After the last practice round at the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes more than a dozen Latina players met at a local Mexican restaurant to share food, stories, laughs and words of support. This was not an especially unique celebration, but rather another day on the road for the close to 40 Spanish speakers on the Epson Tour, the most Hispanic tour of all.
“It’s like having a family and a little piece of our country, and it expands to all the Latinas. The language is an incredible connection, we have a great time together. It helps a lot to have them here when we are so far from home,” said Fernanda Lira, one of six Mexicans in the Garden City field and 11 Mexicans with an Epson Tour card.
In any regular week on the Epson Tour, more than 30 countries are represented in the field, compared with less than 20 on the PGA Tour. Of the 199 players on the Epson Tour, 38 are from Spanish-Speaking countries: Chile (1), Colombia (3), Ecuador (1), Guatemala (2), Mexico (11), Panama (1), Paraguay (3), Puerto Rico (2), Spain (13), Venezuela (1).
“It gets tough to be alone. There are long periods of loneliness where golf can get the best of you and sometimes the worse. Having a solid group of friends revitalizes you,” said Spaniard Marta Sanz, another participant in the Garden City “Latina” dinner and frequent roommate of Mexican Alejandra Llaneza.
“This life prepares you for many circumstances and you learn many things that become useful in other aspects of your life,” said Llaneza, after almost a decade on the Epson Tour. “Since we don’t have many resources, we end up helping each other a lot, sharing rides and hotel rooms, giving all kinds of support.”
With average tournament purses of $200,000 and long distances between tournaments, Epson Tour players spend a good part of their time riding in cars, planning trips and trying to make ends meet. “I am the only one investing in myself and sometimes it is a little hard,” said 32-year-old Venezuelan Alazne Urizar, who has earned less than $2,000 so far this season.
“Playing golf is the easiest part” for rookie Sofia Garcia from Paraguay, who thinks there are easier ways to make money than being a professional golfer. “There is a comradery and a mutual understanding of the experience we are living together among the Latina players. It is beautiful to get a gesture or a word of encouragement in your own language.”
García, the other two Paraguayans, and the rest of the Latinas share the same dream of following the example of the 172 players who have graduated from the Epson Tour and advanced to the LPGA Tour since 1999.
Currently, only six Latin Americans (Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Puerto Rico) and six Spaniards have full or partial membership on the LPGA Tour. And there are no Spanish speakers among the top 10 of the Ascensus Race for the Card, which will get them LPGA Tour membership for the 2023 season.
“In those moments when you start feeling that your value and your self-esteem are tied to your results, it is great to feel surrounded by friends you connect with through language and culture,” said Mexican Regina Plasencia, barely inside the top 80 in the 2022 Money List, which guarantees a full card on the following Epson Tour season.
With three events left in the Epson Tour season; Ingrid Gutierrez (79 on the Money List), Fernanda Lira (75) and Plasencia (74), from Mexico; Teresa Toscano (72) and Marta Sanz (56), from Spain; Laura Restrepo (44), from Panama; Milagros Chaves (29) and Garcia (25), from Paraguay; and Daniela Darquea (23), from Ecuador have a real chance to keep their card and some even aspire to get to the top 10 and the LPGA Tour.
“The Epson Tour is just growing, and I feel that the level is really good. Some weeks you have to shoot something like 20- to 22-under (par) to have a chance to win,” said Darquea, with a recent runner-up finish at the LPGA AmazingCre Portland Classic, which paved her way back to the LPGA Tour in 2023.
She recognizes how painful it was to lose her card after three consecutive years at the LPGA Tour and go back to the Epson Tour. She also cannot forget the beautiful welcome she received from the Latinas at the Epson. “During my first week back, I was surrounded by happiness, laughs and lots of support. I felt like at home with friends,” remembered Darquea.