Laetitia Beck is used to making history. As the first professional golfer from Israel, male or female, she has high hopes for the sport in her country and looks to the Olympics to capitalize on its growth. Beck was voted the 2011 Atlantic Coast Conference All-American while playing at Duke University, and is a five-time Israeli Open Golf Champion (her first win coming at age 12). She joined the LPGA Tour in 2014, becoming the first Israeli, man or woman, to qualify as a full-fledged member of any major tour.
Last year was your rookie year on the LPGA Tour. How do you think it went?
I'm pretty tough on myself, so I wasn't really satisfied overall. But just graduating from college the year before, it was a huge adjustment. There are positives that I took, but overall I was a little disappointed. Could’ve been worse, could've been better.
I'm looking forward to experiencing more. Now, you have the cut and you have to make a living. There was never that much pressure. I want to show everyone I belong here.
What was your path to this point?
I was born in Belgium, and my parents played golf there. Then we moved to Israel, where we have one 18-hole golf course. I joined there and played other sports, but at 12 I stopped playing other sports to focus on golf. I moved to a boarding school when I couldn't get any better in Israel and started competing in junior golf, then I went to college. After I turned 14 and moved here by myself for boarding school, it's the typical story of most kids trying to play golf.
I would say it's a pretty atypical story, moving so far away from your family at such a young age. What's it like being the first Israeli pro golfer and therefore, the first Israeli golf Olympian?
I tell people in general that I'm so used to "making history" for golf in Israel. Ever since I was a junior golfer, I was the first because there was never anyone before me. I kind of got used to it. Obviously, the Olympics is something unreal. We have something similar in Israel called the Maccabiah Games where Jewish people come from around the world…I remember I was 13 was the first time I played. It was very emotional seeing everyone coming together. I never thought about golf being in the Olympics. I can't really describe it. What my family experienced in the past now being on the biggest stage in the world and showing my country and family, it’s something unreal and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Would you rather win a gold medal or a major?
It's a really tricky question because there aren't a lot of gold medals for Israel, and it would be huge. But we've never had a major winner, or a winner in general. [Laughs] So both.
What does representing Israel and bringing your sport to your country mean to you?
It's still not very known in Israel; people don't really know about it much. We don't have that kind of television footage in Israel -- they have to go online and check for videos. I'm hoping as I become more successful, that Israelis will know more about golf. My friends and family are very supportive and proud. They want Israel to see it has someone representing them.
I'm hoping to help the sport grow in Israel. That will come with being more successful and playing better.
What's one thing you can take away from your short time on tour?
I have an amazing supportive group when I stay with host families. Hearing my story, they feel the need to help and be a part of it. People are so welcoming. It's nice to feel like part of the family even though I'm so far away [from mine]. I don't have any family in the U.S. Living by myself at boarding school for four years, then college for four years, it's finally like I have a family. That's something very special that I experience all the time on tour.