As Americans prepare for a return-to-normal celebration this Independence Day, it is good to reflect on those who, like many of our ancestors, came to America as immigrants, unsure about their futures but resolute in their quest for freedom and a better life. This past spring, the United States welcomed one new citizen that almost every fan of women’s golf will recognize. On Thursday, May 20, Sandra Gal raised her right hand and swore the oath of citizenship to become an American.
“For me, it was a natural, evolutionary process,” Gal told LPGA.com. “I played in college here [at the University of Florida] and when you come over from Europe, you get a visa. Then you can apply for a green card, which I did. After you’ve had your green card for five years, you are allowed to apply for citizenship. I did that a couple of years ago.
“It has been a bit of a slow process. But now, here I am.”
A native of Germany, Gal has been one of the most popular members of the LPGA Tour since becoming a member in 2008. A winner at the 2011 Kia Classic, she also represented Europe on the 2015 Solheim Cup team in her homeland.
“It has been 16 years that I’ve been here [in the United States] and it has felt like a second home for some time,” Gal said. “And now, to be able to call it my home officially is great.
“The green card [given to legal foreign residents] is pretty restrictive in terms of how much time you can spend in the U.S. and how much you can spend abroad, which was difficult to manage given Tour life and how much we travel. Being a citizen is definitely easier for me in terms of deciding where I want to live and how much time I want to spend here.
“I think in the beginning, America was the only country where I could get an education and continue to play golf at the same time,” Gal said. “I wasn’t sure, at the time, if I wanted to turn pro, so it made sense [to come here]. I only spent two weeks here prior to going to college [in Florida]. It was a dream, obviously. You start writing to coaches and applying to colleges early in high school. So, before I set foot here, it all seemed exciting and far away.”
Like most first-time visitors, there was a transition period.
“The first year was difficult for me,” Gal said. “But I found friends and I have obviously made my career here. I love the freedom and that I was able to pursue so many different things apart from golf. Meditation retreats, being a part of nature, staying with different families during tournaments, it all just opened my eyes to a lot of different things. I love Europe and I love the States. Every country has its benefits, its pros and cons, and I am very grateful that I can choose. There are a lot of people who don’t have that choice or that freedom.”
Those are among the things that many native-born citizens take for granted, along with the history and government questions those earning their status as Americans must answer.
“The test was not that difficult for me,” Gal said. “You have a set of 100 questions. And you have to get six out of 10 correct. I think now the pool is 200 questions. But a lot of it is stuff I learned in college in my history classes.”
The most difficult aspect of the process for Gal was getting to the swearing-in ceremony. The day before she was to become a U.S. citizen, she was on the course at Kingsmill Resort, waving to Anne van Dam as the latter played in the pro-am.
“I had planned my trip to Kingsmill to do some sponsor obligations,” Gal said. “So, I arrived on Sunday night [before the event] and then first thing on Monday morning, I received an email telling me to be at the immigration office in Tampa at 7:30 on Thursday to take my oath.
“I had driven with my boyfriend to Virginia and I had plans to shoot a few things until Wednesday afternoon. So, we drove up to Washington on Wednesday night and I caught a direct flight to Tampa. And then after taking the oath, I flew back up and we drove home.”
It was a whirlwind experience but one that she wouldn’t trade for anything. As difficult as the logistics might have been, they presented Gal with an opportunity she will never forget.“On the day I took my citizenship oath, after I flew back up [to Reagan National airport in Washington], I got to walk around the [outside of the] White House,” she said. “That was really cool.”