Esther Etherington is blind in one eye, but she has never considered her loss of partial sight to be a disability or allowed it to stand in her way when she is determined to accomplish something. 

As a senior at Richmond High School, Esther advanced to the state finals in golf. Her high school golf coach Brent Struewing has high praise for her.

“Esther is special,” Struewing said during a recent visit at the boys golf sectional. “She was not the most naturally talented player I ever coached, but she may well be the hardest working player. She is destined for great things in life.”

Etherington is a rising junior at Franklin College pursuing a degree in elementary education with a minor in nonprofit leadership. Golf has been a big part of her life since an early age. 

She has more than eight years of experience in golf as a First Tee participant and national scholar, a pro shop employee at two courses, a youth coach, and a member of the Franklin College women’s golf team. 

Etherington is blind in her right eye and spent the first decade of her life in and out of Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Through her life experiences, she chose to give back and plans to launch a charitable golf tournament called Esther’s One-Eyed Open, supporting Riley children’s hospital and First Tee Indiana.

Reflecting an organizational commitment to advance more equitable and accessible opportunities for individuals interested in golf, the United States Golf Association (USGA) recently identified 24 students from a wide range of backgrounds to participate in the Pathways Internship during the 2024 U.S. Open Championship. Etherington was among the 24 selected. 

The immersive 10-day educational experience, supported by foundational sponsor Deloitte, primarily took place at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club.  

The interns were exposed to various career pathways in golf through job shadowing, networking with industry leaders, and through professional development sessions. The interns were exposed to all aspects of running the U.S. Open. 

The program started with a mentoring session with the local First Tee chapter and a session with the USGA Agronomy team to learn about setting up a U.S. Open.

Originally launched in 2022 as the Lee Elder Internship, the program entered its third year with more than 40% of past participants now holding full-time positions in golf administration or golf-connected businesses, including the USGA, PGA Tour, Allied Golf Associations, MNML Golf, Deloitte and others.  

Mike Whan, the CEO of the USGA, talked in a news release about the purpose of the program.

“It is important that we continue to open opportunities for everyone to work and play in golf,” Whan said. “Relationships are built and fostered on site at championships, and the framework we’ve created with the Pathway Internship allows students to get that same opportunity, which can jump start their careers.”  

This year’s Pathways Interns also benefited from the recent opening of the USGA’s Golf House Pinehurst. With 70 USGA team members based in Pinehurst, the interns had the opportunity to develop a broader understanding of the many functions and roles that exist within the USGA beyond the championship stage, from aerodynamics to engineering, technical innovation, applied science and research to museum curation, grant administration and sports governance.  

The USGA annually funds more than 270 paid internships across the country. 

For Etherington, it has been a whirlwind experience and a dream come true. Speaking by telephone from Pinehurst on Friday, June 14, she talked about her experience. 

“It has been wonderful, a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Etherington said. “We have had the opportunity to explore different career opportunities in the golf industry. We have met with USGA executive committee members and board members. We have met with so many gracious USGA staff members and the staff at Pinehurst, and learned what is involved in putting on a major championship in golf. It has been inspiring, and I feel very fortunate to be here with 23 other college-age and graduate students and others who are early on in their careers.”

She went on to elaborate about how she received this opportunity and what her goals are.

“I have always known that I wanted to be involved with youth and growing the game of golf,” Etherington said. “Of course, I have been involved with the First Tee program and I will be interning with the First Tee program of greater Charleston (South Carolina) this summer. But, learning the tournament operations and player relations side of things here has been great because those are two areas that I might be especially interested in, as well as the management of volunteers.” 

Esther was one of 24 people selected for this opportunity from a pool of more than 500 applicants nationwide. 

Esther called her selection “a blessing.” Many others may call it a well-deserved honor.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 19 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Dan Harney is a sports reporter at the Western Wayne News.