July 27, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
After a remarkable collegiate career which was capped by South Carolina reaching match play at the NCAA Championships last spring, Sarah Schmelzel hopes to make her mark as a professional as she takes her first stab at qualifying school for the LPGA Tour next month. She feels her time at South Carolina under the direction of head coach Kalen Anderson and associate head coach Puggy Blackmon has prepared her well.
“With the work that we did the past four years, we knew it was work being done to play professional golf after I got out of school and to develop me to go to q-school,” Schmelzel said. “Coach Anderson has been great in helping me and offering me help in terms of getting sponsors and telling me what the next stage really looks like. She has been really helpful because she has been there. Just having that support in my corner means the world to me in that they’re backing me 100 percent for this next stage in my life.”
Since graduating in May with her degree in marketing and management after being named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll every year, the Arizona native has been on the links every day in anticipation of going to qualifying school in California beginning in late August.
“It’s four days, and during the first three days we’ll play three different courses, and there is a cut after the third day,” Schmelzel said. “If I made it, I would be so grateful for the opportunities that I have had to play, and so happy that I’ve seen the hard work play off. I’ve remained patient enough throughout the four month process that it takes with Q-school, and I’m just very open to what a new experience the LPGA would be for me.”
Schmelzel finished her South Carolina career with the fourth lowest career stroke average in school history (74.25), and she posted the fifth-lowest single-season stroke average (73.21) in program history as a senior. Always a competitor, Schmelzel grew up not only playing golf, but also spent a lot of time in gymnastics and figure skating.
“I wouldn’t say I was an Olympian in either gymnastics or figure skating,” Schmelzel laughed. “But I trained really hard with gymnastics. I was in the gym four or five times per week for four hours per day. I was really passionate about it. I never really looked at it like I do with golf, though. I knew I wasn’t as talented in gymnastics, but I think it was good to be in a sport where I trained so hard and learned how to focus. It opened my eyes to other sports, too.”
Having played competitive golf since she was 10 years old, there is no doubting Schmelzel’s passion for the game.
“I just love the constant change of it,” Schmelzel said. “Every tournament and every day you play, even if it’s the same course, there is something different. Whether it’s the weather or the course set up, it’s just so unique in that way. I love that. I love the competiveness where you are constantly competing against yourself and pushing yourself. You are really only accountable for yourself in this sport, so it’s really a mental battle. It’s such an interesting process.”
If I don’t make my first cut on the LPGA Tour, it’s not the end. That perspective that I learned from Coach and Puggy really helped get me ready for the next step.
As a youngster, her eyes were opened to greatness in women’s golf after she witnessed LPGA great Annika Sorenstam card a record round of 59 at the 2001 Safeway Invitational near her Arizona home.
“A big role model for me since day one was Annika,” Schmelzel said. “She actually shot her 59 on my home course where I lived across the street. My dad pulled me out of school to go watch her. I idolized her. She was the best in the game.”
Schmelzel met Sorenstam as a junior player and many years later, while playing for the Gamecocks at the Annika Intercollegiate Tournament, the LPGA legend remembered her.
“I’ve seen her a couple of times since then and for her to actually recognize me after not seeing me for several years, I think it speaks volumes about the kind of person she is,” Schmelzel said.
As her first opportunity to qualify for the LPGA Tour nears, Schmelzel is excited, but she knows there are other opportunities to keep playing if she is not successful this time.
“It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and say that it is ‘make or break,’ ” Schmelzel said. “There are so many different paths that people take to make the LPGA Tour. It could be a sponsor’s exemption where you play well in one event and win and become a member. For me, I’m just excited for the opportunity, and excited that I have such a passion and love for the game that I want to pursue it professionally and see what the lifestyle is like.
“There are smaller tournaments all around the country that you can play year-round. So I would keep playing those kinds of tours, trying to get used to winning and making money, even though it’s a smaller amount, with the goal of getting some sponsor’s exemptions to play in some smaller tours, such as the LPGA’s developmental tour. Hopefully I would play well and build up from there.”
Just as the LGPA idol didn’t forget who Schmelzel was, the former Gamecock also won’t forget from where she came, and the education she received to reach her goals.
“Puggy and Coach would always remind me that this isn’t the end goal,” Schmelzel said. “So if I played badly in one tournament, that’s not the end goal. They told me that my end goal was playing on the LPGA Tour and playing bigger and bigger events. So there was a sense of not making a big deal out of one thing. If I don’t make my first cut on the LPGA Tour, it’s not the end. That perspective that I learned from Coach and Puggy really helped get me ready for the next step.
“I’m just going to be very realistic with myself and the stage of life I am at. Getting to the LPGA tour is something I want to accomplish before my career is over.”
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