By Rich Myhre
MUKILTEO — Maybe it was the time she spent with her father, learning about the game that meant so much to him.
Or maybe it was simply the aesthetic and athletic thrill of being on a golf course.
However it happened, golf took a tight hold on Chris Aoki at an early age. Now, years later, the game has yet to lose its grip.
Accompanying her father as a girl, Aoki said, "I just loved the environment of the golf course. I always wanted to go. I loved being out on the course, (even though) it wasn’t something that girls did that much then."
What began as a youthful hobby has become Aoki’s lifetime passion. It helped put her through school as one of the first scholarship athletes on the University of Washington’s women’s golf team. And today it is her vocation. Aoki, who lives in south Everett, is not only one of the few female teaching professionals in Snohomish County. She has co-authored "The Golf Book for Kids," a helpful guide for young players, and has helped develop a method of fitting putters to the particular stance and swing mechanics of individual players.
Shortly after leaving the UW in the mid-1970s, Aoki took a job as an assistant pro at Redmond’s Sahalee Country Club. She moved to Mill Creek Country Club for 5 1/2 years, then to Bear Creek Country Club for about 10 years. For almost six years she has been at Harbour Pointe Golf Course, where she teaches roughly five days a week (she also does one day a week at Tukwila’s South Center Golf driving range). In total, she gives around 60 golf lessons a week, with some one-on-one and others in group clinics.
Aoki teaches all ages, male and female.
"I really like having a wide variety," she said. "Everyone has different needs, so it keeps you on your toes to see what each person needs the most. Maybe it’s a man who has grown up playing golf, but just needs an adjustment in his swing. Or maybe a boy who wants to become a good player so he can play on his high school team. So you approach each one a little differently. It depends on their goals and their abilities and what they want to do."
Many of her female clients, she went on, "say they feel more comfortable having a woman teacher. They may feel that a woman will understand better that they don’t have certain strengths or that they haven’t had many sports or physical activities growing up, so some of the coordination aspects need to be developed a little bit.
"With the kids, you just want to make sure they’re having fun with it. You want to make sure they’re going at the pace that works for them. And it’s the same way with women. Generally speaking, they like to have a nice social environment, going out together and talking and laughing and having a good time playing golf. Men might be out for social fun, too, but they might be a little more serious about their skill level. So it varies."
Aoki, said Harbour Pointe head pro Mark Rhodes, "is not only an excellent teacher, she’s a great person. People enjoy taking golf lessons from her not only because she helps their golf game, but because she’s such a nice person. She’s very encouraging, very pleasant."
Aoki’s book, written with Jim Corbett and including such topics as golf etiquette and folklore, has been out about a year. "It’s doing quite well," Aoki said. "It’s very popular in pro shops around the country. It’s geared more toward a little bit of simple instruction toward kids just hitting simple shots to a target, how to get your alignment, some simple things about taking your grip.
"Many of my students, the men and women as well as the kids, have enjoyed reading the book," she said.
Aoki has been involved with putter fitting for about two years. The theory is that putters need to be properly aligned at the moment of contact, both to the ball and to the hole, and this is determined by a golfer’s stance and swing. In partnership with Henry-Griffitts Inc., Aoki has developed a system of creating putters with variable shaft lengths, hozzle designs, head shapes and line configurations. Testing helps determine the proper combination to build an ideal putter for each individual.
"Overall, the main thing with putting is confidence," Aoki said. "If your confidence that you are lined up to the target is there, then your motion is going to be a lot better to move to that target."
Earlier in her career, Aoki had many competitive experiences. Today, though, her emphasis is strictly on teaching.
"I played a lot when I was younger," she said. "It’s something you do miss, but by the time I graduated (from college) I knew I wanted to teach. Everything I do now is geared toward teaching. Now I play more for fun. The competition is great and it’s enjoyable, but it’s not the No. 1 thing for me.
Also, she adds with a laugh, "There’s no way I could keep up with some of the younger PGA pros anymore."