I love stories like this.
The LPGA is having their season-ending tournament this week, the CME Group Titleholders at the Twin Eagles Club (Eagle Course) in Naples, Florida. The tournament was revived last year after being a fixture on the tour from 1937 to 1966 and once again in 1972.
Last year was its second reincarnation and with this second consecutive year, it appears to be popular and on a roll. It could just be that it’s Naples in November — that doesn’t hurt — but it’s the idea that each tournament winner is in the field, kind of like the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii…but with a twist.
Since the LPGA has a smaller number of tournaments than the PGA Tour, if all they included in the Titleholders field were the champions, it would be a very, uh, intimate, tournament.
So in a clever stroke, instead of just the winner, they included the top 3 finishers in each tournament. But then, to avoid having the field be heavy with players always near the top, they took the top 3 players who were not already in the Titleholders field. So each week, you had three fresh faces going into the field.
I thought it was great each week to see the selection process at work: each week you’d have the winner going in and slowly but surely the net including all the seasoned veterans you would want in the field but hadn’t necessarily won yet. All it took was consistently ‘highish” finishes until you inevitably got scooped up.
And this is where it got really good.
It came down to the last tournament of the year, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, the baby of the now retired star of the LPGA. Held in her hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, it supports Lorena’s foundation which which promotes “the integrated development and self esteem of less fortunate children and teenagers through academic, cultural and physical activities.”
The participants were all hand-picked and they are eager to participate as a way to honor one of the Tour’s former sweethearts — she found time to visit the course maintenance facilities at tournaments in order to thank the grounds crews for their work — and winner of 27 LPGA events. And she did it all in a mere 7 years before she stepped aside to begin her family with her husband, Andres Conesa, CEO of Aeromexico. The tournament is an intimate affair that included just 36 players this year.
The winner was the venerable Christie Kerr who got into the Titleholders field way back in the seventh tournament of the year. So the system started scanning down the leaderboard to the first player who was not already in the field and, lo and behold, there at T18 was none other than Lorena Ochoa (although she won’t be playing).
The system continued scanning down the leaderboard all the way to Kristy McPherson at T26 and although 2012 was a tough year, a solid veteran and good player.
And finally the system went looking for that third player. And because the field was so small and so talented, it had to go all the way down to last and 36th place to find the next player not already in.
That place was occupied by Tanya Dergal, a lovely young woman out of the University of Southern California with a degree in Economics, no less. In her second year on Tour, she’s still learning how to play at this level. Although she played on the Symetra Tour (the LPGA’s Triple A farm system) she came to the Tour via Q-School, professional golf’s “trial by fire” ordeal.
The reason that she probably got into the Lorena’s event was, no doubt, because she is from Durango, Mexico, needed a break and was a possible good gate attraction.
So often, when players get into a tournament in that way, they are so delighted to have been invited, they are just thinking of doing well in that tournament. How many times have you heard a delirious PGA Tour player who has just won, suddenly begin reciting all of the tournaments he’ll now be in? They weren’t even thinking about it.
And so now we have Tanya Dergal, thrust into “a star-studded field of 73 players who punched their ticket after qualifying at one of the 26 LPGA events this year.”
She has to be thrilled to be included, however fluky her inclusion was. She has to be excited for the opportunity to rise to the occasion, to prove that she belongs in that august company, to prove that she can play. And she’s probably just a little nervous about the whole thing.
But sometimes fate just flows to you. Sometimes while you are whiling away your time in the trenches of your dream, your dream is suddenly upon you. It’s no longer right there in front of you, you are suddenly in it. It can be a transformative moment.
Think of all the times we’ve seen it happen on our best reality shows, The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance, American Idol, etc. Raw talent shows up with years of obvious training and with each surviving week, the raw talent becomes refined. With each surviving week, refinement leads to ownership of the talent…leads to confident expression of the talent…leads to unselfconscious display of all that’s possible for that talent. It’s as if a beautiful, delicate orchid has blossomed. I saw just such a thing happen on The Voice just last week and it literally made me cry.
All of that is possible for Tanya this week, she just can’t let herself get overwhelmed by the fact that this possibility has suddenly been dumped in her lap…out of nowhere.
All she has to do is just play golf like none of this was happening.