Katherine Roberts makes her own breaks

By Rebecca Larsen, Contributor

PHOENIX -- There Katherine Roberts was -- one woman and all those men on The Golf Channel's answer to reality television, "The Big Break," one of the most popular shows ever on the channel.

In the unlikely event that some TravelGolf reader missed it, "The Big Break" pitted 10 golfers against each other in skills challenges with the final prize being exemptions on the Canadian Tour.

Appearing on the show was something of a big break as well for Roberts, an Arizona yoga instructor who has spent the past six years promoting her business and turning herself into a nationally known name in fitness training.

A resident of Cave Creek in the Phoenix area, Roberts founded a program called Yoga For Golfers, which helps golfers improve flexibility, range of motion and concentration through yoga. She teaches classes in Arizona, does corporate workshops and holds vacation retreats for students in places like Hawaii. She has a 30-minute TV series, "Yoga for Golfers," seen on The Golf Channel. She is also the yoga expert for SI/CNN/golfonline.com, TheGolfChannel.com and Golf for Women Magazine.

But it did seem as if "The Big Break" didn't quite know what to do with Roberts or how to blend her into the program. One of her yoga students, Will Weathersby, a Scottsdale resident, told us he liked the show, but thought that the producers must have edited out much of her role. "She was more visible in the beginning," he said, "but I'm not sure what they did to her at the end. The editors must have done it."

Besides being a fitness expert, Roberts is also an excellent golfer. But it would have been hard to find that out from watching "The Big Break." As one reader wrote on a Golf Channel Internet message board: "There doesn't really seem to be any reason why the hostess is on the show. She gives the impression that she knows little or nothing about golf, almost as bad as the gal who's the host on that 'Golf With Style' show."

We talked to Roberts about golf, her career and her role in "The Big Break," and asked some questions about these reactions. Some she answered; sometimes, however, she sidestepped the issue, except to say that she loves The Golf Channel and appreciates all that the channel has done for her. We met at a Starbucks near her home where the staff knew her well and some of the customers were great friends and big fans.

TG: How did you get all those great jobs -- the yoga series on the Golf Channel and the articles in the golf magazines, all those features in USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, on ESPN?

Roberts: I called them up. My husband says I'm fearless about that. I always figure that the worst thing that can happen to you is that someone will say "No."

TG: How did you get into golf and fitness?

Roberts: I've been in the yoga/golf business for six years. But I've played golf since I was 15. For me, the most comfortable sensations are the sound of metal cleats on cement and the smell of fresh cut grass, the smell of good Scotch. Those are the sounds and smells of golf. I always spent Sunday afternoons with my father on the driving range. My mother and my father were both very active golfers.

Before I did this, I was working in corporate America in furniture sales. But even then I was always involved with fitness and I taught at night and on weekends. When I took up yoga, my handicap went from 24 to 16. I saw tremendous benefits for my golf game and for helping other people with their golf game. I began teaching at Desert Mountain, the Boulders and Desert Highlands (golf clubs in the North Scottsdale area). My students were all golfers, and they were getting the same benefits I had received. I decided there's something to this. So I did research on the biomechanics of the golf swing and I talked to all the PGA pros and I developed products and videos and DVDs.

TG: What's the secret to all your success in this?

Roberts: It has always been about relationships with people. Everything that has happened to me is about relationships. I do a lot of networking. My husband says I'm very good at it. I have fantastic contacts. I had introductions and spent 1,000s of hours connecting and networking. I have a real entrepreneurial spirit. Having a passion for what you do, you're willing to do it 18 hours a day.

Just to give you an idea of what I was willing to do to succeed, I have had a home equity line of credit that I used to the max and paid off four separate times.

One time when I was early into Yoga For Golfers, I was spending a lot of money that I didn't have on brochures. I wanted them to be high, high quality, but I didn't have the money. The printer was coming over to pick up the check and I remember thinking that the amount was equal to my mortgage payment. I handed the check to him and my throat closed up and I could hardly breathe.

So I went back and called my mother up and I told her, "Let's mark this as the occasion when I know I will be a success." A week later, the IRS sent me a refund check I hadn't expected; it's because a mistake was made on my taxes. It was equal to the amount of those brochures. So I thought, "OK, I got that; I'm supposed to be doing this."

TG: Describe what happened during filming of "The Big Break."

Roberts: This is what it was like for the nine or 10 days of filming at Treetops (the Michigan golf club where "The Big Break" took place). We got up at 4:30 a.m., and we were having dinner at 11 p.m. We were filming 10 hours a day with 23 cameras, and they tried to wrap up two shows a day. But despite all the work, it was really fun. I never felt tired when we were doing it. When I got home, though, I slept for a 16-hour stretch.

During the first two days, it was so hot, everyone felt sort of sick from sunstroke. Then all of sudden, we went from that to four days of rain -- 42 degrees and 40 mile per hour winds, running horizontally. This was in Gaylord, Mich., four hours north of Detroit.

TG: Some viewers have said that the contestants didn't seem to be great golfers.

Roberts: That's really not the case. In the selection process they went through hundreds of golfers; the highest handicap of any of those guys out there was about 2.3. These guys did a fantastic job with very difficult challenges. They'd stand around for hours and hours and then hit two shots to see how they'd do. A lot of times, they were out there standing in the rain. They could go inside, but a major portion of their time was spent standing outside and waiting.

They could practice, of course; they had time to spend on the range. But they always stepped up to the skills challenges with no practice, no idea what it was going to be like. They'd be presented with a wall and then have to hit over it. And no way could you practice hitting down a road at that golf cart. They didn't know in advance what each test was all about and then they had to go out there and just do it.

TG: The Washington Post recently said about the show that it proved "that reality television need not be mean-spirited." Was everyone as friendly during filming as it looked on television?

Roberts: It was great. The camaraderie of the guys really came across, didn't it? I felt very emotional when each guy was eliminated after spending 19 hours a day with them. When Jon Roddy was eliminated, he was crying, and so was I.

TG: Are you going to be on the next round of "The Big Break"?

Roberts: I don't know; I've talked to them about it. I'm waiting to hear. I can't say enough about the folks at The Golf Channel. But "The Big Break" is not about me, not about the host, Rick Smith. It's about the guys; it's about following your passion and following your dreams.

TG: Did you get a lot of fan mail as a result of the show?

Roberts: It was an immensely popular show, the most popular show they've ever had on the Golf Channel. So I had a lot of feedback; we got tons of e-mails. Most people liked me and loved my presence on the show. Some were not so great. One woman wrote me and said I should have had a better stylist to help me with my clothes and hair. A stylist? I had to fight to get a makeup person on the set.

TG: The majority of the audience for the Golf Channel is made up of men. How do you see yourself fitting into that?

Roberts: Golfing is not a closed male society. I don't have that sense. I'm very comfortable on the golf course and with golfing etiquette. But I can see how women just starting out in golf could be intimidated. I've often played with men I don't know. They always assume I'm all fluff and no game until I hit my ball off the first tee. And then they're very quiet.

TG: What about your personal life?

Roberts: I'm married. My husband is Mark LeGault; he doesn't golf by the way. He's a salesman for medical equipment. My "children" are my dogs. I donate a portion of all my DVDs to Best Friends animal shelter in Kanab, Utah. I also do foster care for Foothills animal rescue. That's how I got my latest dog. I take in dogs waiting to find a permanent home. We took in a shepherd mix that was abandoned with two siblings, and we fell in love with him. I already had a yellow Lab and a German shepherd.

TG: Have you always lived in Arizona?

Roberts: I'm originally from Philadelphia, but I lived in Florida after getting out of high school. One time I was in a plane flying over Arizona when I saw an ad in a magazine for the Boulders, the golf resort in Carefree. I was so impressed with the picture that I tore out the ad and put it on the front of my refrigerator. I told everybody: "That's the place where I'm going to live some day."

Now I live in Cave Creek, pretty close to the Boulders and I've taught yoga at the Boulders.

That says to me: If you're clear on your intention, you can do something. It also ties into one of the key reasons for combining golf and yoga. If you can't quiet your mind, you can't visualize what you're going to do next and you have to visualize in golf.

The scoop on Katherine Roberts

Where she plays --

"I like Grayhawk. I shot all my videos there. I like Desert Mountain -- I get invited there by my friends -- and I like the Boulders, of course."

Her handicap --

"I have a 16 handicap. My objective this year was to get to 10, but here I am a few weeks into the year, and I've only played once in January."

The clubs she uses --

"I have TaylorMades; I just got fitted for a new set. But I still use my father's old Ping Zing putter -- he died a few years ago. I'm never going to give it up. I played in a golf writers tournament recently. I came in fifth of 72 golfers. I won a putter, and I gave it to a friend for Christmas."

What a student thinks about Katherine Roberts' techniques:

Will Weathersby of Scottsdale: "I was an accomplished golfer, but I needed something to help me get some improvement. I had very specific exercises I wanted to do in order to get my body to do what my golf coach wanted me to do. I wanted to increase the suppleness of my upper body, and the yoga exercises she taught me were very beneficial for that."

To find out more about Yoga For Golfers, check out www.yogaforgolfers.com.

Rebecca LarsenRebecca Larsen, Contributor

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Katherine Roberts vs Rick Smith

    A.W. Walker wrote on: Sep 19, 2004

    I've been watching reruns on Dallas cable TV of "The Big Break # 1". Rick Smith may be an expert on golf, but he is a verbal bully when he is paired with Katherine Roberts on this show. He ignores any comments she makes and talks over her when she tries. I hope this offensive pattern of ignoring the comments that other people have to make is coached out of Rick when he pairs with Lesley Swanson. I think Katherine Roberts may have had a lot of valuable insights to make, but was "out-talked" by Smith. He is unquestionably shown as insensitive to others' input.