EVIAN-LES-BAINS – Maria Torres gets nervous when she talks to the media. The rookie isn’t used to being in the spotlight as the leader of a major championship.
Her endearing giggles and laughter mask her nerves. She wrings her hands and fingers, gripping one hand with the other so tightly her fingers begin to change color. But the smile never disappears from her face as she answers question after question. When it’s all done she breathes a huge sigh of relief. And laughs.
She’s survived much worse.
It was nearly a year ago that Hurricane Maria made landfall in Torres’ home country of Puerto Rico. On September 20, the major Category 4 storm made landfall as Torres hunkered down with her family in San Juan. The storm took nearly 3,000 lives, but Torres was lucky. Her family was unharmed and her home wasn’t damaged.
“It was kind of horrifying because it’s a place you grew up,” Torres told LPGA.com in March. “You don’t want anything to happen and being here was even more scary. Seeing the families and all the struggles around the island was really hard.”
Dealing with life’s real disasters makes the tragedy of a bogey-bogey start to the second round of a major not such a big deal. That’s the perspective the rookie has kept this week as the first time leader in a major championship. Torres followed her career low 65 on Thursday with a 69 on Friday. She rallied from back-to-back bogeys to start her round to move two-strokes clear of the field at the Evian Championship on Friday morning.
“It was a little nerve wracking, I’m not going to deny that,” Torres said Friday. “Just trying to play golf and give me opportunities.”
In November, shortly after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Torres earned her card at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament. She practiced near her home at a park that wasn’t covered in debris and putted on carpet inside in order to prepare for the Tournament. Torres outlasted a four-way playoff to earn the final spot on the LPGA Tour for 2018.
“My parents just told me to focus on my goal. If I did that, they were fine, and said they would be here when I got back.”
Golf wasn’t the first sport Torres played. She took up the game when she was about 8-years-old, when she spotted a driving range close to her home. She gave up her riding lessons for golfing lessons and later set her sights on playing in college.
“I always wanted to be a Gator,” said Torres.
Torres wasn’t one of those college players to make a dozen major appearances before turning professional. This week, the former Florida Gator is making just her second major start; her first start came in June at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship where she missed the cut. But that overwhelming sense of gratitude for the opportunity to compete on the LPGA Tour has been enough to sustain the rookie in her quest for her first win as a professional.
“It’s exciting to be in this position,” Torres said. “I’m grateful for it.”
And as long as Torres is in this same position at the top of the leaderboard, there will be media clamoring to speak with her. But she can handle it.
She’s survived much worse.