You can’t put a price on perseverance and grit, especially in professional golf. Case in point at this week’s CME Group Tour Championship is Mina Harigae. The 32-year-old from Monterey, Calif., spent a chunk of last year’s COVID-19 competitive break teeing it up on the Cactus Tour after a challenging 2019, winning a whopping four titles on the developmental circuit.
Harigae qualified for the LPGA Tour’s 2019 season-ending event at Tiburón Golf Club, her first appearance in the season finale since 2012, and ultimately finished solo fourth. Yet she still seemed to fly under everyone’s radar when the calendar turned. 2021 has proved to be a breakout year for the 12-year veteran, seeing four top-10 finishes — putting her at 36th in the Race to the CME Globe — and a Solheim Cup captain’s pick, an honor that has given Harigae more confidence than ever in the months after that week at Inverness Club.
“This year has been so great,” she said of her season. “I played really well over the summer. I'm really proud of myself knowing that I had a chance to make the Solheim Cup and just continuing to play well. The Solheim Cup was the best experience of my life for sure. It was just the fans, the atmosphere, hearing the cheers, it was amazing. Being able to pull off the shots that I did during my matches and making some clutch putts, I think that gave me a ton of confidence. If I can do that there in that kind of atmosphere, I can really do it anywhere on any course in any tournament.”
That conviction in her ability is proving useful to Harigae so far at this year’s CME Group Tour Championship. In the first round, she fired a bogey-free, 7-under 65, highlighted by five birdies and one eagle, and hit 13 of 14 fairways as well as 15 of 18 greens. Starting on No. 10, she eagled No. 17 with a holed chip, and then nearly aced the par-3, 140-yard eighth hole. Her 65 ties her lowest round of the season, joining the third round at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, and is the best round of her four CME Group Tour Championship appearances.
“I think that eagle on 17 really kick-started my round,” Harigae said. “I was playing fine, but I think once I holed that chip shot out, I was just on cruise control and really comfortable out there. And then on No. 8, it was just kind of a perfect 120 shot for me. It would've been cool if it went in.”
With just three rounds of competitive play left in the season, Harigae is leaning on the lessons she’s learned about herself in what’s been a whirlwind two-year stretch. Getting off to a hot start is always important, but even more so is staying mentally and emotionally balanced, something that Harigae is focused on with $1.5 million on the line.
“(Winning $1.5 million) would be life-changing. That would be amazing,” she said. “I'm just going to keep a level head. Hopefully, I can do it again over the next three days, but I'm just going to take everything as it comes and just kind of roll with it. Sometimes golf is up and down. It's so easy to ride on a high, and then after riding on a high you come back down a little bit. I was a little deflated (after the Solheim Cup), but being able to say, ‘Hey, it's fine.’ I'm not worrying about whether I'm going to play well again. Just kind of just going with it and trying to be comfortable in my own shoes, being comfortable how I prep for tournaments. Basically, being okay with myself.”