Women Pi­o­neers

Grow­ing up a golfer in coun­tries where it hasn’t been done

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - By Keely Levins

Grow­ing up to be­come an LPGA Tour golfer in coun­tries where it hasn’t been done. BY KEELY LEVINS

▶ there’s no per­fect for­mula for cre­at­ing a tour player, no list of re­quire­ments to check off in the de­vel­op­ment of a young golfer that will guar­an­tee ar­rival to the pro ranks. Still, you would think there are a few nec­es­sary things. Easy ac­cess to a golf course, for one. Or the abil­ity to hit off of grass. Or even just some­one else’s path to use as a guide­line. It’s the lack of th­ese re­sources, and many oth­ers, that makes the fact the fol­low­ing four women have their LPGA Tour cards all the more im­pres­sive. ▶ Maria Tor­res, Laeti­tia Beck, Tif­fany Chan and Olafia Kristins­dot­tir are from four very dif­fer­ent parts of the world. Tor­res grew up in Puerto Rico, Beck in Is­rael, Chan in Hong Kong, and Kristins­dot­tir in Ice­land. Each is the first woman from her re­spec­tive coun­try/ter­ri­tory to have earned an LPGA Tour card. ▶ In 2008, 121 in­ter­na­tional play­ers from 26 coun­tries were mem­bers of the LPGA Tour. This past sea­son, 31 coun­tries were rep­re­sented, four more than on the PGA Tour. ▶ Th­ese women’s sto­ries are dif­fer­ent, but the same in that each was bold enough to dream of pro­fes­sional golf in a place where play­ing the game is not seen as a norm. Each is a pioneer, hav­ing nav­i­gated a unique route to the LPGA Tour. ▶

Olafia Kristins­dot­tir

COUN­TRY Ice­land AGE 25 ROOKIE YEAR 2017 ••• PLAY­ING GOLF IN ICE­LAND MUST MEAN PRAC­TIC­ING

IN­DOORS A LOT. We have a short sea­son, May to Septem­ber. But it’s light all day in the sum­mers. It was the most nor­mal thing to switch to in­door prac­tice, and all of a sud­den we’re hit­ting into nets and putting on car­pets to holes in the floor. Not un­til I came to the U.S. did I re­alise that was atyp­i­cal.

HOW DID YOU END UP AT

WAKE FOR­EST? I wrote to the top-20 golf schools in Amer­ica with all my re­sults. Wake and a few oth­ers re­cruited me, and I liked Wake For­est the most. WAS IT HARD TO ACCLIMATE TO LIV­ING IN THE U. S.? There wasn’t that much of a so­cial or cul­tural dif­fer­ence. But at the golf course and in life, you some­times go through ups and downs. When­ever I’d have some­thing down hap­pen­ing, it was ex­tra hard be­cause I was so far away from home. WAS LAN­GUAGE A FAC­TOR? They put a big em­pha­sis on lan­guage in our schools, so we grew up speak­ing Ice­landic, and then learned Dan­ish and English in fourth grade. And then I learned Span­ish, too. Still, uni­ver­sity is dif­fer­ent where they’re us­ing big words. I stud­ied eco­nom­ics and strug­gled a bit with all the terms, but it came to me. IF YOU’D STAYED IN ICE­LAND FOR COL­LEGE, WOULD YOU

We don’t HAVE PLAYED GOLF? re­ally have sports pro­grams with univer­si­ties. Be­ing a stu­dent is like a full-time job, so you’d be re­ally ex­hausted. You can­not re­ally fo­cus on both. NO ICE­LANDIC WOMAN HAD PLAYED ON TOUR BE­FORE. WAS IT STRANGE TELLING PEO­PLE YOUR PLAN? I re­mem­ber think­ing, Should I tell

peo­ple this is my goal? I wasn’t sure if I should even say it. But you have to dream. And Ice­landers are known to be dream­ers and hav­ing big hearts, and chas­ing it.

Maria Tor­res

COUN­TRY Puerto Rico AGE 23 ROOKIE YEAR 2018 ••• HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED PLAY­ING? No­body in my fam­ily plays golf. We al­ways drove by a range on the way home from eques­trian, and one day my dad asked if I wanted lessons. I was 7, and that’s how it started. Get­ting to know what you re­ally love at that age and find­ing that pas­sion—it’s a spe­cial thing. HOW WAS YOUR AC­CESS TO COACHES AND COUR­SES? Our high school team had one day al­most ev­ery week to play all day. Af­ter school, I’d go prac­tice. I just kept adding days. I wanted to go to col­lege and play pro­fes­sion­ally. When you’re a kid, you have th­ese dreams. But to ac­tu­ally be here, it’s sur­real. YOU HAD AN IN­TENSE Q- SCHOOL EX­PE­RI­ENCE. WHAT HAP­PENED? Af­ter the first stage, I went home, and then Hur­ri­cane Maria hit. It was so hot—no power, no wash­ing ma­chine, no air con­di­tion­ing. You learn you take a lot for granted. My grandma had a gas gen­er­a­tor that we used to run an AC unit in one room, so that’s where we all slept. The lines to get gas were seven hours long. So much of it was hor­ri­ble, but peo­ple came to­gether to help one an­other. Some­times af­ter a bad thing, you get a good thing. HOW DID YOU MAKE IT BACK FOR THE NEXT STAGE? I didn’t know how I was go­ing to get out, but I needed to prac­tice. I put a bucket out in a kids park and hit to it. I putted on the car­pets in the house. Af­ter a week, my spon­sor had a pri­vate plane come get me. HOW DID YOU FO­CUS ON GOLF WITH EV­ERY­THING GO­ING ON AROUND YOU? I wanted to be sup­port­ing my fam­ily, but they were like, go— you have to go and chase your dream. It was emo­tional when I got the card. Even if I hadn’t got­ten my card, giv­ing it my all, it made ev­ery­thing worth it.

Laeti­tia Beck

COUN­TRY Is­rael AGE 26 ROOKIE YEAR 2015 ••• HOW DOES AN IS­RAELI GIRL

My par­ents GET INTO GOLF? played golf a bit in Bel­gium. When I was 6, we moved to Is­rael, and we bought a house near the only 18-hole course in the coun­try. I loved ten­nis, too. WHEN DID YOU DE­CIDE

“I WENT FROM PLAY­ING TWICE A WEEK TO FIVE DAYS. WITHIN A YEAR, I WENT FROM LIKE A 15- HAND­I­CAP TO A SCRATCH.” — LAETI­TIA BECK

“I ZONE OUT A LOT. IF YOU ASK MY FAM­ILY, THEY’LL SAY I ’ M ON MY OWN PLANET. BUT IT’S A WON­DER­FUL PLANET.” — MARIA TOR­RES

TO TAKE GOLF MORE

SE­RI­OUSLY? When I was 12, I played in my first Ladies Is­raeli Open, and I won. I was ath­letic, but we re­alised I had to fo­cus on one sport. Other sports you need a team or part­ner, but I could play golf alone. As my life be­came about my pas­sion, I started hav­ing fewer friends, for sure. But I didn’t feel like I was miss­ing out on any­thing. WHEN DID YOU HIT YOUR CEIL­ING WITH GOLF OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES IN IS­RAEL? I had to go where there were more cour­ses and tour­na­ments. I was 14 when I went to IMG Academy [Braden­ton, Fla.]. It was hard in the be­gin­ning. I was in a strange coun­try, the cul­ture is so dif­fer­ent. I have food re­stric­tions and hol­i­days—I missed how nor­mal that was in Is­rael. The week­ends got a bit lonely. I was kind of weird, and it was hard for me to so­cialise. But I don’t need to so­cialise much. The golf was amaz­ing.

IT SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH TO ACCLIMATE TO. HOW DID

I de­bated YOU KEEP GO­ING? go­ing home. But I knew if I went back, it meant no more golf. I wouldn’t have ful­filled my po­ten­tial. Slowly, I re­turned to Is­rael less and less.

Tif­fany Chan

COUN­TRY Hong Kong AGE 25 ROOKIE YEAR 2018 ••• HOW DID YOU GET INTO

GOLF? I learned with my dad, and when I was 8, the Hong Kong Golf As­so­ci­a­tion started a ju­nior pro­gram. There were around 70 of us. We only played on the range, which was all mats. Even­tu­ally I was put on the elite team, which went to a course three times a month. WHAT WAS IT LIKE GO­ING FROM THE RANGE TO COM­PET­ING ON COUR­SES? It was so hard. You don’t know how to chip, you con­stantly three-putt. It took me years to feel com­fort­able with my short game. We had good swings that we knew a lot about, but we couldn’t score. HOW DID YOU BAL­ANCE in Hong SCHOOL AND GOLF? Kong, ev­ery­one’s so fo­cused on aca­demics that they ig­nore sports. I was lucky—my par­ents didn’t force me to get A’s. I had free­dom to go to tour­na­ments, but when I got back, I had to make up all the work. DID YOU TRAVEL MUCH? Our Amer­i­can coach got us a spon­sor so we could take trips. We went to ju­nior tour­na­ments all over—Thai­land, Sin­ga­pore, Korea, Ja­pan. We’d come to the U.S. for a month in the sum­mer, too. We had so much fun. But our team was al­most al­ways last. No one looked up to us. COM­ING TO THE U. S. FOR COL­LEGE AT 19, WHAT WAS

THAT LIKE FOR YOUR GOLF? I fi­nally had full ac­cess to a course and the abil­ity to prac­tice short game. It was amaz­ing. I hit so many balls. I spent my 21st birth­day at the course by my­self all day. THOUGH IT WAS ALSO A BIT

ASU OF A ROUGH START? re­cruited me, but a month be­fore I left, we found out that an aca­demic re­quire­ment made me in­el­i­gi­ble. So I went to ju­nior col­lege in Ok­la­homa. Two months in, our coach dis­ap­peared. Our sea­son was done. It was the most hor­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. I felt lost. But it got bet­ter when I trans­ferred to

Day­tona State [Fla.], fin­ished ju­nior col­lege, and then trans­ferred to USC. HOW’S TOUR LIFE TREAT­ING

YOU? It’s great. All the Korean, Amer­i­can and Tai­wanese play­ers, they have peo­ple to play with and al­ready seem to know, like, 60 per­cent of what to do. I’m a blank slate. I will do what­ever I can to stay.

“EV­ERY­ONE IN HONG KONG THINKS I ’ M SU­PER- RICH. THEY DON’T UN­DER­STAND. THEY SEE GOLF IN MOVIES, AND IT’S AL­WAYS RICH GUYS PLAY­ING.” — TIF­FANY CHAN

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