by Dave Andrews
A chance meeting leads to a new sponsor and caddie
For the second time in four years, Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Canada can look forward to a full season on the LPGA Tour. The tall (6’1″) powerful player from Sherbrooke, Quebec earned her full-status card for the 2016 season in December at the final stage of LPGA Q-School in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Four years ago, the All-American player at Purdue University accomplished the same feat at Q-School in her very first year out of college. However, a stress fracture in her back that sidelined her midway through her 2012 rookie season on the LPGA was followed by an up and down four years in her career. The past two seasons she played primarily on the Symetra Tour, trying to earn her way back to the LPGA.
“It’s been an interesting journey so far, to say the least,” she said as she prepares for the start of this year’s season. “Any athlete that has to deal with an injury knows it is probably the scariest thing to go through. However, I am very happy with where I am today and the team that surrounds me. I know this is just the beginning.”
A chance meeting last year put her together with a man who has played a big role in helping her make it back to the LPGA. When Leblanc met her amateur partners for a pro-am round prior to a Symetra Tour event in Fort Myers, Florida last spring she never would have guessed that one of the men in her group would become a new financial sponsor of hers. She also never would have imagined that he would end up caddying for her over much of the remainder of the Symetra Tour season, right through to the final stage of LPGA Q-School, where she would earn her card.
One of her playing partners that April day in Fort Myers was Kevin Polkow, an executive with Greenblock, a building construction products company, based in nearby Naples, Florida. Polkow, himself a good player who had once had designs on a pro career when he was in his 20’s, was immediately impressed when he saw the game of the tall and powerful young Canadian woman during his round with Leblanc.
“As all my friends know, I have always wanted to help an aspiring golfer reach their dreams,” Polkow said. “After my first tournament with her, I knew she was special and that I was very lucky to have this opportunity and I wasn’t going to let it get away.”
When Polkow discovered that Leblanc did not have a caddie for the event in Fort Myers he volunteered to carry her bag for the week. He quickly discovered that Leblanc had a lot of talent. She finished the tournament in 4th place, shooting a total of 5 under par over the event’s four rounds. He also discovered that, like most players on the Symetra Tour, Leblanc was not making a lot of money and had a lot of expenses. Most Symetra Tour players actually lose money over the course of a season because their travelling expenses usually exceed what they can make in winnings, even if they are one of the better-ranked players on the tour.
Polkow decided to invest his time and some money in Leblanc to help her make her way to the LPGA. He became one of her financial sponsors and caddied for her over most of the remainder of the Symetra Tour season. The 23-event season, which wound its way all over the United States, ended in Daytona Beach, Florida in mid-October. Leblanc fell just a few thousand dollars short in winnings to finish in the top 10 on the tour’s money list. That would have earned her full playing status on the LPGA for this year. Her 14th place finish on the tour’s season-ending money list qualified her to play in the final stage of LPGA Q-School, also in Daytona Beach, in the first week in December. The top 20 finishers at the final stage would also earn their full LPGA cards for 2016.
With Polkow on her bag and a large contingent of fans from Quebec province rooting her on, Leblanc played very solid golf over the grueling five rounds of Q-School, held on the two courses at LPGA International Golf Club. She had rounds of 71, 67, 72, 69, and 71 to finish the event at 10 under par and tied for 4th place. That locked up her full card on the LPGA for 2016.
“I have many goals that I want to accomplish in the future and many things to look forward to,” says Leblanc. “I have learned a lot especially the past few months and I can’t wait to apply this new knowledge to this season. This year I just want to consistently keep improving and prove to myself that I belong there.”
Polkow is anxiously looking forward to the start of the season, “I am extremely excited to continue to work hard for her and just try to get better every time we play golf.”
In 2015 the 6’1” Leblanc was the longest driver on the Symetra Tour, averaging over 273 yards off the tee. She should be one of the longest hitters on the LPGA this year. Her power and distance give her a big advantage over other players when she is hitting the ball well. She is capable of reaching most par 5’s in two shots and usually has short irons into the green on average length par 4’s. When she is putting well she is capable of shooting very low scores. She will be hoping to remain healthy in 2016 to make the most of her return to full status on the LPGA.
Bonne chance, Maude-Aimee!!
* All photos by Dave Andrews
Dave Andrews is a retired television news reporter. He is also an avid golfer who has become a big fan and frequently caddies for the rising US and International golf stars of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour.
He is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about a young woman’s dream and struggle to make it to the LPGA.
The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood. The novel is available at Kindle Ebooks.
Follow Dave online on Twitter @PopsandSunshine.