Gemma Dryburgh Just Being Herself on LPGA Tour

You might remember Gemma Dryburgh from that time she won a toilet. But there’s so much more to her story than that odd first-place prize.

The 30-year-old Scotswoman has become a staple on the LPGA Tour in recent years, a familiar face with a genuine smile that belies her somewhat arduous journey to success on the biggest stage in women’s golf. But that smile also is a symbol of something deeper, an innate comfort and radical self-acceptance that has allowed Dryburgh to flourish personally and professionally, both on and off the golf course.

As most young women are, Dryburgh was introduced to golf by her father John, often tagging along with him to the driving range, plastic clubs and balls in tow. The sport was a constant in her life from an early age, and even though she also excelled at soccer, it was ultimately golf that was going to carry her furthest in life.

She decided to move to the United States as a 15-year-old to attend the IMG Academy and pursue a golf career, electing to give up soccer as the game, both abroad and in the United Kingdom, wasn’t thriving like it is today.

Dryburgh honed her craft at the academy in Bradenton, Fla., competing in AJGA tournaments and visiting universities for which she was interested in playing collegiate golf. But it was a last-minute opportunity to tee it up in an event she hadn’t originally qualified for that ultimately led to Dryburgh getting noticed by Tulane University’s head women’s golf coach.

She was paired with Madison Opfer, who had already committed to the Louisiana institution, and after the Scot played well in the event, the coach asked Dryburgh to come on an official recruitment visit. Falling in love with the New Orleans way of life, Dryburgh wound up going to Tulane in 2011, and NOLA is still where she resides today.

Dryburgh enjoyed a successful career during her time as part of the Green Wave – winning two tournaments as an individual, earning all-conference honors four times and participating in three NCAA Championships. She even got to represent Great Britain and Ireland as a member of the 2014 Curtis Cup team.

Dryburgh then decided to turn professional in 2015, playing on various circuits around the world, including the LET Access Series, the Ladies European Tour and the Epson Tour before joining the LPGA Tour in 2018.

After playing the last stage of Q-School again in 2019, Dryburgh managed to hang onto her status in 2020, but she ultimately had to return to Final Qualifying in 2021, another test she passed with flying colors, this time determined to never come back.

Dryburgh finally hit her stride on the LPGA Tour in 2022, only missing five cuts in 25 total starts and earning four top-15 finishes, but it was the TOTO Japan Classic where her dreams of an LPGA Tour victory were finally realized. The Scot became a Rolex First-Time Winner that week at the Seta Golf Course, defeating Kana Nagai by four shots and becoming the first Scottish winner on the LPGA Tour since Catriona Matthew in 2011.

“It’s overwhelming, to be honest,” said Dryburgh after her first victory. “This has been a dream of mine for a long time. A lot of hard work has gone into this, so it means so much.”
Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland poses with the trophy after winning the tournament following the final round of the TOTO Japan Classic at Seta Golf Course North Course on November 6, 2022 in Otsu, Shiga, Japan

It was a breakthrough moment for Dryburgh, who was arguably one of the Tour’s most popular winners that season. The win secured her LPGA Tour status for the next couple of years and put her on European Solheim Cup Captain Suzann Pettersen’s radar for the 2023 Solheim Cup in Spain, a team for which she was ultimately picked and for whom she earned a point.

But it was the first-place prize of a TOTO toilet that got Dryburgh the most global attention, and nearly two years on from her victory, that piece of hardware is still something she gets asked about to this day.

“Some people win a car. Some people win other extravagant things, but this toilet is something else,” said Dryburgh. “The TOTO toilet has been a big talking point. It brings a lot of headlines, which is no bad thing for me. It's a pretty cool story. I'll have the toilet forever, so I can show it to people that come to my house.”

While some players might have cringed at the numerous commode-related questions that often still pop up, Dryburgh just laughs and takes it all in stride, content to chat about the strange accompaniment to the trophy she was awarded in Japan. But that comfortability isn’t just reserved for unusual winning prizes.

Gemma Dryburgh of Scotland on the 18th hole during the second round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 19, 2024 in Orlando, Florida.

Even with a well-represented LGBTQ+ community on the LPGA Tour, some athletes are still leery of fully sharing their true selves with the world, both inside and outside the ropes. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to critique others, and while players are used to comments being made about their performances in person and on social media, it’s a different thing entirely to have your identity questioned by strangers who don’t know you personally.

Dryburgh has always felt like she can be exactly who she is on the LPGA Tour, something she knows is a privilege even in today’s modern world. She radiates a congenial self-assuredness and won’t hesitate to let others know just how good it feels to live your complete and honest truth.

“It's so freeing, just being yourself. I’ve been lucky enough to always be truthful,” said Dryburgh. “I’ve never had to hide something or hide who I am, which I feel very lucky to be able to do as well because I’m sure 10, 15, 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case.

“It’s easy for me to say because I’ve done it, but it’s very freeing to be yourself and to show the world who you are, and you know that you aren’t living a lie at any point. It can help you in your life and your golf and your career just to be yourself.”
Gemma Dryburgh and Madelene Sagstrom of Team Europe fist bump on the 13th hole during Day One of The Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin Golf Club on September 22, 2023 in Casares, Spain.

Community is such an important aspect of a professional athlete’s life, particularly with the amount of travel and instability required to sustain a hectic lifestyle. The support system that Dryburgh has built in her time on Tour has been critical to her success on the golf course, but it’s also been crucial to her mental well-being off it.

And it’s those people who have continued to encourage Dryburgh during the ups and downs and highs and lows who have helped her carry onward in pursuit of her dreams, who have propped her up and helped propel her forward when the times got tough.

“It is a huge part of that success. I really couldn’t do it without my community on Tour,” Dryburgh said. “This life is not easy, traveling all the time, and you're away from your loved ones, your family, your friends. To have that, friends on Tour is huge.

“I feel like on Tour, it's a very safe space, which has been great. When Anne-Lise and I started dating, everyone was so excited to hear about it, which is just a great feeling, to be able to share who you really are with people. This life is difficult enough to have any other kind of obstacles to go through. It does mean so much to me to have that kind of support.”

When she thinks about the kind of impact she’d like to make as a professional athlete, the answer is an easy one for Dryburgh. It isn’t about accolades or victories or Solheim Cup records or career earnings. It’s about a singular message she wants to share with the world by being an example of self-acceptance and self-love, something she’s proud to represent as she competes alongside the world’s best on the LPGA Tour.

“Being yourself is the most important thing,” Dryburgh. “We should be in a time now that we should be able to share these things and be comfortable with who we are. It's very sad that we still get some backlash on social media about being truly who you are. But I think we can all be a community and help each other just be ourselves. I think it's so important.

“Hopefully, sharing our stories will help others, which is what I would love to do as well is to make sure that people know that, okay, she's being herself, maybe I can be as well. If I can help one person, that would just be amazing.”
Gemma Dryburgh of Team Europe celebrates with the Solheim Cup after her teams win during Day Three of The Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin Golf Club on September 24, 2023 in Casares, Spain.

And if you know anything about Gemma, you know that she is as genuine as they come, a person who always remains true to themselves no matter what is thrown her way. It’s that authenticity that will help Dryburgh make a lasting impact on the next generation, that will help her spread her message around the world for many more years on the LPGA Tour, that will encourage others to find comfort in their own skins, a worthy prize, indeed.