We all face moments in life that force us to reflect. That moment came for Marissa Steen in early April of last year, fresh off the operating table to fix ripped tendons in her cranky left ankle.
While she faced a grueling period of physical rehab, the biggest challenge proved to be mastering the five inches between her ears where golf is played, per legend Bobby Jones.
“Seeing myself as a top player is something that I’ve struggled with,” Steen told LPGA.com.
Steen’s play at times reflected her self-doubt, with a professional career as winding as the Ohio River she grew up near.
Growing through the Symetra Tour
Not long after graduating from the University of Memphis in 2012, the Ohio native entered her first of three years on the Symetra Tour. She showed steady improvement in her first few seasons and climbed the rankings.
Steen’s breakout year, 2014, came during her third season on the Symetra Tour. She made waves with three victories and finished first overall. Her standout performances secured her LPGA Tour card for the 2015 season.
The Broken First LPGA Year
Just as she was gearing up for her first season on the LPGA tour, Steen encountered her first unexpected hurdle. An unusually rough coughing fit during the holidays before the season left her with broken ribs.
Ignoring the shattering revelation that her ribs were broken, Steen pressed on, making four cuts in 18 events. Lacking a LPGA tour card, she returned to Symetra with a return to the top on her mind.
After recovering to full strength, Steen posted nine top-10 finishes in her fourth Symetra season, fighting back to the LPGA in 2017. With a thorough schedule in front of her, her play returned to an upswing.
Back to the Top
Steen opened the ’17 campaign on a high note, making the cut at five of her opening seven events, highlighted by a tie for 30th result at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Playing well enough over the year to secure her card for the 2018 season, she got knocked back down again.
After five rounds in Australia in 2018, Steen injured her left ankle, opting for surgery in April to repair tendon damage. The recovery forced her to miss the rest of the season, and stare at rebounding from yet another injury.
The operation served as an inflection point for Steen.
“It was a great time for me to take a step back and reflect on things. I had to assess my game and figure out what I needed to do to play well, and play on the LPGA for a long time,” the 2015 LPGA Rookie told LPGA.com.
Steen identified the main areas where she could improve: her putting and short game. She began working on those key components with her coach, Tim Lambert, just weeks after her operation.
“I don’t want to throw in the towel,” the Ohio native explained. “I don’t feel like my game has maxed out, in terms of my potential. I think that is what keeps me going.”
Hard Work Pays Off
The focus in these areas of her game during her recovery period paid dividends when she returned to start the 2019 LPGA season in Australia.
“How I played in Australia was just a great reflection of all the hard work I put in last year when I was off,” Steen said.
She carded back-to-back career finishes, with a T27 in the Handa Vic Open, and her first LPGA career top 10 with a T8 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. With more confidence between her ears, she saw significant improvement around the greens, jumping up 81 spots from her 2017 season in average putts per round.
|AVG Putt/RD Rank||115th||147th||66th|
|Putts Per GIR||1.883||1.844||1.82|
|Putts Per GIR Rank||131st||132nd||82nd|
“I think I’m capable of playing well on a consistent basis,” Steen said. “The sky’s the limit as long as I put my mind to it and I keep working hard.”
Steen envisions herself continuing to break personal career records this year. The rest of the season, she looks to win her first LPGA Tour event, play in all of the majors, as well as qualify for the limited fields in the Fall Asia Swing. Currently, she’s qualified for the ANA Inspiration field as a top 20 current player this season who has not previously qualified for the event and is within the top 80 of the money list this year. Steen is currently 45th on the money list.
She resumes her season at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup with her self-belief reaffirmed, which tees off March 21st.