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Episode 68: Master the Mundane - Deb Richard

Master the Mundane with Deb Richard (pronounced ri-SHARD) will inspire listeners to trust their instincts and value integrity.

Deb played on the LPGA Tour for twenty years (1986–2005), during which she won five Tour events and finished in the top-10 in over seventy events. Her best finishes in the LPGA majors included a tie for tenth place in the 1996 Kraft Nabisco Championship, a tie for fifth in the 1991 LPGA Championship, a tie for ninth in the 1986 U.S. Women’s Open, and ties for fourth in the 1988 and 1998 du Maurier Classic. In 1992, Richard was selected for the U.S. Solheim Cup team. 

Richard has been inducted into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame. She has also received a number of awards for her charitable activities. To learn more about Deb, read her book, Trust: Understanding My Why or check out her leadership program, Burlap Leaders.

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Story is everything. It’s the one thing we have in life. Whether it’s good story, bad story. It’s celebratory. It’s sad. It’s whatever it is. It’s our story. And our power to be able to share that story in the context of someone being present with us that it matters. 

Welcome to the Speak With Presence podcast. I’m Jen V. And I’m JRT. On this podcast, we believe perfection is overrated, leaders listen, and we all speak up to influence change. We exist to share the stories of powerful leaders who have used their voices to inspire change. So, listeners, what will it take for you to use your voice?

Maybe Deb Richard’s story will inspire you. Especially when you realize that during her LPGA tour career, and if you don’t know, that’s Ladies Professional Golf Association, she played with over 2,000 amateurs in Pro Am events and less than 10 of them were women. What on earth? 

Deb is a 20-year LPGA tour veteran with six wins. She’s a philanthropist and an author of the book “Trust: Understanding My Why.” She’s the founder of Burlap Leaders, where she coaches executive leadership teams, and her program, Cs on Tees, is a golf and leadership series for C-Suite women. Today, we are in Kansas City. Deb, welcome to the podcast. 

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you. We’re so excited to talk to you. So when we asked you to be on our podcast, we wanted you to be a guest because of the number of barriers you have overcome throughout your career. That’s accurate, isn’t it? It’s extremely accurate. You’ve used your voice to make change for the LPGA as well as so many other organizations. You made this very loud and clear, both in your book and when we spoke to you, that women’s sports have a long history of being in the underdog position.  We heard this loud and clear from you. Never is there a moment that we can escape the unevenness of resources between men and women’s sports and male and female athletes. It’s very true.

What story can you tell us about a time that you spoke up and used your voice to influence change? And because we spoke in advance, there’s a specific story I want you to tell. It’s funny because I said a story where you had to dig deep and bring some courage to speaking up. And when I said that to you before we started, you said, well, that doesn’t take any courage. That’s just the way you do things. And I think it’s important for our listeners to know that piece because, I think, it takes courage to dig this deep. And you said there’s no other option.

You know, the story I’m talking about, there was a moment where you had to own a mistake that wasn’t necessarily yours. I am going to leave it there and say, this is a story of influencing change.

That is just wonderful. Thank you. I always enjoy the opportunity to get a voice out there for women. We’re traveling on a perilous path. You know, and we’re always having to navigate things that come at us from sides we’re not always expecting. And for me, I retired from my 20-year playing career that you referred to. I was hired by the LPGA Tour to be a senior vice president of the LPGA Tour. I was running our LPGA Tour events around the world. We are a global organization and we happen to be down in Mexico. We were implementing a format that we hadn’t done before. We were using carts because of the difficulty in navigating the golf course and moving around. There was a lot of moving parts going on.  At the LPGA tour, we have two styles of events. We have a 72-hole event and we have a 54-hole event. This happened to be a 54-hole event which required a repairing of the tee times after the first round. And we have a really weird format we use which is called an inverted horseshoe. For all you golfers out there, you know exactly what I’m talking about and the rest of you are rolling your eyes. We’ll get it. We’ll follow along in the context. 

There’s a real art to being able to do these tee times, and you do it for television and everything else. Because you want your best players on the course during the telecast. So, unbeknownst to me, I get to the golf course first thing in the morning. We’re getting ready for a 6:30 a.m. start, and the tee times were done backwards. And so it created this fiasco for the afternoon tee times where the leaders of the tournament were not going to be on finishing their rounds during the telecast. There were a lot of things impacted by this. The leaders were finishing in the dark as opposed to finishing in the light of day.

The crowds in Mexico, there’s obviously a language barrier going on, all kinds of things. People are confused. Our television broadcast partners were irate. And I was being called out all day.  Deb, what’s going on? I’m new to my role. I was hired in this position to take on this team that are the ones that are executing the events on a day-to-day basis.

They’re some of the best in the world at what they do. But sometimes it happens. Something goes wrong, and something went really wrong that day. I’m getting in front of television cameras and interviews trying to explain what happened. It’s on me. It’s not going to happen again. Everybody wanted to know what happened. I have the commissioner calling me and saying, Deb, what just happened down there? Fix it. I’m like, it’s not going to happen again. I can’t fix today. Today is today. And we’re going to navigate the day as the best we really can, and I’m just taking it from everywhere. And everybody wants to know, well, what happened? 

And at that point in time, I didn’t know. I was too busy trying to execute this really weird format we’re doing with golf carts and everything else. So I said, I don’t know. And as we go along, I get to the end of the day, I’m with this team that wasn’t overly excited to have me come in as their new leader.  They loved the leader who was leading them before who left. I wasn’t a part of that. But I’m trying to win them over. And I’m sitting in that room, and I tell them, you’re the very best in the world at what you do. I care about what happened from the standpoint, I don’t want it to happen again.

That’s what I care about. I don’t want to micromanage you. I believe in you. I trust you. I just want some assurances from you, it’s not going to happen again. I won them over that day because all day long, I took it on, you know, it’s my team. I don’t know what happened. All I can tell you, it’s not going to happen again.  I’m imploring them and when we got to the very end of the meeting, they actually told me what happened.

And I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say, Deb, what happened? I said, that’s between me and my team. And that’s the way it’s going to stay. And it stayed that way when I tell it in the book. And it stays that way to this day. And I think that’s very important from a leader’s viewpoint. From a trust standpoint, which is the essence of my book.  It’s the essence of my life. Everything is about trust.  Whether I’m trusting myself, or I want others to trust in me, or if I’m going to trust in others. It truly is the way you’re navigating the most difficult situations in life. And that’s what matters.

It’s integrity and it’s in confidentiality. It’s just such a moment of leadership. And I say courage to dig deep and speak up. But I think it’s really telling the kind of leader that you are, that you said that doesn’t take any courage. That’s just how you do it. I played a sport where I had to own every decision, every shot I ever made in life. You know, you’ll see a player go after a caddy, misdirected.  Because at the end of the day, you’re pulling the trigger. You’ve selected the club. You’ve decided the shot. You’ve executed the shot. That’s on you. That person who’s out there with you is your teammate, and all they want is the best for you. So, you’ve got to own all that, and that’s all I know how to do.  If I’m in a situation, I’m in an environment, things are happening. I have to own it. And that was that situation. Exactly the same in Mexico.

Deb, when I think about that story that you just shared, I think about you. I think about the book. I think about the many stories that you shared. As well as the many different types of sports. We could spend another hour just on the different types of sports and the softball, but I’d prefer to play baseball in the timeframe, right, that you were a kid. There were certain sports that were for men or for boys, and some were for girls. You were very fortunate enough at a time where there was a group of dads, as your book said, we had a group of sport-loving dads who just happened to have athletic daughters. And they believed in giving their girls every opportunity that their sons had in sports for they understood that sports nurtured many of the values and skills needed to succeed in life. 

I take that and say, I’m not a golfer. Jen’s not a golfer. We’ll figure that out together. We’ll figure that out later. You can speak from a multitude of sports. My question is, do you feel athletes, in general, can learn more about leadership from golf than other sports? Or do you think it goes across? Because what stuck out to me was how you talked about golf as you make every decision. You are solo.  Maybe you could say that about a swimmer. Maybe you could say that about other types of athletes. I’m just curious if you can compare it to the sports that you played which were very diverse.

You know every sport teaches you different things. Team sports teach you the interactive need for players to perform at their best cohesively.  That’s really important in leadership. You know, it’s really important in life because we don’t go through life as a solo artist. We don’t. But if I break down team sport to each player on the team, there are a lot of correlations that can be made.

Let’s put this in the realm of someone that everybody out here is going to know, Patrick Mahomes.  Patrick Mahomes is competing with 10 other guys on that offense. And he is the conductor. He’s the one who’s got to make it happen. But in his own world, he is in control of every decision and execution that he makes. And he’s relying on everybody else around him to do what they need to do.

A golfer is doing the same thing. I’m relying on my caddy to give me good yardages. I’m relying on my caddy to stay in that emotional equivalence with me. And when I need my emotions to adjust, I’m relying on him to help me do that. I say him, my caddies were always guys. But when it gets to, I have to go and execute, it’s all on me.

Patrick Mahomes, all on him. He has to execute the transition of the football either to himself in executing a play or to give it to someone else. Every offensive lineman, every other player on the team is doing exactly the same thing. In team sports, you have this outsized correlation of building unity and the unit working together. 

Where in golf, you have this outsized need for internal execution and focus on all the things you need to do to execute, which is going to lead where we’re going. Because ultimately in any sport, it’s trust. Patrick Mahomes is trusting his offensive lineman’s going to do it. It’s that, you know, Kelsey’s going to go run the right route. That his receivers are going to run the right route. That his running back is going to block the blitzer. He’s relying on a lot of things. 

In golf, I’m relying on a lot of things as well for my caddy to do his homework and to be able to tell me, Deb, the pens tucked four yards over the bunker. You’ve got a backboard four yards behind the pen. The slope of the greens working from left to right.  If we take it in from left to right and we hit it into that niche, that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m working with him to navigate that to go, okay, now it’s on me. I’ve got to go feather in that seven iron, working from left to right to use all that information to my advantage. And there’s so much trust involved in executing on both sides of that.

I see why you’ve named your book “Trust: Understanding My Why.” And that leads me to this question about how you’ve said that golf has taught you to be present and everything about golf is being present. And being that this is the Speak With Presence podcast and from a place of being an artist, collaborating with a team or a cast with you on stage, but also the crew that are around in the audience becomes part of that team. Can you explain how you feel presence plays out in golf, but also relate that to leadership in your Burlap Leaders organization? 

So, let’s start at the very simplest part of this. I’ve described what it is to have to go and execute. The only way I can execute is to be fully present. Fully present means I am taking away the noise and taking away the chaos. Like acting, I’m doing this in front of thousands of people every day. There’s nowhere to hide. So, in order to be able to execute, it’s really being able to be with yourself in that moment, in that environment and trust that you’ve done all the work you need to do to be able to go and feather in that seven iron in order to take in all the great information and have a great outcome.

So what makes that work? I have this theory about mastering the mundane. People say it different ways. But for me, it was taking golf to its simplest form. So, I can go and master hitting three-foot putts. I’d start every day having to make 30 three-foot putts in a row as I worked around the hole. The putt was changing. During an 18-hole round of golf, I would never face 30 three-foot putts. It was more than I would ever have to do to play a round of golf. So how does that translate? It translates into I have this incredible confidence in this very mundane task that I have to do to finish every hole I play. And that is, I’ve got to get the ball in the hole.

It takes the pressure off that part of the game I’ve mastered. It’s that mastery of something very, very simple. So how does that translate into everything else? It translates into, it’s taking the pressure off the short game. The pressure to chip it really, really close. Being able to hit shots into the green without fearing something negative happening.

The more I’m able to master these very mundane things, the more I am free to work on the harder things. To work on the more challenging things. To spend my time in that space and do it without cluttering my mind with fear of the very simple things. And that’s the quality of being present.

Is some of the mastering the mundane, the drill part of just drilling until it’s muscle memory or it’s rote or not rote. Probably never rote when you’re present because new information comes in when you’re live and present. But what is some of the how around mastering the mundane? Sequence.  It’s doing it. So when I’m in private one-on-ones coaching. I will ask executives, what is your mundane? What is the thing that you need to do every day, and you do do it every day? But that once you do that, now I’m free to get into the bigger things. What is that? So it’s a combination of the self-confidence. The trust in self that comes from I’ve done the hard work.

I’ve done the minutiae. I’ve done the thing that can be boring, and now I’m free. I have created a baseline level of confidence that allows me to now move forward so that every decision that I make the rest of the day, everything that I have to go and exercise and experience with random things going around me, I have a base level that’s been created that’s my fallback. 

And it allows me to take greater risks. And once I’m allowed to take greater risks, now I’m better at what I’m doing. Because when you’re taking on more risks, you’re asking the people around you to step forward. That’s leadership. It’s getting into those people around you who are also making decisions, also doing those things and being able to mold that into something that can now go do something great. And it all starts with that mastery of mundane and that base level of self-confidence. Trust in self to be able to go do that. 

I just have to say that this is so often when you’re an actor, a director, but people will say, how do you memorize all those lines?  And everyone who is in the industry just rolls their eyes like that is not even part of the conversation. It is the mundane until you memorize the lines. You can’t be free enough to simply be and accept being present and react off of what you’re getting. The mundane for performers, for actors specifically, is memorizing those lines. I love all the analogies that get made. Leadership, arts. Sports and arts are so linked anyway. And leadership is all part of it.

When we’re talking about greatness, let’s take it into another direction of your life, which is philanthropy. We are very excited. We are recording this in July. It’s only appropriate for us to share that July is Disability Pride Month which commemorates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which went into effect in July of 1990.  You have a really great story that you’ve shared with us about your epiphany around students with disabilities. Would you share that story of meeting Jessica and how that impacted you and how that has influenced your role as a philanthropist?

Growing up, obviously you’ve shared, I played a lot of sports, and then I made the decision, and it became all about golf. I had this amazing amateur career that set me up to have the tour career. But the dream was always to win on the LPGA Tour. I was fortunate enough my second year on tour, I was talked into going to Rochester, New York, to play the Wegmans Classic by Mike Hattie.  Because I had no intention of being there and it turned out he was spot on. I needed to be there. 

It reminded me of Manhattan Country Club, Manhattan, Kansas. Growing up there, the golf courses were so similar and I loved it. I fell in love with it. And so, I got my first win. After I had my win, the tournament organizers called me a couple of weeks later. I was in Boston, and they said, Deb, we’d really love for you to come back and visit our summer camps for disabled kids.

They’re the beneficiary of the tournament.

And for those in the golf world out there listening to this, golf is a great business model. For every tournament we play, it’s a 501c3. We’re raising money for the communities where we play to make those communities better. And that’s the premise of professional golf. Which is a beautiful premise. And so, the beneficiary for Rochester were these two summer camps for disabled kids. And I said, I’d love to! And they were almost as surprised by me saying yes as anything. They fly me in, and we go and visit the first camp, Haccamo. And then we go out to Sunshine Camp.

It was this really cool place out in the woods. We drive up and I’ll never forget it. There’s this beautiful archway, Sunshine Camp. And just beyond the archway, they’d brought together all the kids from the summer camp. They were 8 to 11 years old little kids. They were all put together. They had signs and balloons and flowers, and they sang me their camp song. They were welcoming me and all that stuff.

And mindset’s really important here. Because for me, I said yes to go and do this, knowing that for the first time, my dream had come true. I was walking in there, Deb Richard, champion golfer. To those kids, it didn’t matter. They didn’t care. In their minds, mindset, this is somebody who’d done something that other people thought was cool but was taking time out of their day to come say hi to us.

Two mindsets. Totally, totally different. And there was this great merge that happened. The kids are singing, and there’s this little bitty girl in the front row. She’s holding onto flowers. And one of the other campers started nudging her, like, come on. And she very slowly took a step towards me. I wanted to get down eye level with her, so I squatted down. And her little hand, she’s holding on to these flowers and she’s just shaking them. She doesn’t say a word. And I looked at her and I said, are those for me? And she gently nods her head yes. So, I reach out for the flowers and I give her a hug.

This was the most fragile child I’d ever held. And it was such an epiphany for me in that moment. And I came to understand what was so powerful about being a professional golfer. Every day I played inside the ropes in front of thousands of people. And even though I was sharing that with the world, it was intensely personal. It was all about me. It was all about everything I’d put into the game to learn the game. To execute all the other people that had invested in me in order for me to do this. But what I learned in that moment, with that little girl, was that the minute I stepped outside the ropes, I had a platform to change the world. And I never looked back from that. 

So what happens? I go on. Every tour winner has to do a media day the next year. I’m being brought back to Rochester for this. The tournament organizers came to see me in Nashville where I was playing. They’re prepping for media day. And the question came, Deb, it was your first win. The dream came true. What has been the most lasting impact of having that first win? I said, my answer’s going to surprise you. And they looked at me and I said, meeting the little girl at camp. They had no idea what I was talking about. So, I explained. I redid the story for them. I said that little girl gave me perspective. And it’s a perspective I never want to let go of.

It’s that I can now go and do more than just play golf. I can go and do things for others. I go back for media day and we’re doing Q&A. I wasn’t doing that much on the golf course. I was changing my swing. We didn’t have a lot to talk about and one of the last things a professional golfer likes to do is take questions about other professional golfers who are having great years.

We get to the end of it and they said, Deb, we have a surprise for you. And I was like, alright, cool. And lo and behold, there’s these double doors at the back of the room. They open the doors and there’s that little girl. Once again, standing there with flowers and this beautiful dress and I lose it. I can’t believe you’re here. And so I walk over to see her. Once again she hardly wants to say anything. And I said, I just got to ask you one thing. I said, what is your name? And she says, Jessica.  And it was the start of a beautiful friendship, a beautiful relationship.

She became my North Star about everything I’ve done in philanthropy. The creation of my own foundation. We raised a lot of money, put a lot of disabled kids through college. That program is now fully funded at my alma mater, the University of Florida. We’re going to be helping kids long beyond my lifetime, and I’m very proud of that.

What a great story for Disability Pride Month. I mean, just a great story anyway. But so cool that we’re recording this in July to just think about the impact and the longevity of that impact, too. The longevity you realize as you go through life, and you get older and things change and everything. You start to really feel a specialness about that.

I always knew what I was doing mattered. I always believed in it, loved it, loved the kids. I always brought the kids to my events where I was raising money. And I always said, I don’t have to say anything. All I have to do is give a mic to those kids. And it’s done. Right? Easiest fundraising mechanism in the world.

If only everyone realized that. That’s right. You let the kids talk. I don’t need to talk. And the kids gave their stories. I cherished every one. I could replay every one of their stories. To this day, I could. And knowing all the kids that are benefiting and continue to benefit, it has a real specialness in my heart.  And that, I really owe to meeting Jessica, at that moment we had in Rochester, New York, a long, long time ago. 

And how grateful are we that, number one, you were present in that moment, which is what created this whole story. Number two is the value of story and how it creates our philanthropic paths. I think so many times we overlook someone’s passion and story because we, ourselves, are not present. Somewhere along the way, I suspect someone also was present with you and really heard what you were passionate about and wanted to help create that.

There is no doubt. I had to bring people along. I was in the early part of my tour career, which is the best part of my tour career. This was all happening in the years where I was playing my best. I topped out at number five in the world. But it was this other part of me and all those things happening and I was able to bring the other great people with me because I couldn’t do it without them. I couldn’t do it just me. And that’s what you learn. People aren’t doing this because they love Deb Richard. People are doing this because they love the cause and they enjoy the time I’m spending with them. They’re enjoying what I’m bringing to it.

Philanthropy is that way. I learned this a long time ago. I would say this about not just philanthropy but it is in everyday life. You will relate to this perfectly. Story is everything. It’s the one thing we have in life that, whether it’s good story, bad story. It’s celebratory, it’s sad. It’s whatever it is. It’s our story. And our power to be able to share that story in the context of someone being present with us that it matters. Sometimes as a fundraiser, I have watched other people do this and they’re so tacitly connected to the outcome of what they’re trying to get to, it becomes transactional.

Life is not transactional if you really want to be able to go through life and listening to heartbeat. Because that’s what matters. What is going to tie that person to wanting to be a part of that? And for me, it was always doing my homework. Major donors. I would go listen to speeches they’ve given. 

They give you nuggets of gold in those speeches. Know your audience. Research your audience. It’s not facts and figures. It’s not. It’s story. It’s heartbeat. And that’s why the kids, when I bring the kids in and let them tell a story, wallets open up. And that’s the joy and that’s the story and that’s when you’re being present in the moment.  It’s letting the people who should shine, shine.  That’s what’s going to win the day.

For me, in a lot of the stories I tell, I will tell you flat out, nothing matters more to me than my integrity. I’ve lost great jobs over it, but I’m not giving it up. Because it’s who I am. Other people have other things about them, and all of their story is built around that nugget of gold.

Once you understand what that is, now you can start to appreciate how have these great influencers in my life impacted me. Because it’s all relating back to what that nugget of gold is. Because that’s what you’re hearing. That’s what you’re grasping for. You’re grasping for that. And once you have that appreciation, now it’s how do I, as a leader, bring that to others?

How am I flipping the switch, going from that person who is being influenced, which you never lose. You’re always being influenced by people. Those people just change. How am I influenced in a way that is reflective of all the things that are those nuggets of gold about me? And that is story. It’s your life story.

You were such a perfect fit for the podcast. We’ve loved your book. We’ve loved getting to know you and meet you. We probably need to give a shout out to Tiffany Owens who connected us. Absolutely. You meet a lot of people, but there are people you know when you meet. You know you’re going to meet them over and over again.

When they call or they reach out, you go, yes, of course. That’s my people. Obviously, we’re swimming in the same streams. More than swimming in the same streams, we think about it the same way. The connection between acting and sports, they’re so parallel. Even though what we’re asking of people is so different, they are so similar.

And what you need to bring forth, and I’m going to say it one last time. It’s all based in trust. If we get there, we do it right for the people around us and the people we’re trying to inspire. The people that we want to help them lead better. We’re teaching them how to not only put trust in others, because a lot of emphasis is put on that. You can’t get there until you understand how to trust yourself. That’s step one. And story is the basis for understanding your trust in self.

Deb, this is not the last time we’re going to get together. I’m going to hold you accountable for the possible golf lesson and helping us understand golf in a different way and how we can be present in more ways than one.  We’ve really enjoyed our time with you. We really appreciate you joining us today. It has been a whole lot of fun and yes, this is just the beginning. I will make golfers out of you. I’m not going to commit myself to a level of golfer, but I will commit to make golfers out of you.


Jen V. & JRT

Jen Vellenga and Jennifer Rettele-Thomas are the co-founders of Voice First World®, a communication and executive coaching company. They train executives and leaders on the Presence Paradigm™, a communication technique created from Jen V’s decades of training actors to perform authentically, with presence, on stages, on audio, and video. If you want to learn more about how to speak and lead confidently, book a discovery call at

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