LPGA Tour rookie Gaby Lopez has dreamt of being a professional golfer from a young age, thanks to another star from her home country. The 22-year-old was a three-time NCAA winner at the University of Arkansas, and runner up at the 2015 NCAA Division I Championship. Despite being a newcomer on tour, Lopez impressed with a T11 finish at the U.S. Women's Open at CordeValle. Lopez focused all of her hard work on one day representing Mexico on the world stage. She got to do just that this year at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with a solid showing of T31 and finishing two over par.
2016 was your rookie season. What's it been like?
There's a lot of emotions, and a lot of feelings running round. For my first LPGA season, it's great to have my mom next to me and my coach as my caddie. He’s been a huge support for me to develop this stage of my life. I'm not here to play, I'm here to win. I aspire to greatness. I'm going to give everything I have on the course.
Lorena Ochoa is obviously an icon in women's golf, but especially to you. Why is she such an inspiration?
When I was a little kid, she was always someone I looked up to. She would give me a little smile and that would change my whole day. She's one of the people I admire the most because of her personality. People on tour have told me Lorena has a great attitude and personality. She's really humble, lovely and caring. I've learned a lot from her…how to be #1 while having your feet on the ground is something I think everyone here admires. Having her right now, by my side, helping me with sponsors and giving me advice, especially with the Olympics; It's a lot of emotions and rushing to think ahead, but she's also helped me stay in the moment.
You went to Arkansas and played four years there. Why was it important for you to finish your degree?
My parents raised me that way, education comes first and golf comes second. [Not finishing] was something I never thought of. I thought of getting my degree as a good thing to finish a cycle and process that I started in Arkansas. I'm really proud to represent the Razorbacks and I'm so glad that they gave me the opportunity to finish school.
You're in good company with some fellow Razorback alums on the LPGA Tour!
Yeah. Having Stacy Lewis by my side is really fun and a perfect time for me to start.
What something you've worked on in your game to prepare for the first year on tour?
My coach and I focused a lot on short game and putting. I've always been a solid ball hitter, so it was just a matter of adjusting my swing a little. Focusing on putting and knowing where the ball is going to start and how my feeling is engaged with the stroke and break. It's all about feeling. The more tools you have in the short game the better you are and the better the odds are to get up and down from anywhere.
What has the transition been like, going from collegiate golf to professional golf?
You know, I had an easy transition. I played in 10 LPGA events as an amateur. That was enough to feel comfortable with everything: nerves, excitement, expectations, everything comes with it. I take it one day at a time and enjoy the process. I took opportunities like Mexico inviting me to play in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and same with the Walmart NW in Arkansas and the U.S. Women's Open. Those kinds of experiences help me work hard and prepare my game for this level. I think right now, I'm ready and prepared for the next phase.
You competed in the Olympics this year for Mexico. What were your feelings on golf being back in the Games?
I can't tell you how many times I've dreamt of the Olympics. In Mexico, golf isn't very big but everyone in Mexico looks at the Olympics like the biggest event ever. Having the opportunity to represent Mexico was be a huge honor for me. Carrying those colors and the flag would be once in a lifetime experience. Being an Olympian? Everyone on tour would love to have that chance. I worked every day for it. That was my main goal that made me a professional.
What do you think the Olympics does for women's golf?
We are competing not only for the first time in the same place with the men, but we're competing with every other sport. Just emphasizing the women's golf is going to be amazing. We have a chance to make history in women's golf in Rio. Not only golfers will watch us, but every other sports fan will watch. We can share our passion with them.
What is the key to growing the women's game?
It has to do a lot with younger players who are starting on tour. There's a lot of hunger for us, the young women. I'm really excited to share this experience with more Razorbacks, hopefully. I think it's amazing how this sport can shine and there's people that don't see it. There's a lot of room for improvement, but it's just a matter of letting it shine.
What's one thing you would take away from your short time on the LPGA Tour?
I would takeaway looking at the little kid that I was and trying to smile at a little girl and impacting her how Lorena impacted me. I was touched by her, and being that emotionally touched meant a lot to me. It motivated me a lot to keep going and work hard to achieve my dreams. I think I can impact girls in that way. I want to share that experience with not only my family, but my fans too. You never know how big an impact you're going to be on people. Just a little smile can change a girl's life.