As part of Women’s History Month, we take a look at the incredible path of Alison Curdt — the youngest to reach the level of PGA Master Professional and soon-to-be a doctor of psychology — and how she approaches the game.
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian
Before spring makes its official splash, Alison Curdt will add another blossom to a remarkable fast-track career.
The youngest woman PGA Member to achieve PGA Master Professional status, the now 36-year-old practicing psychotherapist and PGA Director of Instruction at Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley, California, will soon attain the title “Dr. Alison Curdt, PsyD.”
Curdt is awaiting acceptance of her dissertation in psychology by California Southern University.
It’s just one of a series of life markers for a St. Louis native who this summer will compete in her fifth major – the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – and will be the first woman of the Southern California PGA Section to tee it up in the PGA Professional Championship.
To understand the “Curdt Life Curriculum,” start with the burning curiosity of a youngster pestering her parents by asking “Why?” She would soon add to her repertoire “Why not?”
A multi-sport star in high school who relished competing with her brother, Nick, Curdt earned a golf scholarship to Florida State University, where she competed on the women’s golf team. Along the way, former FSU Assistant Coach Sarah Capie of Carbondale, Illinois, a member of the women’s team guided Curdt in her junior year on through her enrolling in college. Meanwhile, Curdt completed a degree in psychology by her sophomore year and wanted to pursue a master’s degree.
“I never intended to be a PGA Professional or a golf instructor,” said Curdt, who last year was named by Golf Digest as one of the country’s top 50 teachers; along with being named a 2017-18 LPGA top 50 teacher and a 2016-17 “Best Young Teacher” by Golf Digest. “I wanted to become a forensic psychologist and work for the FBI. I really wanted to track serial killers.”
Studying the dark side? Really?
“It was a curiosity about why people do the things they do,” she said. “I’ve always been a ‘why’ person. “When a golf coach presented something to me, I wanted to understand the root of it. When a golfer comes to the lesson tee, I want to understand why they act the way they do. What makes them tick?”
Because the demands of pursuing forensic psychology would mean giving up her golf career, Curdt decided to focus on the game. She turned professional in 2004, moved to Palm Springs, California, to begin a teaching career at the Westin Mission Inn in Rancho Mirage. In 2006, she was elected to PGA Membership and in 2008 earned LPGA membership.
In the spring of 2006, while visiting a friend in Los Angeles, Curdt’s life took an unexpected turn. Her Palm Springs condominium was one of eight units destroyed in a fire, which began as a result of a neighbor’s attempt to wire an in-house connector to grow a marijuana garden.
“I returned to find all my possessions, all the trophies I had won in my career, everything stripped away,” said Curdt. “I was certainly fortunate not to have been inside at the time. It opened up my eyes to where I was in life. I looked upon the symbol of the Phoenix, and used it as my inspiration.”
In 2007, Curdt become PGA Teaching Professional and First Assistant at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. Her teaching regimen and reputation steadily grew. When she earned PGA Master Professional status in October 2011, Curdt shattered age barriers. The average age of all 364 living PGA Master Professionals is 61, and average 33 years of PGA Membership.
A year later, she completed her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy from Pepperdine University. Curdt Performance Therapy, in Woodland Hills, California, would grow to a 100-patient level with clients from athletes, to adolescents, couples and families.
Her teaching accolades included being named the 2016 Southern California PGA Teacher of the year; the 2015 LPGA Teaching & Club Professionals National Teacher of the Year; the 2016 Northern PGA Clubfitter of the year; a three-time recipient of Western Section Teacher of the Year (2012, ’15, and ’17) and the 2017 SCPGA Northern Chapter Golf Professional of the Year.
Curdt’s private practice with athletes is its own “tour de force,” incorporating treatment for “Athletic Trauma.” It is an experience that she says “overwhelms an athlete’s capacity to cope, thereby triggering future performances in a negative way.”
Following a model developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989, Curdt is trained in EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing), which she reports is “extremely successful in overcoming the past experiences of those traumas.”
“Something occurred in the art of performance that elicited an overwhelming response in your system, whether it’s embarrassment, or shame or “I’m not good enough,” Curdt said. “Because that memory is so stark, and that experience was so intense, it stored in your memory in a dysfunctional way. Because of that, it now serves as a trigger in the present day. It may have happened two or three years ago.”
She recalled the 2016 Masters meltdown of Jordan Spieth on the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club. When Spieth returned to No. 12 a year later, Curdt said, that memory is going to be “triggered.” Spieth would experience the same things that occurred the year prior.
Where EMDR takes hold, says Curdt, is collecting that dysfunctional memory, and storing and reprocessing it in a much more facilitative way. “It no longer serves as a trigger,” she said.
Somehow, Curdt finds the time to work on her game.
She fired a final-round 66 to shared third in the 2017 Southern California PGA Championship to earn that trip to the PGA Professional Championship. When she isn’t managing her own lesson tee, she calls upon coaching from PGA Professionals Brady Riggs of Van Nuys, California, for the fine points, and Nancy Quarcelino of Nashville, Tennessee, for her golf swing.
“That’s my time to be the student,” said Curdt, who acknowledges that the game she loves keeps her enjoyment in the art of the search.
“There is not really one answer in golf,” she said. “But there are a million answers.”