ORONO, Maine — Whitney Hand took an uncharacteristic 42 putts en route to an 11-over-par 84 in the first round of the Maine Women’s Amateur golf tournament Monday at Penobscot Valley Country Club.
That could certainly frustrate a golfer who won or shared three state championships during her terrific Bucksport High School career.
She was just thankful to be playing the game she loves again after a long struggle with heroin addiction that nearly took her life.
In April, she finished up a sentence at the Penobscot County Jail stemming from her addiction. She figures she had been a heroin addict for about two and a half years.
After a head-on car crash in 2012 in which she injured her back, Hand got addicted to painkillers.
“I had trouble walking. I was in a lot of pain,” she said.
That led to a heroin addiction, and she had an overdose that resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
It also resulted in several stints in jail for drug possession.
“I’ve come a long way. It has been very difficult. I’m just happy to be here. I was in so deep, I never thought I’d make it back,” said 27-year-old Hand, who works 12 hours per day, seven days per week for her father, Wayne, at the Bucksport Golf Club.
Her dad owns the course.
The long hours don’t bother her. Golf has been therapeutic for her.
“I couldn’t be happier with everything I’m doing,” said Hand, who has been drug free for 13 months.
When she isn’t working at the club, she’s playing golf.
“She loves it there. It is obviously her niche,” said her mother, Lynn Musetti, who noted her daughter does a bit of everything at the course including running tournaments and cooking.
“She’s doing whatever it takes. I’m really proud of her,” said Musetti, who is thankful that her daughter is still here.
“She is very lucky to be alive,” said Musetti. “I couldn’t think of anything that could save her more than golf.
“Her passion for golf makes her feel good about herself. It is very gratifying for me to know how much she loves it,” she added.
Hand’s remarkable golf career includes back-to-back Women’s Maine State Golf Association junior championships in addition to three state high school girls titles.
She received an opportunity to play golf at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.
But during her first semester, she was raped at an off-campus party.
“She got treatment, but I’m not sure she pursued it long enough,” Musetti said.
Hand decided to return home and eventually enrolled at Husson University in Bangor.
Unfortunately, Husson didn’t have a golf team, although Musetti said her daughter did everything she could to start a program.
“I wish they had one when she was there,” she said.
Jail time leads to rehab
Hand’s day of reckoning came last summer.
“I got arrested [for drug possession] and ended up spending three and a half months in the Penobscot County Jail,” said Hand. “I lost my car, my apartment and my license.
“My parents said I needed to get help. So I went to rehab for a month in Limestone,” she said.
Her rehab at the Aroostook Mental Health Center’s substance abuse clinic known as “The Farm” saved her life, and she continued attending outpatient sessions in Ellsworth.
It was at her outpatient sessions that she met her boyfriend, Jason Mann, who has been another positive influence in her life.
She had been placed on two years of probation but decided she wanted her life back, so she agreed to serve out the remaining time on her sentence in order to free herself from the probation.
Hand spoke to her parents by phone every night. She said it was their love and support that turned her life around.
“They told me I could get back to where I was before the addiction,” said Hand. “My dad gave me a chance to help him at the course.
“I realized I had so much and that I had so many opportunities but I was throwing everything away,” she said. “We made a plan when I was in there.
“When I got out, I was going to throw myself into work and golf and keep myself really busy,” she added.
She has done so.
“She had lost everything, but her dad and I stood by her. At times we were furious, devastated and terrified. But we weren’t going to turn our backs on her,” Musetti said.
Back on the course
Hand began playing golf again in April but said she didn’t have plans to play in any tournaments for a while.
“But when I started playing, I played well. I was shooting under par or at par at [the Bucksport Golf Club],” said Hand, who added that she missed competing.
Musetti said her daughter also benefited having a supportive boyfriend.
‘When she was in jail, she kept saying to me everything was going to be OK. She said she didn’t want to live like this any more. She sounded different this time,” Musetti said. “Jason was extremely supportive, and he was an avid golfer. He caddies for her. He told her to get away from those people [who had been bad influences], that they didn’t have her best interest at heart.
“We know how many people’s lives have been taken [by addiction], and we didn’t want her to be a statistic,” Musetti added. “We preferred to see her name in the newspaper for her golf.”
Her mother also praised the Women’s Maine State Golf Association for accepting her daughter back into the fold.
“People can judge her, and who would blame them for it,” she said. “But they have been very welcoming, and that has been huge.”
“I feel so grateful to be back with all of these ladies. It has been great,” said Hand, who shot a 91 on Tuesday and is tied for 19th after two rounds in the 64-woman field with an 18-over-par 175.
“She would love to win, but the most important thing for her now is to show people she is willing to put herself out there,” Musetti said. “I admire her. At the core of her recovery is her strength. It’s hard for her to know if people are judging her, but she is very determined to do it no matter what.
“I told her she should speak at schools and tell them this is what she had and this is what she lost and it can happen to them. All it takes is one time,” she added.
Calais native Lori Frost and Portage Lake’s Liz Coffin said it is nice to have Hand back on the golf course.
“It’s great to see her out there playing,” said Coffin. “We all have our demons. I have always admired how she plays. She’s a great player.”
Coffin added that the Women’s Maine State Golf Association needs more good young golfers in the fold because it is top heavy with older golfers.
“I know Whitney has had some hard times but to see her out there competing again is exciting,” said Frost, who teaches in the Bucksport school system. “Life is full of ups and downs, and having her out here again is awesome.”