Rolex First-Time Winner at peace with life, career on Tour
By Neal Reid
Sandra Gal has found her comfort zone.
The 26-year-old German, who joined the LPGA Tour in 2008, became a Rolex First-Time Winner in March and has notched two other top-10 finishes in her eight starts in 2011. After spending her first few years finding her footing on Tour, Gal is poised and ready to become an elite player.
She is 14th on the 2011 money list with $340,412, thanks in large part to her first career win at the Kia Classic in Industry, Calif. Gal added $255,000 to her bank account with that victory, which came in dramatic fashion.
Tied with world No. 2 Jiyai Shin entering the 72nd hole, Gal hit her approach shot on the par-5 finishing hole three feet from the cup. When Shin surprisingly missed her five-foot birdie putt, Gal sealed the win by dropping the short putt.
“It was kind of like a movie for me,” said Gal, who graduated with honors with a degree in advertising from the University of Florida in 2008. “When you’ve dreamed about something for so long and it finally comes true, you almost can’t believe it. I always knew I could win on Tour, but when you manage to pull it off, it’s very, very special. My parents were there, and having so much support from so many people made it very special.”
The victory was a dream come true for the talented former German National Team member. She gives a good deal of the credit for her success this season to finding a caddie, Roy Clarke, who fits her game and personality.
“You’re always searching for something that works for you and for a caddie who works for you,” said Gal, who has 26 career top-10 finishes. “We gave it a try, and we’re best friends now and have a really good time. You’ve got to be comfortable with a person you spend so much time with. I started having results and you get comfortable with competing and being in the lead.”
Being more comfortable with life as a touring pro has also helped Gal find her groove. After years of trial and error, she has a schedule and routine that more effectively prepares her for tournaments.
“It’s different than your first few years on Tour, when you’re just trying to get to know every course, getting used to the travel and all those kinds of things,” said the 6-foot brunette. “A big part of it is getting into a routine where you know what you’re going to do on the off weeks, when you should practice and when you can take days off.
“It’s also about getting to know yourself better. I think that’s the biggest point.”
Balance is also an important part of Gal’s approach to the game. She has various artistic interests and outlets away from the golf course that help her decompress, relieve stress and get away from the grind that is life on Tour.
The well-rounded Gal – who speaks three languages – has been an avid wakeboarder in the past and studied the violin and ballet in her younger years. She has also done some modeling in recent years and continues to actively pursue her passion for painting.
“It’s very important for me,” Gal said of painting and having other interests. “Whenever we have longer breaks, I take some time off and do some painting or whatever. I think it’s really important, with what we do, to have other interests, because it’s so easy to become absorbed in the sport.
“You need to be sure you get those weeks where you say you’re going to do something totally different. It keeps my mind fresh and adds some joy to life.”
The only child of Jan and Alexandra Gal, Sandra received a set of plastic golf clubs on her fifth birthday. She says she became serious about the game at age 14, and by the time she was 17, Gal had earned a spot on the German National Team.
She won the German National Girls Championship at age 18, represented Germany at the European Team Championships from 2003-07 and was the 2003 Golfer of the Year in Germany. Gal then took off for the United States to pursue a college degree while pursuing her dream of playing professional golf, winning four tournaments, earning All-American honors and being named an Academic All-American all four years.
Gal, who said she would one day like to establish a foundation to help children, is content with her game and life, and it has shown. Her recent success hasn’t lessened Gal’s desire, but has helped her gain an appreciation for the opportunities she has as a professional golfer.
“I know I can win and play to win, but I still get nervous on the first tee because I want to do the best I can,” Gal said. “I haven’t lost any intensity. I think I have a different attitude toward the game now, and I’m not forcing it as much and am enjoying it more.
“I’m really appreciative of what I have. I’m not taking things for granted like I did before and appreciate my job and what I can do for a living.”