JourneysAugust 13, 2019

Maria Fassi: Dreaming of the LPGA Tour since age 7

"I love to smash it. I really do. I'll hit driver as many times as I can."

I grew up in Pachuca, Mexico, a small town an hour and a half northeast of Mexico City. We had one golf course, a nine-holer called Club de Golf Pachuca. I started playing when I was 7, and even then I had dreams of playing on the LPGA Tour. I’ve imagined making putts to win U.S. Opens and holing bunker shots to get into playoffs. I’ve seen myself holding so many trophies. I’ve always believed that one day I’d be here.

It all started when I followed my two older brothers to the golf course. I loved watching them hit balls. One day someone at the course said, “Hey, you’ve been coming for a while, you should give it a try.” So I did, and I fell in love instantly, even though I couldn’t break 100. By that time, my brothers had lost interest and had switched to soccer, but I stayed.

I loved the game even on bad days. That was nice. My favorite way to play was cross-country. There weren’t many people out there, so I could go from No. 1 tee to No. 4 green and hit over trees. I’d hit these super huge slices or pulls or whatever. Just to have fun. You get bored of a nine-hole course when you play it every day. That helped me learn different shots.

Our family life has always revolved around sports. My father, Andrés, runs a couple of soccer teams—one in Pachuca and another in Argentina. My brothers [Sebastian, 26; Juan Pablo, 25; and Franco, 15] have always been into soccer. My mother, Fabiana Alvarez, raised us and basically went wherever our tournaments took us.

The 2013 U.S. Amateur is when I realized I might be able to compete against the best. I played my second match against Ally McDonald, a top-ranked amateur at the time. Of course, I was just 15 and had no idea who she was or what she had done. I beat her in extra holes. Then I fell just short against Emma Talley, who won it all. I thought, OK, maybe I can do this. From then on, I worked a lot harder at improving.

I started getting interest from colleges. Gaby Lopez of Mexico, who now plays on the LPGA Tour, was at the University of Arkansas. I knew Gaby and her family, and they convinced me to visit. Flying into northwest Arkansas, it was farmland as far as I could see. I told my mom, “Um, no, I need something else.” [Laughs.] I couldn’t imagine spending four years there. Then we turned into the entrance at Blessings Golf Club [home course for the Arkansas men’s and women’s teams], and I thought, Wow. Maybe I’ll have to reconsider. I met with [coach] Shauna Taylor, and I was sold.

The transition from Mexico to the U.S. wasn’t that hard. I had traveled to the States for amateur events, and going to Arkansas was easier than if I had gone to a big city. People in the South are so warm. They treated me as if they had known me forever.

My junior year ended in bitter disappointment. Our team had a great year, and I was the player of the year, but we washed out at nationals. It was hard to take. Last fall, before the final semester of my senior year, I attended the final stage of LPGA Q school. I earned a spot because of my college ranking. It was 144 holes, stroke play. I shot six over and earned my card with four strokes to spare but deferred membership until after school. It was an easy choice. I wanted one last semester with my teammates and to give nationals another shot. We ended up falling short as a team, but I shot a final-round 68 to win the NCAA individual title. It was a great way to say goodbye to Arkansas.

I was lucky. My last semester happened to be the year of the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Competing on that course, in that environment, under that spotlight and finishing second was a great experience. I also got to chat up Nancy Lopez. She might love the game more than anyone I’ve met—talks it 24/7. Her positive vibes are contagious.

I made my professional debut at the U.S. women’s open in June. The site—the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina—is where I had my moment during the 2013 U.S. Amateur. My family came out to cheer me on. I nearly missed the cut, but I played the weekend in four under and finished tied for 12th. I finally realized my dream.

My goals? [Laughs.] Well, I’ve been dreaming of playing on the LPGA Tour for 14 years! So right now, I just want to enjoy it and stay healthy.

I’m a very aggressive player. I mean, I love to smash it. I really do. I’ll hit driver as many times as I can. I carry it about 275. I hit it pretty straight for how far I hit it, too. I’m OK with the risk-reward style.

Playing in aviators has become part of my identity. I’ve always liked playing in sunglasses. I bugged my mom for years before she finally bought me a pair—the wraparound kind for golfers. My mom saw how well I took care of them, so she got me a few more pairs, including aviators. One day I forgot my golf ones so I wore the aviators. I thought, These look way cooler. Screw it! I’m going to wear these from now on.

Self-belief is important. I wake up each day and say, “Hey, you’re the best player in the world.” It’s not coming from a cocky place, honestly. I just believe that if I play to my potential, I can win every tournament I step into. When my teammates and I found out we were hosting nationals, I told Shauna, “I’m going to win. I’m going to walk down the 18th fairway knowing I’m the national champion.” Picturing these moments in my head will help them become reality. It might take 14 years, but eventually it’ll happen.