You always hear them; everyone does.
But after a while, the taunts, “jokes” and mean little snickers and smiles, the commerce of bullies everywhere, tend to roll off you. Like with any disease, you build up an immunity to bullying.
And success is the best vaccine.
Today I am a rookie on the LPGA Tour. It isn’t what I expected, but 2020 hasn’t been great for anyone. I’m thrilled by the welcome I’ve received. In my first two starts, players like Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr went out of their way to welcome me. They offered to help if I had any questions or problems. Christina Kim, Gerina Piller, Morgan Pressel and lots of other veterans have been incredibly kind. I haven’t played much, but I feel like I have a family on the tour, which makes it easy to put aside what I went through earlier in life.
In fact, that has become my mission. The success I have in golf offers a platform for me to help other girls and boys struggling today with what I went through at their age.
I was always bigger than most kids. I came by it honestly. My father was a football lineman, a long snapper for Ohio State. I’ve always taken after him, which means I was always one of the biggest kids — and the biggest girl — throughout my years in school.
Mom played tennis in college, so sports were a part of our family. My brother and I were always athletes, playing soccer and baseball and, ultimately, golf, a game we picked up from a relative during a family reunion in Ohio. And I competed with my brother in everything. Our parents had to remind us that dinner was not a race.
Being bigger, stronger and better than boys on the soccer field didn’t make me popular when I was a kid. Continuing to grow didn’t put me in the popular girls’ club, either. Throughout my school years, I heard every taunt and laugh;
I endured every insult and rejection. I tried to brush them off.
There were friends who cared about me. We were true to each other no matter what, and their presence carried me through the bad times. That is why loyalty
is so important to me today. I know what it means to have people stick by you.
I didn’t tell my parents much about the bullies, but they knew. They could see it in my downcast eyes. Then, one day in middle school, I broke down. The bullies had filled my backpack with water, which was, in some childish way, another joke about my appearance. In the process, they ruined my favorite book. Reading was one of my few escapes at school. They even took that away.
I called my mother through hard and piercing sobs. She came to school and had what my Midwestern relatives would call a “come to Jesus meeting” with the administration. Things got a little better after that, but the pain is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s why I want to take my message to others.
I had a core group of friends and a loving family. They became my “pack.” They kept telling me, “Don’t let others define you. Don’t believe what others say about you. Be the person you are. Do your own thing.”
I also had golf. From the time I took up the game, I was pretty good. I beat most of the kids in my age group and hit the ball farther than many of the boys. Early success made me like the game. But the quiet and control is what made me fall in love with the game. No matter what kind of day I had, I knew I could come home and say, “Hey, mom, can you take me to the golf course to practice?” There, I could excel. At the range, people would look at me and say things like “Wow, great swing.”
When I was in high school, I won the American Junior Golf Association Junior Inspiration at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, California. That earned me a spot in the ANA Inspiration. My first LPGA Tour start as an amateur was in a major championship, a thrill you cannot imagine. I made the cut on the number, which was a huge confidence boost. Seeing the galleries, walking along the bridge beside the 18th green and seeing the plaques with the past champions, looking into Poppie’s Pond, where the winner always takes a plunge: I knew this was where I belonged.
So many of my early dreams have come true. While attending the University of Arizona, I was part of the team that won the 2018 NCAA Championship. Just as I had dreamed about on the putting green as a young girl, I had a 4-foot putt to clinch the title for our team. The nerves I’d tried to simulate in practice were nothing compared to real life. I was over the putt going through my normal routine, trying to control my breathing. I got a little bit of the read off my competitor’s putt, so I just focused on hitting the line.
When the ball went in and my teammates came rushing onto the green, I realized what we’d done. That’s when I let the emotions flow.
I’m excited to get back to play. During the pandemic break, I played the Cactus Tour in the Southwest to stay sharp, winning three events and setting two course records. They aren’t LPGA Tour events, but I feel ready to compete.
Once we have fans again at LPGA Tour events, I’m sure bullied girls and boys will tell me their stories. An awesome responsibility lies in that moment. But I know what to say. People can be cruel. You have to block that out and keep moving ahead no matter how much it hurts. Keep your goals in front of you and continue to love and be loyal to those who care about you.
The pain of being bullied is cutting and deep. I know. I also know that it makes you tough and strong. One day, not that far away, you will have to perform under pressure. It might not be a putt to win an NCAA Championship, or a par to earn your LPGA Tour card, but there will be something. When that moment arrives, you will be ready.
— This story was first published on the LPGA website on Aug. 4, 2020.