia over five seasons.
She came to Predator Ridge Resort in 2017, where she’s established the award-winning Swing Like a Girl program, helping women get into the sport and excel from beginner to advanced level.
“That was really my first kick at the can for instruction, and at that point in time I really wasn’t even sure if I was going to enjoy instruction,” she said.
However, the decision awakened her to a new passion, with different sorts of rewarding experiences compared to her competitive playing career. Accolades would soon follow; her role in the Swing Like a Girl program earned her the PGA of BC’s 2020 Teacher of the Year award for the Okanagan region and its community leadership bursary.
“When I compare it to my playing career, when you’re playing week to week or in and out of tournaments, to me it felt like I was playing for myself. And then when I switched to instruction and coaching (I’m) helping other people, so my purpose in life felt bigger than myself, and to me it’s just much more satisfying to be helping other people enjoy the game of golf,” she said.
Golf has long been a male-dominated sport, with the sport’s biggest stars also tending to hail from the U.S. or Europe. However, that tide has been turning thanks to the likes of Brooke Henderson, a 23-year-old from Smith Falls, Ont. who has taken the women’s side by storm. A nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Henderson was named the Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2015, 2017 and 2018 and won her first major at age 18.
Inaba says for the young female athletes she instructs, having a role model like Henderson can be an enormous confidence boost.
“If you can’t see it, sometimes you don’t believe it,” Inaba says, and the same applies to her own role as a female golf instructor.
“If (my role) can kind of give girls some inspiration that this is a career option, then I’ve done my job,” Inaba said. “So it’s another way of growing the game.”
Back when she was a junior golfer playing at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf Club in Kelowna, she was the only female at her club, and thought nothing of it as it was a common circumstance for a young female golfer to find herself in.
“I had one female assistant coach at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for one year. But yeah, it was just kind of a normal occurrence,” she said.
Golf instruction was also far less technologically advanced in those days. Today, Inaba says elite-level coaching is about much more than swing mechanics; coaches help their athletes with sleep scheduling, course management, nutrition and more.
In other words, while Inaba has been teaching girls how to swing at Predator Ridge for several years now, there’s plenty more to learn.