Meet Your Neighbor: Mary Mills


Mary Mills has a passion for golf.
She has played since the age of 11, when her father signed her up for lessons, back in the day when folks from the Midwest would head south to her home state of Mississippi to spend a few weeks on the links.
“I could ride my bike to the course,” Mills says of growing up near Gulfport and Biloxi. “I was always the jock.”
At the age of 12, she won a putt-putt golf championship and won an opportunity to play in a national competition in Fayetteville, S.C.
By the time she was 14, Mills was winning women’s amateur championships throughout her home state, winning the state championship eight years in a row.
“I pretty much dominated women’s golf in Mississippi,” Mills says.
She went pro in 1962, and won two LPGA Championships (1964 and 1973) and the 1963 U.S. Women’s Open. She also is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
Mills has played in pro-am tournaments with Dinah Shore (“she was very nice”), Glen Campbell and Joe Namath, among others.
She dabbled in photography, collected hundreds of slides and shot photos for Rolex ads.
Mills retired from professional golf in 1980, taught golf for a time, then worked eight years with Food Service International, where she arranged the contracts to cater golf events — “I knew all the tournament directors.”
When the company moved to North Carolina, Mills didn’t want leave Boca Raton — “I had fallen in love with it.” So she stayed, then went back to school to earn a degree in landscape architecture from Florida International University, all the while working as a ranger in the Boca Raton parks system. “I just loved walking and talking to people,” she says.
After that, she went on to co-design four courses.
Now 70, Mills is tall, with a shock of white hair. Her voice is warm and authoritative, with a slight Mississippi drawl — perfect for teaching.
A member of the LPGA Teaching Division, Mills is an instructor with the Bird Golf Academy, and travels the country helping others learn the sport.
“I’m always on the move,” she says.
Mills says she still loves the game, and the personalities.
“Tiger Woods needs to get his head screwed on,” she says. “People want to see their champions fall, then recover. He’ll be accepted.”
And when she’s not traveling, she is happy to be in Boca, where she shares her memorabilia-filled condo with her brother, a retired boat captain.
Mills says she enjoys fly-fishing, biking, kayaking and cooking, and in summer, when it’s too hot to golf, she swims to stay in shape.
And even then, she is grateful to be in Boca — “it’s like paradise. Honestly.”
— Scott Simmons

Q. Where did you grow up and go to school?
A. I grew up between Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss. Graduated from Milsaps College in Jackson, Miss. Graduate studies in golf course design at Florida International University. All my professors there were Harvard-educated Ph.Ds from Cuba.

Q. How did you get interested in golf?
A. My father had been in the Navy, and my mother was in the hotel business. My father became manager of the Edgewater Gulf Hotel. In the ’40s and ’50s, that area was a major golf resort. Golf was the sport.

Q. What was it like for you to make the transition from golfer to teacher?
A. I retired in 1980. I was 40 years old and couldn’t putt anymore. I felt like I couldn’t play at a higher level. I started teaching golf with Toney Penna in Palm Beach and in Boynton at Quail Ridge. I taught for two years and hated it. It was painful psychologically. ... [Years later she returned to teaching.] At my age, this is what I should be doing. I go to major resorts to teach people three to five days. I still travel a good bit. It’s been my whole life and it still is. Golf teaching is not so bad. It’s great to make a passion into a profession.

Q. How did you choose to make your home in Boca Raton?
A. When I moved to Boca in ’72, it was a small, little town. There was IBM and that was it. Like most people who are not native, I visited first. I turned pro in ’62. Came here in ’63 and ’64. I lived in Boynton and Deerfield. I had friends who lived here and I fell in love with their apartment.

Q. What book are you reading now?
A. I like to read instead of watching TV to wind down. Been reading the trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and just started Widow of the South, by Robert Hicks.

Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. I like jazz and classical. But lately, I’ve gotten into Latin music.

Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. “Champions adjust.” That kinda suits my life.

Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan were inspirations in golf. I had dinner with Hogan three times.

Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. Ingrid Bergman [she laughs], but who would want to do my life?

Q. Who/what makes you laugh?
A. Good jokes — I don’t tell ’em well.



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