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18 Holes with … Brandi Chastain

Former U.S. national team soccer standout gives good account of herself on golf course

Teddy Greenstein

On Colleges, On Golf

10:18 AM EDT, August 3, 2013

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Brandi Chastain stepped to the first tee at Evanston Golf Club and had a flashback.

Suddenly she was back at Yankee Stadium, and the date was July 16, 1999. A week earlier she had blasted a penalty kick to clinch the World Cup, and then whipped off her jersey to create an image that made the covers of Sports Illustrated ("Yes!") and Newsweek ("Girls Rule!").

After Joe Torre and Don Zimmer warned her that she would get booed if she didn't reach the plate, Chastain said: "My stomach flipped."

But she didn't appear queasy. She asked to borrow Orlando Hernandez's glove, shook off Jorge Posada and then fired a ball after what the New York Times called a "dramatic windup."

How did she do?

"A strike," Chastain replied. "C'mon now."

Her first tee ball was the equivalent of a foul down the left-field line. But Chastain earned her cred before that first swing. Asked to select the tees, she opted for the members' preferred blue-green combo. Male members.

"I'm supposed to play from the women's tees," she said. "I don't subscribe to that."

Chastain's rise to the top of women's soccer was equally unconventional. She was left off the 1995 World Cup team, played a season in Japan and helped coach the Santa Clara women's team. (Husband Jerry Smith is the head coach.)

The coach of the 1999 World Cup team, Tony DiCicco, envisioned her as a defender, a radical departure from her years as a glamorous goal-scorer.

"He said he wanted me to play 'in the back' and my mouth dropped," she recalled. "Let's say you love writing about sports and you're asked to cover a war. I was dumbfounded but said yes."

She remained a major attraction on a team with Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, who gave her the nickname "Hollywood."

"For being dramatic," Chastain said. "And I could get a foul (called) any time I wanted to."

She's also an entertainer. When I flipped a ball to her on the tee, Chastain juggled it with her feet.

Chastain is a solid, no-frills golfer who hits 230-yard drives. But put her in competition and she becomes a tiger.

She teamed with John Smoltz in 2012 to win Michael Jordan's charity golf event in Las Vegas — and then she knocked MJ out of the accompanying poker tournament. They were the last two survivors when Jordan looked at her big stack of chips and said: "I'm coming after you."

Her pair of 3s beat Jordan's deuces, leading Chastain to say: "How appropriate that you lost on a 23."

She has played the Lake Tahoe celebrity event a half-dozen times, preferring to carry her clubs and run from one shot to the next, figuring: "With the elevation, it's a good workout."

Once on the "big-boned" side, as she put it, Chastain, 45, now is ripped with NBA-caliber arms, thanks in part to the workouts she organizes with fellow moms after they drop their kids off at school. She occasionally will splurge on Haagen-Dazs Caramel Cone but won't sniff coffee or fast food.

She came to Chicago to host a Chastain Soccer Academy camp organized by brother Chad, a Wilmette resident whose wife, Erin, coaches DePaul's women's team. Chad complimented Brandi on a golf shot by saying: "Nice, toots!" Brandi appreciated it, saying: "My mom called me that."

Fortunately I resisted the urge to ask whether she would celebrate a birdie by discarding her pink golf shirt. (Who can forget the Nike ad when Kevin Garnett asks, "What's up with the shirt?" after Chastain knocked one home in foosball.)

But I was silly enough, after seeing Chad leave a birdie try short, to remark: "Nice putt, Sally."

I immediately apologized, to which the ever-supportive Brandi replied: "That's OK. I know some guys named Sally."

The beginning title of her 2004 book is, "It's Not About the Bra" but it's impossible to spend four-plus hours with Chastain and not ask: Where is it?

The black sports bra is back with its original owner after a brief stay at the Sports Museum of America. After the museum went bankrupt, Chastain actually had to fight to reclaim it.

Now it's framed next to the SI cover, a reminder, Chastain said, "of the perfect moment you dream about as a kid."

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

18 holes with …

Brandi Chastain

Five-second bio: The Olympic and Women's World Cup champ is a mom, youth coach, soccer ambassador and ESPN analyst.

Where: Evanston Golf Club, Skokie; (Member tees: 6,506 yards).

Chastain's handicap: 14.

What she shot: 88.

On her round: "I don't think I'm ever happy with my score."