Why Arkansas is the quarry of the best Latin American female golfers
The WGC-Mexico Championship begins today in Chapultepec, with a big absence, of course, of Tiger Woods. The focus is now on the women's golf stars south of the border.
If there's one figure in the world of golf that Mexico is especially proud of, it's golfer Maria Fassi, whose masterful performance in the first edition of the Augusta National Women's Amateur Championship last April, finishing in no less than four strokes, made the 21-year-old college student the center of media attention.
Fassi was studying in Arkansas, was in the middle of her senior year, and what really worried her was the three classes she had the next day, she joked on television. Of course, she was not expecting to win the NCAA women's singles championship the following month, much less have all eyes turned to the southern college campus that has earned a reputation as a breeding ground for the best-golfing talent, especially Latin American.
"We've had tremendous success recruiting talented athletes from Mexico and Latin America," admitted women's golf team coach Shauna Taylor. "You can see the success Maria had on our campus, and now the younger girls want to be like her."
What happened with Fassi is nothing new. The University of Arkansas has been discovering and training amateur golfing talent for a decade, and it's not long before they turn professional. In 2012, Coach Taylor was responsible for recruiting debutant Regina Plasencia and Gaby Lopez, who won the LPGA tournament in Florida in the 7-hole playoffs last January.
"This is the best time for women. We are valuing the talent we have and not the sex," Plasencia (25) told El Universal.
While López, who is ranked 41st in the world and has won the LPGA Tour twice, is on track to be the world champion in the sport one day.
"For us, it started with Gaby Lopez," said Taylor. "She wanted to follow in the footsteps of Lorena Ochoa, obviously one of her mentors and childhood idols."
Maria Fassi, as her turn, was influenced by Lopez to study in Arkansas. She had been interested in NCAA schools since she was 14 and had competed in amateur events in Mexico and the United States, but everything changed when she visited the university campus.
"Gaby invited me to Fayetteville because she had a tournament nearby and I was fascinated," Fassi said. "She kept elbowing me, and I trusted her judgment, so I accepted the visit."
Although Gabriela López is considered one of the best golfers of the moment, she does not hesitate to point out, as many do, that she owes it to the influence that the now legendary Lorena Ochoa had on her, who taught her, she declared in an interview, to "make the impossible possible."
Born in Guadalajara, Ochoa is considered the best Mexican golfer of all time, with 27 victories on the LPGA Tour. Although she announced her retirement in 2010, she has never completely given up on the sport, either as a writer and lecturer or even as a designer of golf fields. She also founded an NGO to help underprivileged children and financed a community center in Mexico, La Barranca, where children receive academic and sports education through a pedagogical model that prioritizes contact with nature.
That is without a doubt, the best proof that a top-level sportswoman can continue to reap triumphs for the world once she has dropped her clubs.