Editor: Caroline Trudeau
Reading Time: 8 minutes
Prologue to a Dream
I grew up on the LPGA Tour. My mom, Myra was a professional golfer, my dad, Worth, a caddie. After the tour, my parents worked at golf courses in my native Kentucky: she taught golf, he was a club pro. They never put any pressure on me to play but naturally, with all the time we spent as a family on and around the course, I was bound to pick up a club. Between snack bar runs and hanging out in the clubhouse, I actually played all the time. The driving range and putting green my unequivocal backyard.
Until I played in my first tournament, golf was just something that was in my daily life, not something I had dreams and aspirations about. I was a “nine-holer”; I shot something like 68: I was no phenom! But I met some of other girls on the Kentucky Junior Golf Tour and I thought it was fun, so I started practicing and taking it a little more seriously. I played in my first tournament in the summer of 1998. I wound up competing in 6 events. I’ve been traveling ever since.
A Defining Moment
After one of these tournaments, while waiting for my brother Myles, to finish his round, I was watching the Women’s U.S. Open on TV in the restaurant. An amateur from Duke University, Jenny Chuasiriporn, was in an 18-hole playoff with Se Ri Pak. I was completely enamored that an amateur was possibly about to win the U.S. Open. Jenny and Se Ri played to 20 holes, with Se Ri eventually winning the tournament.
That July day, at the age of 11, I was so inspired that I set some goals that would impact the rest of my life: I decided I wanted to play golf in college, at Duke University, and eventually on the LPGA Tour.
While that moment fueled my desire to play at the best women’s college golf program in the country and invigorated me to perform my best during my junior career, I wasn’t recruited by Duke. Instead, my road to the LPGA would take me through Gainesville, Florida: I earned a full scholarship to the University of Florida (Go Gators!)
As I played in college, my confidence grew. The summer between my sophomore and junior year, I was ranked #3 in the Golfweek National Amateur Rankings. With this ranking, I earned an invitation to the 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship (now the ANA Inspiration), the first major of the year on the LPGA Tour. I was SO excited that I was going to be able to play against the pros and see how my game stacked up. I will never forget, the day before the tournament, I was on the range and found myself hitting balls between arguably the best two female professionals ever, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa. It was all I could do to make contact with the ball when I realized who was next to me! I was happy to make the cut, but fatigued by my recently–diagnosed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fizzled on the weekend.
I finished my collegiate golf career strong at the University of Kentucky (Go Wildcats!), where my mom was the golf team’s head coach. In 2009, I was named the Southeastern Conference’s Women’s Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year and graduated with a degree in Marketing.
Looking back, the support I got from my parents was an important element on my road to the LPGA. They never forced anything on me, and they always told me I was playing for myself, not for them. They had already lived the Tour life, they didn’t need to live vicariously through me. Of course, they wanted to see me play on Tour as well, but it wasn’t their be all end all. And I always had access to a great coach, and a tour caddie who really taught me how to play golf. I am really thankful for this foundation, because I always felt that it was my choice, and I was self-motivated to get there.
Catching My “Big Break”
After college, I pursued my goal full-time. I qualified for both the Ladies European Tour (LET), and the Symetra Tour (LPGA’s developmental tour). I also earned a “conditional” LPGA status, short of an LPGA Tour card that later enabled me to play in only 3 tournaments.
I opted to join the LET full time for the season to try and raise my game to the highest caliber possible. I was also interested in the cultural experience of being and playing overseas. While I absolutely LOVED it, the LET would not lead to my ultimate goal of joining the LPGA Tour. So, I headed back stateside after a season and joined the Symetra Tour in 2011. It turned out to be a great decision.
At a tournament in Daytona Beach at the beginning of the next season, the Golf Channel held open auditions for their hit show “Big Break.” I was looking for all of the opportunities I could find to play in different contexts and situations, so I auditioned. A few months later, I got a call back that I had been selected for the show.
In the fall, I headed to Ireland, where the course of my life would be changed forever. I had gone hoping to gain a new level of confidence and experience for my golf game, for a break from my regular golf career; I got so much more: I met a group of amazing people including my future husband, Julien (Jules).
Reaching my Goal
Fueled by some aggressive training in the off-season, my 2014 Symetra Tour season started off solid, specifically on Mother’s Day, in Charlotte. My mom, with me that week for the first time in a while, helped with my chipping. I was a few shots out of the lead going into Sunday. I just had a feeling I was going to win. It was actually very strange. I remember talking to Jules on the phone Saturday night and I could literally see it happening. I focused on that vision in my head the next day, even after I bogeyed the first hole. I just knew it was mine to win. And I did… I won my first Symetra Tour event, pushing me into the top-10 on the money list.
The rest of the season I was SO incredibly focused on staying in the top 10 and earning my card. It came down to the wire: going into the last tournament of the fall, I was in 9th place, ahead of 10th on the money list by $8… After a great round, including a birdie on 18, I waited for all the girls to come in. I had done all I could do.
That day, I reached my goal. Jules, who had caddied for me that week, and I embraced and cried greenside. Mission finally accomplished: I had earned my full status LPGA Tour card.
Oh, and I also got married that year, the weekend after earning my card. Planning our wedding at the same time as keeping up with the Symetra Tour money list saga had actually been a welcome distraction! I was on cloud nine. It was undoubtedly the best week of my life.
After a short honeymoon phase, it was quickly already time to hit the road again. I wasn’t really ready. Physically, I was still recovering from a surgery that prevented me from practicing as much as I should have in the off-season. Mentally, I resented being away from Jules, now a PGA Tour caddie with a completely different travel schedule than mine.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the LPGA was NOT the Symetra Tour. In contrast to the family of girlfriends I had on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA was ultracompetitive; naturally, we were playing for a lot more money. I was a 28-year-old “rookie” and struggling to find my people on the big tour.
As if wearing blinders, in my colossal focus to reach my goal, I had spent all of this energy, both physical and mental, on making it to the Tour; I never really thought about, let alone prepared for, what was going to happen once I got there.
Facing Some Demons
I played in 18 tournaments that year and traveled all over the world. I made one cut.
One of the challenging things about being a professional golfer is that it is all you out there, and your caddie of course! But it comes down to only you hitting the shots, and performing. If you hit a good one, it’s all you; if you hit a bad one, it’s all you. You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself for playing bad. I was lonely.
People usually think the tour provides a very cool and glamourous life, which it absolutely can be. Whenever I saw anyone I knew, inquisitions about my life on tour would usually center around questions like: “Mal, how is the tour? How are you playing?” The numbers didn’t lie: I wasn’t playing well, and I wasn’t having very much fun. I felt like I had to keep up with people’s expectations.
Yet my Tour experience was very hard. And I was conflicted. This life was something I had wanted and worked for my ENTIRE life. It had, in essence, defined me. I thought it wasn’t right for me to not be enjoying it, even if I wasn’t playing well. I was lucky to have made it out there, but I began to wonder: What if the LPGA Tour wasn’t for me?
It took me a long time to feel like I could be honest about how I was feeling, but towards the end of the season, I was SO frustrated and so down on myself, it started to affect everything else in my life. I was struggling with separating what was happening on the golf course from who I fundamentally was off the course.
Then, I lost it at a tournament in Vancouver. I knew I needed to make the cut to have a chance to keep my tour card. I botched a short chip on 17, doubled bogeyed the hole and cried all the way down the 18 fairway. I had not only missed the cut, but also more importantly, I couldn’t believe I was on the LPGA Tour, my lifelong dream, crying, like a kid, on the golf course. It had come to this… I got myself together enough to finish the hole, sign my card, and hug my competitors.
In the parking lot a few minutes later, all of the frustrations of the season swelled up. It was too much. I had tied my self-worth and self-esteem into my performance on the Tour, and I felt completely worthless in that moment. While bawling my eyes out on my husband’s shoulder, I finally voiced: “I can’t do this anymore.” I knew I was done playing. My heart wasn’t in it anymore.
As I was going through the off-season and people were asking what my plan was, I responded that I was taking a break. I was in denial about leaving competitive golf: I even rallied to go to Q-School. But when I missed the cut there too, I knew that may very well have been my last competitive round of golf. I consciously held on to the possibility of going back to the Symetra Tour as if to reassure myself that I had an option, should I really miss playing as a pro. Having that option was reassuring as I considered a possible transition. I was buying myself time to find peace with my decision.
Frankly, I was scared to consider life as a non-professional golfer: my whole identity had been defined by it for as long as I could remember. I wondered, if I didn’t play competitive golf, would people – would my friends – still like me? What would they think? What else did I have to offer? But I finally had to be honest with myself: I knew I was done. Jules and I talked about it a lot. I was going to be OK without Mallory, the professional golfer…
I sometimes question the rationality of these emotions and the roller coaster they took me on during those months. After revealing my decision with a close family friend, he shared: “Mallory, you have a light in your eye I haven’t seen in a long time.” At last, I had landed.
From Pro Golfer to Nanny …
I didn’t know what I was going to do. I put my faith in the saying that “life puts you where you need to be.” And life paid off. By being true to myself, to those around me that had supported me all along, and by becoming comfortable with the idea of growing into someone else, I found my next steps.
I was at a PGA Tour event in Palm Springs spending time with Jules on the road. While driving back to Arizona together, his boss, Graham DeLaet, and his wife, Ruby, mentioned they would be hiring a traveling nanny for their newborn twins. I had no experience with kids, but I wanted to travel with the PGA Tour to finally be with my husband. In the following weeks, I took a crash course in taking care of Roscoe and Lyla. Soon enough, I was having a blast looking after these two angels. I had taken the opportunity to both keep the tour and travel lifestyle I had grown up and was comfortable with and be with my husband enjoying the environment and man I love.
… And Beyond!
Being on the golf course in a different capacity than as a professional player, I discovered layers of the game I hadn’t observed before. My experience as a professional player would also quickly become an asset I never imagined would help me continue to grow. Fairwhay Management, led by my former agent, Sherry Whay needed some help supporting an impressive and increasing roster of PGA Tour professionals. Today, as a Player Manager; I oversee three players on tour every week while also learning to play the business of golf.
- A Focused, but Free Mind
Having a singular goal for so many years, I never allowed my mind to focus on anything else. Once I achieved my goal, it was almost as if my mind was free again, free to move on to something else. Whatever that may be, I know I can achieve it if I set my mind to it.
- There is Always a Choice
Choosing a different path was the scarier option, like going for it on a par-5 when the green is surrounded by water instead of laying up! I followed my heart and allowed myself to take a risk. And I proved to myself that making that different choice also lead to great rewards.
- Comfort With and True to Self
Golf will always be a huge part of my story, but I have grown to realize it is not the only part of my life that means something. I am eternally grateful for the lessons I learned as a player as they taught me how to show up in my life. I look forward to what is next in life, both on and off the course.