The life of a touring pro golfer is grueling physically, emotionally, and mentally. When LPGA standout Helen Alfredssen retired in September, she spoke openly about the physical and emotional exhaustion that’s involved in living out of a suitcase for weeks and months on end and the personal life sacrifices required of touring pros. Catriona Matthew has restricted her tournament schedule because her 2 daughters are getting older and need the stability of a home routine. The pressure of week after week of competition is intense and draining. We watched Stacy Lewis withdraw from the CN Canadian Open in August because the Solheim Cup had simply drained her of her emotional reserves.
Yet despite the hardships and personal sacrifices they will make, every year a new crop of rookie hopefuls graduates from Q School, packs their suitcases and clubs, and takes to the road. Chattanoota, Tennessee native, 22-year old Brooke Pancake was one of the rookies who joined the LPGA Tour this year.
Pancake played collegiate golf at the University of Alabama, where she graduated in 2010 with a degree in marketing. She says her biggest takeaway from her collegiate career was “a lot of confidence and being self-assured in the person I was and what I wanted to do. That’s a huge thing to have out here.”
From Collegiate Golf
Pancake entered her rookie LPGA season following a successful collegiate and amateur career. As the only senior on the Crimson Tide women’s golf team in 2012, Pancake led her team to win its first NCAA National Championship in program history. Her clutch putt on the final hole completed Alabama’s dramatic one-stroke victory over the University of Southern California. Pancake describes that moment as the highlight of her collegiate golf career.
It was definitely the icing on the cake for me . . I look back and I just know that that time in my life, golf was just such a highlight.
Brooke Pancake, Winning the NCAA National Championship
But her successes didn’t end there. Pancake’s performance propelled her to 2012 SEC Female Athlete of the Year honors and the Honda Sports Award, given to the nation’s top female collegiate golfer. She was also selected to represent the U.S. on the 2012 Curtis Cup.
In contrast to many college seniors facing graduation, Pancake knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.
It was then I knew that professional golf was going to be my life. It was something I did not want to give up on and I wanted to see it all the way through. At each level I had accomplished more and more, so I wanted to see how far I can take it and see how great I can become.
Brooke Pancake, Envisioning Her Future
To Touring Pro
Like most rookies on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Pancake’s start to her professional golf career began a bit inexpertly. Pancake’s first pro tournament was the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in February 2013. Her debut didn’t go smoothly. Her phone wouldn’t work and she wasn’t able to connect with her caddy until she fired up her Facebook page. She didn’t know where to drop her bags, or where to go to get registered for the event.
As a collegiate golfer Pancake had traveled with a team, a coach, and a family member. Surviving life on the LPGA Tour, she quickly discovered, required independence. “I always thought I was really well-adjusted and that I had traveled a lot but this year was pretty eye-opening, especially since I traveled by myself this year,” said Pancake.
Playing a professional event schedule has required other kinds of adjustments as well. Like English rookie Charley Hull, Pancake admits juggling the overwhelming tournament schedule while fitting in appropriate practice time to fully prepare for each event was the toughest thing to grasp this year. The shift from a more relaxed amateur event schedule that allows for practice between competitions to the more intense pro schedule with considerably less practice time has been a challenge for Pancake as it is for all rookie pro golfers. Kiwi Lydia Ko is already anticipating this problem.
Pancake explained, “I had a hard time feeling like I was 100% prepared for one tournament when I was still kind of working on things from the week before.” But now, with a full season of experience, Pancake is taking some time to assess and evaluate, to rearrange her training time, and to “mold my practices and my off-weeks” to be better prepared for back-to-back competitions.
“I didn’t really burn myself out,” she explained, “but it just took a while to learn how to adjust with how you practice and how you play and how to travel.”
Pancake’s not playing either the Mizuno Classic or the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, so her rookie season has ended. How did she perform in the 16 tournaments she entered? Pancake made five cuts and posted her career-best finish at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G with a tie for 13th. She doesn’t have a Rolex Rank, but she’s put a little bit over $60,000 in the bank, enough to meet expenses and come back in February.
“Even though it wasn’t nearly what I wanted or expected out of myself for my first year on Tour, I definitely have learned a lot and I know that when the successes do come and I play better it will be even sweeter,” said Pancake.
Some 2012 college grads don’t have a job yet. Pancake’s working and living her dream!