by Allie White.

Rachel Rohanna Virgili – An Athlete Ready for the Job

If you are looking for a strong role model for your son or daughter, then I have one for you. And unlike other admirable female role models these days like Rey from Star Wars, or Anna and Elsa from Frozen, or Catnip from the Hunger Games, this girl is real.

And she is real strong too.  

Rachel Rohanna LPGA
Former Ohio State Buckeye Golfer Rachel Rohanna

If you ever get to meet professional golfer Rachel Rohanna, the first thing you would probably notice is what a lively, talkative, stylish gal you are chatting with and just how much fun it is to shoot the bull with one of Pennsylvania’s finest golfers. Then you would probably notice that Rachel is only 5’2’’. Inevitably, next you would wonder how this young woman averages 268 yards off the tee (further than a handful of men on the PGA tour) making her 23rd on the LPGA for driving distance.

Well, like I said before, Rachel is real strong.

The Rach grew up in mountainous Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Her professional workouts include circuits where she runs up and down the quarter of a mile straight incline at her and her husband’s home-made log cabin… as many times as she can… carrying seeds bags in her hands… stopping only at the top to do curls and tricep lifts…. before she heads down the hill to do it all over again. (Maybe Ronda Rousey would like to join?)

Why the seed bags?

“They help with my grip strength which is extremely important in golf.”

As far as working out, Rachel is a firm believer in developing explosive, fast twitch, muscle strength. She credits much of her driving distance and powerful game to her years of pitching fastpitch softball. Back in high school, Rach would launch 60 plus mile per hour softballs over home plate. How would you like that coming at you?

She is above all else an athlete. And she wants to impress on people that for the most part, this is the case with the LPGA as a whole.

“It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around women’s professional golfers being athletes. I hope in the next few years, with people seeing different players’ workouts on social media and with the new athletic players coming in, that we can change the image of the LPGA and get people to realize that we are athletes and we are strong.”

I know that for myself personally, having played high school tennis, basketball, and golf that it was always really important to me that people considered me an athlete. I remember many of my friends initially scoffing at golf and saying things like “golf isn’t a sport” or “golf is just for preppy kids” or “how would you injure yourself golfing?”.

Nevermind that a 36 hole tournament day can be a 15-mile long walk with 30 pounds on your back. Nevermind that as a professional golfer on the road I have slept in more sketchy places than any of my so-called non-preppy friends would ever dream of. Nevermind that injury-wise golf’s very best, Tiger Woods, has had three back surgeries… and three knee surgeries.

Yeah, it’s a sport.

So how does, role model Rachel Rohanna stay fueled for all of that hard work? Well according to the farm girl herself,

“Eating lots of meat and drinking lots of milk!”

This is no problem for Rachel whose husband, former Penn State wrestler, Ethan Virgili, owns his own meat shop and also farms a considerable amount of cattle. Rachel emphasized that having such an athletic husband who also handles the farm while she is away is “extremely helpful and nice because I have someone who understands what it takes to get to the next level and is my teammate for life.”

I had the chance to visit the Virgili’s farm and shop. It’s a pretty neat set-up. My favorite part of the whole visit was heading out to see their log cabin where we drove for at least five miles and didn’t touch a lick of pavement. Even when we were driving Rachel’s truck a bit further into town and we saw Rachel’s grandfather (also a farmer) slow chuggin’ from the other direction in his truck we were able to just stop right there in the middle of the road and have ourselves a nice little chat. It’s nice to move at farm speed sometimes… on those days when there isn’t a harvest or calves to be born or a whole lot of other things to do.

Still, farm life is much different than life on the LPGA where players have over 30 tournaments they can play located in 14 different countries. I asked Rachel how she handles all of the travel?

“With my Mom being a travel agent and able to really step up for all the arrangements, that helps BIG TIME. If I had to do all of that on my own I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Rachel Rohanna LPGA Australia
Rachel and travel agent/ caddy extraordinaire Debbie Rohanna visiting the koalas at Cleland Zoo near Adelaide Australia.

It’s always nice to see Debbie Rohanna out at tournaments with the Rach. They make a great team. So far Debbie and Rachel have traveled to all of the events together including the Handa Australian Open. Before the event, the two made time to visit Cleland Park near Adelaide where they found koalas, kangaroo, wallabies and everything else awesome in Australia.  

Rachel did not make the cut at the Australian Open but she did power through in the LPGA opener in the Bahamas to make her first LPGA cut. Through various qualifiers, Rachel had played in 7 previous LPGA events but had not yet made a cut. Fortunately, for Rach and fans, the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic was a different story.

According to Rachel, it was “probably the worst LPGA golf I’ve played.”

Rachel Rohanna with her caddy for the 2016 Australian Open, Joshua Hayes
Rachel Rohanna with her caddy for the 2016 Australian Open, Joshua Hayes

She opened with an 80 to find herself in second to the last place. So then with nothing to lose she got a lesson before she teed off on day two (always a dangerous move) and she proceeded to fire a 68 to make her fist cut and consequently $2,452.00. Nice.

Then in Ocala at the Coates Golf Championship, she started to heat up a little bit more. With a four-day total of +2 she found herself T44, tied with the likes of Gerina Piller and Paula Creamer.

I asked Rachel if she thought it was helpful during the Coates Championship to be home on US soil in Ocala as opposed to the international events.

She said she, “never realized it, but it’s amazing how much people really do love golf and look up to professional golfers in Florida. They like to pep you up when you walk to the tee. Mentally it is nice being there because in the States you feel like they are rooting for you.”

Surely fans in Ocala must have loved seeing a young American like Rachel out thriving on such an internationally diverse and competitive tour. Certainly, all of Rachel’s hard work in junior golf, college golf, and on the Symetra Tour helped prepare her for the global challenge.

So what were some notable differences Rachel has seen so far between the LPGA tour and the Symetra Tour?

“Well, first the food! The LPGA food is amazing… so many healthy options!”

My response… “Yeah, on the Symetra tour, I’m usually searching for grub much too often… although the host families and that one tournament in Michigan…”

The second difference?

“The entry fees on the LPGA are $200 versus $500 on the Symetra Tour.”

Me… “Yikes…”

She then made the point that the money she is able to save on entry fees allows her wiggle room to stay in a nicer hotel or get a more convenient flight. This, in turn, can help her stay sharper during the tournament which monetarily is totally worth it. Just making the cut on the LPGA earns you over $2,000 as opposed to $250 on the Symetra Tour.

But then again, making the cut on the LPGA is much more difficult than doing so on the Symetra Tour… which brings us to Rachel’s third difference.

“I think that top to bottom the LPGA fields are a lot deeper than the Symetra tour.”

Agreed. Not to mention the top tier LPGA players are great great great.

Rachel also noted that she appreciates the many doors that just being on the LPGA tour have opened for her such as more sponsorship opportunities and traveling assistance.

Rachel Rohanna LPGA
Rachel’s dad, Tom Rohanna, getting ready to carry the bag while Rachel warms up the putting stroke

And that is wonderful to hear because the LPGA tour needs the Rachel family genes out there. Not just because Rachel herself is a wonderful person; multi-faceted, entertaining, and super athletic but also, because if you look at her golf family tree, genetically it’s a good idea to have her on a golf course!

Let me just briefly introduce you to the Rachel golf dynasty.

There’s Rachel’s sister Emily Rohanna… in her senior year of golf at Youngstown State…

And her brother Tommy Rohanna who was a scratch golfer at Waynesburg University…

And cousin Robert Rohanna who is well known for his stint on Big Break but also golfs on the Latin America tour…

And the grandmother who played on the LPGA for two years in the 60’s and then coached for 20 years at Youngstown State… And the grandfather who is still Rachel’s swing coach… And of course, the Great Uncle that runs Rohanna’s Golf Course in Waynesburg, PA… And the other club pro Uncle… and the Uncles who own the par 3 in Ohio… And the mini tour Uncle… and the two other club pro uncles… and the aspiring nephews, Gavin Husenits, and Robbie Wilson… and obviously, Rachel’s Mom Debbie and Dad Tom are not only good golfers in their own right but also battle back and forth for number one caddy in Pennsylvania history on a daily basis…

Do you get the idea?!

I can just imagine how intense the family scramble must be! Needless to say, I wish former Ohio State Buckeye Golfer turned Pennsylvania farmer Rachel Rohanna all the best in her efforts this year on the LPGA Tour. And I highly recommend you fans out there keep an eye on this ATHLETE!


 

Allie WhiteAllie White from Lancaster, Ohio, is a professional golfer and golf journalist. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Journalism at Ohio University. With four years of experience on the Symetra Tour, a cut-made at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open, and a 2016 Ohio Open Championship, White hopes to continue her golf career during her academic breaks.

“I grew up on an 88-acre farm in Southeast Ohio and currently live in the same area with my dog Finley where I cheer like crazy for all of my favorite Ohio sports teams. I love to play my guitar, listen to music, watch movies, and read good stuff! 

My two biggest golf dreams are to play in Toledo Ohio’s LPGA event and to make it back to another US Open. I’m still hunting for that first hole in one!”

Follow Allie online on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great article. I photographed this young woman during her high school years. She is class and her family is first class also.

  2. Rachel not only has been a great role model for my daughter Paige, she has been a great inspiration for young girls in the Pittsburgh area. Paige would not be where she is today without Rachel and her family’s generosity. We can not thank Rachel and her family enough!

  3. Farm girl = hard working!!!!!!
    Athletic woman – competitive!
    Go gettem!
    Great article Allie! Love that you got to get in there an experience Rachel’s day! What a beautiful testament to her and you!!!!
    Good Luck on the tours ladies!!!!!!

Please leave your comments or questions about this article here