Harigae Finishes No. 1 On Duramed FUTURES Tour

Rookie Mina Harigae Finishes No. 1 On Duramed FUTURES Tour
Article courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour

Duramed FUTURES Tour rookie MINA HARIGAE of Monterey, Calif., made tournament golf look easy during the 2009 season. The 19-year-old, laid-back Californian with a quick smile rattled off 10 top-10 finishes in 16 tournaments, winning three times, posting a scoring average of 70.89, and earning $88,386.

She went on to win honors as both the Tour's Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year - a feat that was accomplished in 2008 by VICKY HURST of Florida, in 2006 by SONG-HEE KIM of South Korea, and in 2002 by LORENA OCHOA of Mexico.

In her first professional win, Harigae (pronounced HAR-ah-GUY) recorded a wire-to-wire, 10-stroke victory at the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge in Marion, Iowa, and then followed up that performance with a second consecutive win in a one-hole playoff at the Tour's only major championship, the Michelob ULTRA Duramed FUTURES Players Championship in Decatur, Ill. She captured her third win in August at the Falls Auto Group Classic in London, Ky.

Daughter of sushi chef Yasunori Harigae and mother Mafumi Harigae, who own and operate "Takara" Japanese restaurant in Pacific Grove, Calif., daughter Mina took up golf at age 8 and made an impact in Northern California amateur golf quickly, winning the first of her four California Women's Amateur Championships by age 12. She went on to play on the 2008 U.S. Curtis Cup team and won the 2007 U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

The recent LPGA card winner discussed her first season as a professional on the LPGA's developmental tour with duramedfuturestour.com senior writer Lisa D. Mickey. Here's what she had to say about her milestone year:

DFT: How would you describe your 2009 rookie season as a professional?
HARIGAE: I think I had a great season. By comparison, 2008 wasn't very good, so I turned it around. Maybe I had a little bit of "senioritis" going on in high school. I played well in the Curtis Cup, but other than that, last year wasn't very good. I'm pretty happy about the way this year turned out.

DFT: What was your biggest transition this year as a rookie pro?
HARIGAE: Just getting used to playing in so many tournaments. As an amateur, I played in only five or six tournaments a year. I really like playing in a lot of events, but I learned that the four-week stretches of consecutive tournaments were hard for me. I felt like I was running out of gas.

DFT: Some players say it's more stressful to play for money, but you say you enjoy it. Why?
HARIGAE: I guess it's because you have something to play for. It motivates me and I think it's a lot of fun. But when I'm playing, I don't think about the money - well, maybe I did in the first tournament, but then I learned fast that you just have to go play golf and make birdies.

DFT: You won your first tournament by 10 shots with a 64 in the first round and a wire-to-wire lead. That week must have been pretty special.
HARIGAE: I was actually sick that week and tried to take it easy in my practice rounds. I wasn't feeling very well on the range before the first round, so I decided that I had to save all of my energy and put it into each shot. I guess that worked! After each round that week, I went back to the hotel room, took NyQuil and passed out.

DFT: And then you won the next week for back-to-back victories. What was working for you at that point?
HARIGAE: My irons. It was hitting my shots close. Even my missed shots weren't far off line. But after I missed the cut in Connecticut, I kind of panicked a little. My coach came to New Hampshire the next week and I played, but I was feeling like I needed some time off. So I went home to California and went hiking at Big Sur. I just wanted to do something other than golf - something out in nature. I went to Andrew Molera State Park and walked through a forest of big redwood trees, and then on a trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was awesome.

DFT: Then after a week off, you came back to the Tour's Kentucky tournament and won again.
HARIGAE: Yeah, I guess that time off told me something.

DFT: Do you still have your big cardboard checks from your three wins this year?
HARIGAE: Yeah, my mom has them somewhere. My trophies are on the living room mantel. The couch is right next to it, so I can look at them all the time. Laugter

DFT: Did you expect this kind of rookie year?
HARIGAE: Not really. I planned this year as a warm-up for LPGA Q-School and I exceeded my expectations.

DFT: So was it a goal to win both the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards?
HARIGAE: After I won those two back-to-back events, definitely, yes. Winning both of those titles mean so much! After that, I went home and took the whole month of September off. I played two rounds of social golf and maybe hit 60 golf balls. I told myself that I deserved this! And then when I went to the range again at the beginning of October, it felt good to be back. Hitting balls felt like being with an old friend.

DFT: Why didn't you try to get LPGA exemptions once the season was over on the Duramed FUTURES Tour?
HARIGAE: Because my mind was so set on taking a break! It wouldn't have been worth it for me to get into a tournament feeling like I did. It would have been a wasted exemption. Instead, I went shopping in New York City after the Albany (N.Y.) tournament. I saw my friends. I went to Lake Tahoe with my family. I saw the show "Wicked" in San Francisco. I did a lot of non-golf things that I wanted to do after a long season.

DFT: You left college after less than a semester. When you launched your pro career the next spring, did you feel pressure to make your decision look like a good decision?
HARIGAE: I didn't think of it that way. I know a lot of people didn't think I'd do very well, so I wanted to prove them wrong. A lot of people said it was a big mistake.

DFT: So why was college golf not for you?
HARIGAE: I'm just not a team-sport kind of person. I felt college golf wasn't going to help me progress and if it couldn't help me, then I didn't want to go backwards. I didn't want to be left behind. I realized that pretty quickly, so that's why I made my decision to leave.

DFT: Was the Duramed FUTURES Tour what you expected?
HARIGAE: It has been a great experience and it was more than I expected. I didn't think it would prepare me so much, but the competition in so many tournaments was good and the player evelopment sessions helped a lot. I think if I had gone straight to the LPGA and skipped this step, I would not be as prepared for next year. You think it's going to be easy, but it's not. I felt like I grew as a person and as a player. I matured on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.

DFT: You learned to build in some fun on your Monday travel days, didn't you?
HARIGAE: Laugter Oh yeah! I went to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania and when we were in Virginia, we went to the Shenandoah Valley and to Luray Caverns. We went to America's Stonehenge in New Hampshire and just tried to do non-golf things whenever possible. I want to try doing that again next year on the LPGA Tour. It will be stressful, so that's a way to get away from all the golf.

DFT: You said you watched VICKY HURST's 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour performance. What did you learn from that?
HARIGAE: I noticed that she didn't play a full season and she always played well. That's why I took my break during the week of the Syracuse (N.Y.) tournament.

DFT: You won the California Women's Amateur Championship four times and in your first win, you weren't even a teenager.
HARIGAE: I had just turned 12 years old. I was little and scrawny, but I just wanted to play in that tournament. It was a match-play event and there were some close matches where I had to play well to move on. I think that's when I started to think that I wanted to do this as a career. I liked the feeling of it.

DFT: How do you keep such an easy-breezy calm demeanor?
HARIGAE: I think it's just my personality. I treat golf like a job. I do my job, but when I leave the course, I leave my work at the office and go do something else. I've always been that way. When I'm home, I only hang out with people who don't play golf. They know I go back and forth to Arizona, but they don't understand what I did this year. Sometimes they say, "Do you still play golf?" I've known some of them since I was five years old. They just see me as Mina, the goofy one.

DFT: How do you plan to celebrate your 20th birthday in early November?
HARIGAE: I'll be in Arizona working with my coach. I have my own apartment there. Maybe I'll go out and eat a nice dinner.

DFT: So if the sushi chef's daughter can have anything on the menu, what does she order?
HARIGAE: Well, I like all kinds of Asian food and pizza, too, but at my father's restaurant, I'd get giant clam and abalone.

DFT: What are your thoughts about next year on the 2010 LPGA Tour?
HARIGAE: Right now, I'm trying to get my game to a higher level and focus on the points that need to improve. Last year, I did a lot of work on my swing and on my short game and putting. Now, it's less about fundamentals and more about shaping my shots. I'm also using pressure drills in practice. But for next year, I'd definitely want to be Rookie of the Year again, and I would like to have a win.

Topics: On Other Tours, Harigae, Mina

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