Sam Perrotta is prone to uncontrollable quirks and fits on the course. But she plays through, sublimely
Samantha Perrotta, the reigning Women’s Player of the Year in the New Jersey State Golf Association, plays at the Old York Country Club, about 20 minutes south of Trenton. That is, 20 minutes by car, in normal traffic. Those two details are for Sam. She likes precision. She tends to be literal. That quality presents challenges in her everyday life but it’s oddly helpful to her golf.
Her unpretentious club has ample parking, a rentable banquet hall and a grass driving range, where Sam will sometimes hit 1,000 balls in a day. Sam works occasionally in the club’s pro shop. She has her name on a parking space, as the reigning women’s club champion. The reserved spot means nothing to her. Status symbols mean nothing to her. What the club title means to Sam is harder to say. She has an unconventional mind.
I interviewed Sam on a recent quiet Sunday for two and a half hours in the Old York pro shop. It felt like 15 minutes, as if I had fallen into a trance. She barely moved, although she spun a black basketball at times. She’s tall, strong and athletic. As best as I can tell, she’s in her early 30s.
“Something like that,” she said. It’s not just me. Her golf instructor, Geoff Jones of Texarkana, Texas, said he didn’t know her exact age either.
On a shelf in the pro shop was a pale wide-angle color photograph of Old York’s 9th green. The photo, wrapped in clear plastic and available for purchase, depicts tall trees, a grayish sky, a wide green and a rainbow that appears to run right into the top of a skinny flagstick. I asked Sam what she saw in the photo.
“That,” she said immediately. She was pointing to a tiny white speck in the lower left-hand corner of the photo. A lone golf ball.
“Sam has her own way of seeing the world,” Geoff Jones told me by phone. Geoff played at Houston, a couple years behind Fred Couples. He might know more about Hogan’s swing than Hogan did. But teaching Samantha Perrotta brings him more joy than anything he has done in his career.
Geoff’s wife teaches kids with profound mental and physical challenges. Samantha’s path to golf, through her autism, gives Geoff a deeper appreciation for his wife’s lifework and also for the struggle some people endure to find a place in this game. But Samantha’s struggles, starting with a childhood in which she never had an easy day, have also yielded opportunities to Sam and the people she trusts.
“Sam is a thousand times more extroverted now than when we started,” Geoff said. She’s been playing golf for a decade and they’ve been working together for eight. Something like that.
This is crude, but it’s insightful: “One side of her brain is very smart,” Geoff said. “And the other side of her brain is like an eight-year-old’s. If that.”
She’s a voluble and unreserved talker, or she can be, and open about her autism. Sam described for me the panic attacks and meltdowns she has had in tournament play, including in USGA qualifiers and in the handful of USGA Mid-Amateurs in which she’s played.
She described some of the tension she has had with opponents, who did not understand her quirks. She often wears two gloves, long sleeves, wraparound sunglasses. She doesn’t make small talk.
I made the mistake of trying to fist-bump Samantha upon meeting her. She doesn’t like skin-to-skin contact, nothing to do with the pandemic.
Samantha’s a voluble talker, or she can be. She described for me the panic attacks and meltdowns she has had in tournament play, including in USGA qualifiers and a handful of Mid-Amateurs.
She is deeply knowledgeable about the swing, and shares Geoff’s passion for Hogan. She pursues well-defined positions at every moment of the swing, but the ball, curiously and tellingly, is one moment in a pathway for her. Her swing is powerful, round and spectacular, like a swing you’d see on an LPGA range. She’s not close to that level. She has rounds where the longest putt she makes is about a three-footer.
She checked out my stance. “It’s too wide,” she said.
“Why is that bad?”
“You’ll sway.” I do.
“What should I do?”
You want to hear something direct and true, listen to Sam. She told me about a 2019 dispute with a USGA official. The “rules guy dude” said she made a 15 on one hole. She said it was a 7.
His whiffs were her practice swings. She was DQed for signing a wrong card and is still mad about it. I’m siding with Sam. She’s literal. She’s precise. In her own way, she’s incredibly aware.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@golf.com.