RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- A year ago, one might have surmised that Sandra Gal had stolen an identity to describe herself in her Twitter bio. Crazy girl, artist, nature lover, adventurer -- that suggests one who embraces life and is capable of discovering fun even in its darkest crevasses. It suggests someone who is happy.
It did not suggest Gal. She was miserable, wrist and back injuries generally contributing to her malaise, poor golf specifically responsible for it. "A low point in my career," she said.
(Photo by Darren Carroll)
Today Gal, 25, is all smiles, as anyone would be in the wake of their inaugural professional victory and the 67 that followed on Thursday in the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship here. The quality of her golf is less responsible for her happiness, than her happiness is for the finest golf of her young career.
"I knew I wasn't happy," she said following her round on a desert day hot enough to erase the smiles of all but the most contented. "I decided to take a totally different approach and re-thought why I'm doing all this. Why am I playing golf? I just decided I'd better enjoy it. It's my job. It's my life."
Her joy was evident even before out-dueling Jiyai Shin on the last hole to win the Kia Classic in the City of Industry 90 miles north of here the Sunday before. Through the weekend and especially the final round she lit up otherwise dark and damp days with her incessant smile that has been there since her self diagnosis and prescribed attitude adjustment.
She shared her new attitude via her website, sandragal.com, at the outset of the year. "I'm excited about 2011, my fourth year on tour now!" she wrote. "Plans are to be in contention often, enjoy it, get even fitter and see the good in everyone. Lets see how I'll fare!"
If her life came with a mission statement, this is more in line with it. She was born of Czech parents, who left Prague in 1968 as part of a mass exodus when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia. They settled in Germany, where Gal was born. Hers was a childhood of varied interests, many of them carrying over to adulthood. She played tennis, a sport she recently resumed playing. She was a violinist, an actor, a ballet dancer. She is a talented artist as well, the brushstrokes providing relaxation and an outlet for her creative side.
Then there's her golf, from which she vowed to derive pleasure, whatever the outcome. "I'm just trying to enjoy the moment," she said. "I always tell myself, 'you can play well and not have a good round, and you can play bad and have a good round.' You can't always depend on the results. You just have to enjoy yourself."
The results are a testament to her attitude. She tied for 10th in the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, her first top 10 since June of 2009, then won the Kia Classic, her first victory since she was playing college golf at Florida.
"Golf is a mental game," she said. "A lot of it is your attitude. So many things came together. I've had good lessons with my coach, Andrew Park. I changed caddies in August, to Royston Clarke from Ireland. We're best friends. It makes a big difference on the course. Obviously I've had support from my parents. I have a whole different attitude."
-- John Strege