To say that Symetra Tour standout Laura Gonzalez has been on a roll lately is a bit of an understatement. The Purdue University grad hailing from Belgium hasn’t missed a cut since June racking up two Symetra Tour victories and $51,768 of her season total $63,990 since then.
And she doesn’t plan to stop her charge to the top anytime soon. Heading into this week’s Symetra Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship, Gonzalez sits in the pressure-packed 11th spot just $995 behind 10th place, Erica Popson. For Laura, the all-important LPGA card ending Symetra Tour Top Ten is just one spot away.
And does she feel phased by the gravity of the moment? Well, first of all, she is just happy she gets a chance to play the last event of the season. With Hurricane Matthew devastating areas in Florida, the Symetra Tour was forced to cancel its second to last event and then move the Tour Championship from LPGA International in Daytona back to Longwood, Florida.
I had a chance to catch up with Laura and ask her about the difficult weather situation heading into the Tour Championship.
“It’s a different situation. I was very prepared for one tournament and then they had to just cancel it. I totally understand because of the weather. There’s nothing anyone can do, but it was a bit of a shock.”
For Laura, the unexpected break from with the weather (making practice not possible) might have given her just the rest time she needed to prepare for the Tour Championship.
“I’ve been relaxing and enjoying my family here in Orlando. Cooking, watching TV, and enjoying my unexpected time off.”
Laura needed a little time to get her mind ready for the challenge that awaits her in Alaqua Country Club because she has been on the go ever since her season first began to catch fire back in July…
Laura’s golf game ignited in a show of dominance with her first Symetra win ever at the Firekeeper’s Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan.
It was a big one. Like, it made Sports Center Top Ten sort of big.
You see, winning The Firekeepers not only resulted in a 15,000 prize for the champion but it also earned the winner a spot into an LPGA Major, The Evian Championship. Predictably, the field at Battle Creek was loaded with LPGA players who weren’t qualified for the major, swooping down to play in our event to hopefully win and get a spot. That didn’t happen for them.
But it did for Laura Gonzalez.
How did she do it?
Well, she credits the mindset that she found midseason for much of her recent success.
“I’ve been playing a little bit more relaxed and focusing on small things. Getting greens and fairways instead of focusing on results and that’s been working a lot better. I’ve been working with my coach for 14 years and he knows my swing and we tried to make it a little bit more consistent over the winter and it has been working well too.”
But, nuts and bolts, how did she get that first W?
Well, she went out on day one and shot a course record 65, to put herself in the lead by a few… and that was pretty good. Then, the next day, which ended up being the final day due to weather, she chipped-in on her last hole to break her own course record and shoot a 64 and give herself the win by 6 strokes… that was really really really good!
Of the Sports Center worthy chip-in she said, “It was my favorite moment on Tour this year!”
Uh… yeah… but how bout that trip to The Evian?
“Incredible. There were so many people just watching you putt and chip because the green is right in the middle of the action and that was fun. The first tee you walk through a tunnel and you get out and you are there and then there are chairs all are around you and that was really neat.”
The Symetra Tour doesn’t get quite as many fans as the LPGA so we do get pretty darn excited when we see people watching us!
Laura was also pretty enthused about making the cut and finishing T55 at 5 over par with the likes of Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Suzanne Pettersen, and Paula Creamer. I’d say so! That’s pretty good company indeed!
She credited her swing coach, Christian Ditlefsen who caddied for her at the event, as well as her mom Catalina, for their help… supporting her not only at the tournament but all of her life.
Although Laura finished quite a few strokes behind the Evian Champion, In Gee Chun, who shot an astonishing 21 under par… Laura was particularly pleased with how her game stacked up in comparison to the LPGA players she had a chance to play with.
“That was something I was happy about. I always watched the LPGA on TV but I never had the chance to play it and see my level. Am I close or not? That was really good to see. I was keeping up lengthwise. The course was tough but it was not that different from what I am used to on Symetra.”
She noted that the longer rough and tighter fairways (typical of a major) made the course a bit more punishing than a regular Symetra event, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle. She gave a shout-out to the Symetra’s Murphey USA El Dorado Shootout for being the course most comparable in difficulty to The Evian. And I can attest to that… it’s the best place the Symetra Tour goes.
Laura went straight there after her week in France. The trips to Evian-les-Bains and El Dorado didn’t come without adversity. Mix in a canceled flight and some bags not getting where they needed to on time and the fact that Laura didn’t even get in a full practice round at either event and you can see why she might be appreciating a little break in the action.
But she was ready for the Symetra Tour Championship at Alaqua.
“I’m really thankful we are playing. It was looking bad. I thought they were going to cancel both the last two events and I was going to end up 11th. So now that I have a chance, I just have to get in good practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday and prepare as much as I can. When it’s go time I still just need to just focus on small things and try to enjoy it out there and just have fun.”
Obviously, with pressure-packed golf, staying calm and enjoying the moment can be easier said than done. I think in moments like that it’s important to understand why one plays golf. For Laura, she sees her reason for being a golfer in the big picture.
“I love that golf is just like life. You have to take the bad and good and deal with it. You are just by yourself so it’s all on you and no matter how much you practice and train you always learn stuff and you never stop learning and you never stop working. You just keep growing with the game. If you work hard enough you get success and if not, you just keep working. I love the fact that no matter how much you train you always learn something new.”
Well, I for one sure hope that Laura gets to take her awesome golf game and great attitude and go learn something new on the LPGA Tour next year. The handful of times I have gotten to play with her and enjoy her friendship have been an absolute pleasure. Good luck Laura!
And of course, a big good luck to all of the gals competing in the Tour Championship this week!
Allie 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.
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!”