Just three days after the Category 4 Hurricane Maria raveged Maria Torres’ hometown of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, Torres was scrambling.
It was trivial in comparison to life or death and dealing with no electricity, but it’s her career. She had no cell phone service and no wireless internet and she needed to pay her dues for Stage II of LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
She searched everywhere for a wifi signal, but it was near impossible to find. She finally found a family friends' restaurant that had wifi, but it wasn’t strong enough.
“I was thinking ‘oh my god, I made it to Second Stage and now I can’t sign up’,” recalled Torres. “I remember I finally got someone (from the LPGA) and they were like you need to call someone else and I explained that I just don’t have very much signal at all.”
An LPGA staffer assured Torres that her payment went through two days before the deadline. On the day of the deadline, she texted her Florida teammate Karolina Vickova to make certain that she was in the field.
Torres was indeed in the field for Stage II and she advanced to Final Stage. This week, she has posted rounds of 73-71-70-70 and is in a tie for ninth with one day left. Remarkably, she’s a day away from waving the Puerto Rican flag on the LPGA.
“I know people are struggling back home, but what I can do is do my job here for my family because they’ve sacrificed to allow me to be here to play golf,” said Torres. “They are restoring the power back home little-by-little. My parents have power right now, but some days the power can be down.”
Torres doesn’t have one memory of living through the monster Hurricane, but she remembers the aftermath and says it was like a scene out of a movie.
She did her laundry by hand, practiced in a random park because her course was unplayable and she had to go to her grandma’s house to get gas for the generator.
Torres knows she is lucky. The death toll from the Hurricane and its aftermath reached 58 as of November 30.
Torres, who graduated in May from Florida but has remained an amateur, started playing when she was eight. Initially, she was into equestrian, but there was a course near where she used to ride horses and her parents asked if she wanted to try golf.
While she’d be the first from Puerto Rico to earn full LPGA Tour status, she said golf is more popular in Puerto Rico than people think. In fact, there were three Puerto Rican golfers from the Bethune Cookman college golf team following Torres on Saturday including freshman, Yudika Rodriguez, who won twice this past year.
Torres gained exposure to colleges through the AJGA and then chose to play at Florida. She caught the attention of coach Emily Bastel Glaser, who played the LPGA Tour in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Torres was the SEC Golfer of the Year in 2016 and is currently the No. 16 ranked amateur in the world (World Amateur Golf Rankings).
The soft-spoken Torres will turn pro if she finishes in the top 20 and is a bit unsure if she slips below that.
Regardless, she’s thankful to be in Daytona and hopes to bring a sense of pride and joy to all of Puerto Rico with her performance on Sunday.