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After Living a Full Life, She Heads Off to Another

Jackie Tobian-Steinmann has swum in the Aquacades and drawn pictures of the insides of human beings for textbooks. She has cooked gourmet meals and been a certified ski instructor. Tobian-Steinmann has been a wife and a mother, then a divorcee and a single mother. She has been rich and poor, lived in a trailer on the beach at Santa Monica with her parents and also taken summer vacations at her dad’s cottage on a lake.

And that was just in the first 50 years.

For the last 22 years, since she hit that magic 50 mark, Tobian-Steinmann has been the women’s golf coach at UCLA. When Tobian-Steinmann became the golf coach, there was no golf to coach. She started the program.

Now Tobian-Steinmann says she is 72, though her hair is cut in that swingy Dorothy Hamill style and there is no gray to be seen (which Tobian-Steinmann admits is not accidental). She moves with speed and grace so that you begin to think that time stopped for Tobian-Steinmann on that 50th birthday.

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She is getting ready to retire from a job that has belonged to no one but her. “It’s time,” she says. “I don’t know exactly why, but I feel like it’s time. I’ve got some other things I want to try now. I want to write a book about coaching. I’d like to take some gourmet cooking classes, maybe do a restaurant or something. I want to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. There’s just so much else out there.”

This is the thing about Tobian-Steinmann. She barely knew how to play golf when she started the program and she knew nothing of college coaching. Of course, she didn’t know much about skiing when she became a ski instructor either.

This is the other thing about Tobian-Steinmann. She is fearless and devoted to the art of teaching. To Tobian-Steinmann, teaching skiing, golf, gourmet cooking or anatomical drawing is all the same. And coaching is nothing but teaching with a pep talk.

Leilani Bagby, a sophomore from Santa Monica who plays for Tobian-Steinmann, says her coach, even after 22 years, “isn’t very in tune with the perfect swing. But what she does is teach you a lot about getting in tune with how you feel, with positive thinking and positive reinforcement. Coach tells us that how we do mainly has to do with attitude.

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“If you think you’re going to play well, you will. She makes sure we’re not in bad moods. Nobody is allowed to say negative things. If you do, you have to kind of re-say your sentence.”

Indeed, if you sit and talk to Tobian-Steinmann for even a few moments, you feel ready to run out and whip up a five-course meal or shoot a 70. You don’t want to be made to re-say your sentence.

And you also hear a most interesting story.

Born in Michigan, she moved with her family out to California. Her father had financial successes and setbacks, but sports was always a part of the family. Tobian-Steinmann’s brother, Gary Tobian, is a two-time Olympic diver. Tobian-Steinmann helped put herself through UCLA by swimming in Aquacades, swimming shows in the Esther Williams mode of glittery costumes and lots of makeup.

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Trained as a medical illustrator, she drew for medical textbooks until she met her husband, a Swiss named Hans Steinmann. He was an avid skier, and so Jackie took up that sport with such passion that she was once named outstanding ski instructor of the World Professional Ski Instructors Assn.

After Tobian-Steinmann’s divorce in 1976, a friend approached her about starting a golf program for women at UCLA.

“I didn’t know much about coaching and had no one to ask,” she says, “but I interviewed for the job and got it. For $2,000 a year. I just kind of stumbled along and learned by experience.”

Alex Gasser, a junior from Switzerland, says that when she arrived at UCLA the only thing she knew about her coach was “that she was not very young. I was thinking I should get a younger coach, but I am just amazed with her. The happiness she always has. She is always jumping around and is so young in her head. She gives energy like you wouldn’t believe.”

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Being a pioneer coach in women’s sports wasn’t easy. Tobian-Steinmann fought to find courses for her girls to play on, fought for funds and support. She also fought to find the best ways to coach. Mostly Tobian-Steinmann learned by feel, by what felt right in her own head, what seemed right when others did it.

Tobian-Steinmann has coached UCLA to an NCAA title (in 1991) and she has twice been honored with the Rolex/Gladys Palmer Meritorious Service Award. The second time was last month. The first time was when the award was first given, in 1986.

This time Tobian-Steinmann received a $5,000 gold Rolex watch. She didn’t get one the first time. “I guess it was worth sticking around all this time,” she says.

But, no, Tobian-Steinmann didn’t coach for a watch. She coached because it felt right, because she could make girls smile and then fight for every stroke. She is retiring now because it feels right too. And because there is so much more in this world to do.

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Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com.


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