‘It is never too late’: Meet a college golfer who’s about to turn 64

Debbie Blount is a member of the Reinhardt University golf team. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

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Debbie Blount is a member of the Reinhardt University golf team. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

Debbie Blount will celebrate her 64th birthday in an unconventional way: playing in her college golf team’s conference tournament.

“My teammates have never even heard of The Beatles’ song ‘When I’m Sixty-Four,’” she said with a laugh.

Blount, a Sandy Springs resident and a member of the Reinhardt University women’s golf team, will compete in the NAIA-level Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament Monday and Tuesday at Barnsley Resort in Adairsville. The event’s final round falls on her birthday.

Blount’s journey to becoming a collegiate student-athlete in her 60s was, as you might imagine, one of twists and turns. She offers a Cliff Notes version:

“I took up golf when I got married (at age 33) in 1991. My husband and I enjoyed a wonderful 27 years playing together, and after he got sick and passed away (in 2017), I found myself kind of stale in golf. I still loved it, but I was just going through the motions of playing.

“I had always considered going back to school because I didn’t have a four-year degree. After graduating from high school (in 1976), I went to X-ray tech school instead. I considered, even before my husband died, seeing if I could play college golf. Then (in the summer of 2019) I was playing at Cherokee Town and Country Club, where I’m a member, and one of the caddies played on the team at Reinhardt. I asked him, ‘Do they have a women’s team?’ When he said yes, the wheels just started turning.”

For months, she “couldn’t stop thinking about it” because getting a college degree had “pretty much been a bucket-list item for my entire life.” She remembered that her long-ago guidance counselor at Dunwoody High School had recommended Reinhardt, a 139-year-old school of about 1,400 students in the town of Waleska, near Canton.

Finally, at 9:46 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2020, Blount sent an email that would change her life.

“For many years now, it has been a dream of mine to play college golf,” she wrote to Dan Mullins, Reinhardt’s head golf coach at the time. “I started playing golf well after high school. I have qualified for two (U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championships), although I did not make the cut to match play. I have won several club championships and participated in several GSGA (Georgia State Golf Association) events. The college athletic experience is something I would love to have.”

Then she asked: “Is it possible for a basically non-traditional student to play in the NAIA? If so, how do I try out for the Reinhardt team?”

A response e-mail came less than two hours later: Mullins thanked her for her interest and said her dream was, indeed, possible. He shared that another NAIA school once had a retired 62-year-old man on its golf team.

“(Mullins) had me come and try out to see if I had the game,” Blount recalled. “It turns out he checked a few other sources and determined I could (play).”

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Debbie Blount, playing college golf at Reinhardt University, is a Sandy Springs resident. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

Debbie Blount, playing college golf at Reinhardt University, is a Sandy Springs resident. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

caption arrowCaption
Debbie Blount, playing college golf at Reinhardt University, is a Sandy Springs resident. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

Credit: Kate Awtrey

She took two classes in the spring of 2020 and enrolled full-time that fall, transferring credits for a few classes she’d taken at what was then called DeKalb College during a joint-enrollment program as a high school student and two other credits from X-ray tech school. She quickly bonded with her late-teens/early-20s teammates, notwithstanding the differences in everything from musical preferences to life experiences.

“It’s been such a blessing to have her as my teammate,” said Reinhardt junior Brooke Newsome, 21, who is from McDonough. “(When) I heard about her joining our team, I thought it was pretty interesting and crazy, because I’d never heard of anyone at her age do what she is doing now. (But) when I first met her during one of our matches against each other, we instantly clicked and connected.

“I would consider her to be one of my best friends. I can talk to her about anything and receive some of the best advice. She has laughed with me, cried with me and supported me in everything I do.”

Now wrapping up her second season on the team, Blount said the experience has exceeded all of her expectations.

“It has been beyond my wildest dreams of how much fun it could be,” she said. “The team bonding part, I love.”

She’s more than 40 years older than her teammates, and the age difference is almost as large with her coach. Evans Nichols, who succeeded Mullins as the Reinhardt golf program’s head coach in July 2020, is 27.

“It’s unique, for sure,” Nichols said of coaching someone so much his senior. “It took me a couple of weeks to wrap my head around the dynamics of that, but I would like to think I never really changed who I am, and I don’t think she changed who she is.”

Blount has consistently been among the team’s top four players. “There is still a long way to go,” she said. “If I’m (shooting) in the mid-80s, I’m happy.” She earned a partial scholarship after beginning as a walk-on.

Her unique story – a college athlete in her 60s! – has drawn notice. She received a small NIL (name, image and likeness) deal from restaurant chain Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux and donated the proceeds to Reinhardt’s golf program.

“I am hoping for an NIL deal from either an arthritis product, such as Voltaren, which I carry in my golf bag, or Stryker, the company that made my knee replacement,” joked Blount, who had left-knee replacement surgery in 2015.

She and her late husband, Ben Blount, former chief financial officer of Atlanta-based clothing company Oxford Industries, shared passions for golf and skiing. They long lived in Atlanta, where he was a Cherokee Town and Country Club member when they married, and bought a condo in Vail, Colorado, where she taught skiing in the winters for 35 years. One of the people she met as a ski instructor decades ago heard about her college golf career and sent a “nice note” that she treasures: Jack Nicklaus.

Blount sees and shares the humor in her experiences as a college athlete. “Every Friday night, I try to have dinner with my ‘adult’ friends,” she said. “We end up rolling on the floor about some of the stuff that happens.” Such as: “getting chased by a goose” on the golf course as a graduate-assistant coach, Chris Whitney, “whipped out his camera and got the whole thing on video.”

But Blount is serious about her golf and her studies. She makes the approximately 45-mile drive from Sandy Springs to Waleska several days a week and takes other classes on-line. She has a 4.0 grade point average in an interdisciplinary studies major and is on track to graduate in May 2023, when she’ll be Medicare age and at the end of her third season on the golf team. After that, she’s considering pursuing a Master’s degree in sports administration during her fourth season of eligibility. Then she might like to become an assistant coach.

Her college career, although belated, may have come at just the right time. She has described herself as “a little lost” after her husband’s November 2017 death from an hereditary bleeding disorder. She doesn’t have children, but interactions with young teammates have revealed “more motherly skills than I realized I had.”

“It’s probably where I was meant to be all along,’” Blount said of Reinhardt. “The minute I walked on campus – and I get choked up every time I say this – there was this coming-home feeling. It is a place that is so welcoming.”

Asked what advice she’d offer others with long-deferred dreams, Blount said: “I can always say, it is never too late. … If it’s something you really want, it will enrich and enhance your life beyond your wildest dreams.”

And it may touch others in profound ways as well.

“I’ve learned so many things with her,” Newsome said of teammate Blount. “The way she mentally approaches golf and life has influenced me and turned me into a better player (and) person. … She’s taught me to appreciate the ability and opportunity you are given to play college golf.”

“I think the biggest thing for others to take away from her experience is if you have a vision or some sort of goal … the first step is just to take a leap of faith,” Nichols said. “She did that, and it’s turned out to be a great, great event for everyone, including us.”

The golf, the classes, the teammates, the competition – all of it has been reinvigorating to Blount.

“I feel 30 years younger,” she said, “except when I get up in the morning.”

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Debbie Blount, a member of the Reinhardt University women's golf team, enrolled in college in her 60s. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

Debbie Blount, a member of the Reinhardt University women's golf team, enrolled in college in her 60s. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

caption arrowCaption
Debbie Blount, a member of the Reinhardt University women's golf team, enrolled in college in her 60s. (Photo by Kate Awtrey)

Credit: Kate Awtrey

Credit: Kate Awtrey

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