DORADO, Puerto Rico – With a big smile, which has quickly become her signature, Maria Torres has thanked almost everyone who has come for this week's Puerto Rico Charity Pro-Am to help raise money for the relief efforts following the hurricane that impacted her home country with unprecedented devastation.
Torres, a rookie on the LPGA Tour this year after a decorated career at the University of Florida, made it through Q-School in the fall of 2017. In her final year as a Gator the team won the Southeastern Conference championship, and all-told, she found the winner’s circle five times during her college career.
Q-School took place in December, but as she prepared for her first crack at earning a Tour card and beginning her professional career, she was hunkered down with her family in San Juan as the worst natural disaster in the country’s history was about to hit.
Her family lost power as winds upwards of 160 miles per hour blew into their home. After the storm dissipated, she would practice putting on carpet and would chip some balls at a local park that wasn’t covered with debris.
She still knew she had a job to do.
But this week, that job is done, and it’s time to do another one: raise as much money as possible for people who are still struggling.
“It’s really important,” she says while standing next to the putting green at TPC Dorado Beach, about 30 minutes from downtown San Juan. “Organizations are starting to build back Puerto Rico… and it’s nice to do this. Including the LPGA Tour players is great. I’m grateful players are willing to give up their time and practice to be here. I’m thankful for that.”
Torres, who practices out of the Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club – about an hour from TPC Dorado Beach, has played in two tournaments so far this season and has made the cut in both. She says she’s already learned so much about structure and how it is to be a professional golfer, versus how things were in college. Her coaches warned her how different it would be, she says, but she didn’t think it would be as different as it actually is.
She says she loves it – the opportunity to travel the world, learn about different places and cultures is amazing.
“Doing the transition from college to life as a pro has been unbelievable,” she says.
But unlike most on the LPGA Tour who have countrywomen to share in success with, Torres is the lone golfer from Puerto Rico on Tour. She doesn’t feel extra pressure though, as it’s more of an honor to fly that flag.
“I’m doing this for me and for the entire country of mine,” she says. “It helps to represent a country so beautiful and really energetic.”
Torres says her family was lucky. They are all fine, and their properties are OK. She admits the whole situation was horrifying, but it gave her more perspective for the future, and it helped she had very supportive parents.
“It was kind of horrifying because it’s a place you grew up,” she says. “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.
“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.”
Torres says after what the community went through last year the perspective she’s gained has been helpful on the golf course, as well as off.
She’s seen tragedy and destruction, but she’s seen people recover, become healthy again, and communities rally together – admitting she has more clarity now. If she makes a bogey, she knows it’s not the end of the world.
And when asked what it is about Puerto Rico that made her so excited to represent the country and be here this week to help raise some money, the answer was simple.
“It just feels like home,” she says. “And there’s nothing like home.”