It’s 2003. I am eighteen years old, fresh off what would later be called the Symetra Tour, and a full time rookie on the LPGA. I am carefree, I am young, I am precocious. I am lucky to be playing a sport that I had fallen in love with, and was getting paid based on how well I played. The first LPGA event of the season is the 2003 Welch’s Fry Circle K in Tucson, AZ. My practice round included teeing it up with Dorothy Delasin, one of my heroes growing up in Northern California, and Cristie Kerr, who would later on prove to be one of, if not the strongest American player on the LPGA tour for a number of years.
Though there is a slew of new faces, I see a lot of faces I recognize. Obviously, Lorena Ochoa and Miriam Nagl, who graduated with me from the Futures Tour, along with a littering of players that made their way through Qualifying School. There are a few players that I knew through the Junior Golf Association of Northern California like Natalie Gulbis, who was in her second year on tour at 19, and someone I always admired for her kindness to strangers and her work ethic. One thing that has always stuck in my mind was when I saw her in the locker room on Tuesday, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and she looked over at me and smiled. I shuffled over and watched her in awe and said something massively dorky like “Wow. I can’t believe we are here together.” And with her iconic, dazzling smile, Nat looked at me and said “We really are living the dream, aren’t we?”
And then of course, there were the women I grew up watching on the television. Meg Mallon. Beth Daniel. Karrie Webb. Se Ri Pak, who is deemed a deity in the world of Korean golf. And of course, Annika Sorenstam, who was one of the first players to show mind boggling dominance in the modern era of golf. These were women I looked up to, women I idolized, and women I wanted to get to know. To humanize; so I would be able to treat them with the respect and reverence they deserve, but also so I would be able to maybe one day call them friend.
Throughout my first week on tour, I got to know many names. So many I was overwhelmed, but was in such a daze that before I knew it, it was Thursday. I was paired with Miriam Nagl, whom I had graduated with the year before, and Dina Amaccapane, a player that I had seen on TV many times before. Both Dina and I missed the first green, and when I saw her play a soft lob shot and stick the ball to five feet from the hole, I just assumed I could too. Mind you, I had never really played a shot like that before. I was very much of the ilk to play flop shots when I had a perfect lie, and needed to spin the ball. I never thought to play the ball away from the ground when I had room to work with, but I figured “she could, so why can’t I?” Twenty five feet later, my dad was scratching his head and muttering about why I ever tried playing that shot, I never use that shot. Miriam was on a similar line for her birdie putt, and when I watched her ball miss on the high side, I was able to use her read and sank my par putt.
The remainder of the next two days seemed to go into a blur, and before I knew it, I made my first cut, and was playing with Deb Richard, a lady with grace and patience and encouraging words for me. The crowd that had gathered on the first tee made me cry because Saturday was my nineteenth birthday, and I went on to shoot an easy 8-under 62. Come Sunday, I was in the final pairing with the Canadian legend Lorie Kane, and briefly held the lead with birdies on my first two holes. Lorie was a fierce competitor, and she taught me a lot about how to deal with fans, how to deal with a just-turned nineteen year old and her pop lugging her bag around. We were a duo that loved being able to be on that golf course, and were eager to learn more about the way tournament golf at it’s highest level could be played. Though neither of us won (Long ball Wendy Doolan ended up smoking the golf course and us) I left the course a much more aware young lady.
In the weeks after that, I got paired with Meg Mallon, with Beth Daniel, and with Annika Sorenstam. They told me tales of how the tour used to be, how lucky we all were to be where we were. We were not only walking the trail blazed for us by the work and love of the game Babe Zaharias, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, and the ten other founders of the LPGA had. No, not at all. We were also walking along, trowel in hand, and paving the way for the future. The women I grew up idolizing taught me to make sure to leave the LPGA and the game of golf in a better place than I entered.
Ten years and two victories later, I feel like there has been a change of the guards. I have seen the women I idolized retire, starting with Beth Daniel, and most recently in the legendary Grace Park, who epitomized her first name. Though I am only 28, I feel like I am beyond my years, in both wisdom (which is probably a load of cow patties) and in stress on my body, my mind, my soul. The organization that I came into has been through some extremely difficult times, has risen from the ashes and re-emerged, as a new product full of gorgeous, young Americans that are business saavy and can bomb the ball.
Though I have been struggling through some physical ailments, depression, and the recession we have all been feeling, I have renewed hope in the future of the LPGA. In the last two weeks I have played with the beautiful Sydnee Michaels, Lizette Salas, and Danielle Kang. They are all gorgeous, beat the crap out of the ball, and have great heads on their shoulders. The combined age of the last three winners is 59, which is the lowest recorded score in women’s golf. 59. Granted, the lovely Kiwi Lydia Ko is only 15, but the other two winners, So Yeon Ryu and Mika Miyazato are both 22. And somehow, six years is a massive difference. Who I was at 25 and who I am right now, I can’t even begin to explain it. I just know I need to get my butt into gear, lose as much weight as yards I want to gain off my driver, and go find Juan Ponce De Leon and find me that Fountain of Youth he is reputed to have found. I will be around until the LPGA is in a better place than when I was a rambunctious 18 year old, but when I do, I know the ladies into whose hands I shall be placing the shovel and trowel will be able to continue on the path paved for them.