Nicole Hage: Can She Keep Believing?

Nicole Hage has been on the LPGA Tour since 2008 when she got through the 2007 Q-School on her first try. Not much has gone right since.

It’s not that she’s a bad player; you get through Q-School and you’re a good player by definition. The thousands who couldn’t are testament to that. And it looked so promising.

As a junior, she won Polo Junior All-American honors in 2002 and 2003 and was a member of the 2002 U.S. PING Junior Solheim Cup Team and the 2002 Canon Cup East Team.

As a collegiate player, she was a four-time National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) All-American at Auburn University, was named the 2004 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, and was a member of two SEC Championship teams (2005-06). She earned First-Team All-SEC honors in 2004 and 2007 and was a Second-Team selection in 2005-06.

She was good enough to qualify for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open, but that was disappointing, shooting 77, 77 and missing the cut. That happens all the time, “Get into the Open and get some tough experience.” You’d like to do well but it’s the experience as much as anything, especially when you’re young. You know you have many more to come. Getting through Q-School that fall must have been a comforting affirmation.

But 2008 was not the dream she was dreaming. She got into just six events, including another Open, but didn’t make a cut until her last event in September. She finished T47 and made just $4,961 for the year.

Because she lost her status for 2009, she got into just two events and another Open. She missed all three cuts and didn’t make a dollar.

She managed to get into 13 events in 2010 but missed 11 cuts and made just $15,840. Her best finish was a respectable T20.

In 2011, she got into 10 events, made just 3 cuts and $18,710.

This year, she missed the cut in her one and only tournament. Recapping, over her professional career, she got into 32 events, missed all but 6 cuts and made $39,511.

Lost cause, right?

Nope, not yet. She still believes. She got into this week’s Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada just outside of Toronto. There must be something about playing a course she’s never played before, Grey Silo Golf Course. She shot 72, 65, 67 and stands at 9-under and T5. There are only three players and five strokes between her and the leader, U.S. Open champion, Inbee Park.

She has to be thrilled for herself after what she’s gone through in a career that wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. But she’s young, resilient and apparently has a good memory: all this time she never lost sight of the player she used to be and all the promise that went with that. And now she’s on the brink of being able to begin to realize her potential.

Who knows what she’ll be able to do in Sunday’s final round. All of the clearing weather that chased away the rain that softened the course and make it susceptible to scoring is rolling back out and afternoon thunderstorms are in the forecast: 30% chance by 1:00, 40% chance by 4:00. And not to mention the pressure of finally pushing over the top to respectability. She has the potential of having a lot on her mind when the only thing she needs to be present to is hitting her shots at her targets.

Hopefully she can keep believing in herself and pull this one out because we all love stories like this, the downtrodden underdog finally breaks through for an affirming check. A win would be unlikely, but if the leaders came back to her, it could happen.

As I have written before, you never want to underestimate the possibility of another human being. Many times you would be right. But just a often, you would deprive yourself of the vicarious joy when an underdog actually pulls it off.

Good luck, Nicole. Play well. And be easy, what you’ve already accomplished this week is another big step forward no matter what happens on Sunday

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