Last year Bailey Tardy missed out on an LPGA card by $343.
When the Symetra Tour season was over, Tardy laid in bed at night replaying all the shots she could’ve saved. Holes she would’ve played differently. Putts she’d like to have back.
When she’d go out to the course at home in Georgia, her mind would wander to a tournament, making quality practice nonexistent. She used words like “sour” and “bitter” to describe the mood and likened her predicament to being one number off on the lottery.
“I kind of just removed myself from golf,” she said of the resulting six-week break.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the Symetra Tour season to 10 events, only five cards were awarded last season. Tardy didn’t have great status on the developmental tour, but because so many international players didn’t come back for 2020, she got into all 10 events. And she made the most of it, finishing sixth on the money list with three top-five finishes.
Typically, 10 cards are awarded each season. And usually if a player finished 11th on the money list, she’d punch a ticket directly to Q-Series with a chance to earn LPGA status. Except Q-School was canceled in 2020. The former Georgia standout finished last season exactly where she started – 151st on the priority list in Category I.
“I still don’t have great status,” said Tardy, who isn’t entirely sure how many events she’ll get in this season.
On Wednesday, the Symetra Tour announced a 2021 schedule of 20 events with $3.8 million in total prize money. As frustrating as the $343 gap turned out to be, Tardy knows that something good came out of those 10 events: confidence.
“I didn’t even play my best golf last year,” she said, “and still was able to contend most of the weeks.”
Tardy can’t put a price-tag on that feeling of belonging. It wasn’t all that long ago that she saw her name on the leaderboard at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and nearly broke down crying, she felt so overwhelmed.
“Now,” she said, “I’m getting comfortable seeing it up there.”
Tardy recently headed down to Florida to get ready for the mid-March opener in Mesa, Arizona. She hired a putting instructor over the offseason, fully aware that the number of three-putts she’d had over the course of a three-round tournament, as many as eight, was keeping the former Curtis Cup player out of the winner’s circle.
Mentally, Tardy says, she has taken big strides since college.
“In college,” said Tardy, “I didn’t have a mental game.”
Last offseason she hired Bob Rotella and said the way she looks at her golf game is night and day.
“People would always be telling me, ‘You have one of the greatest golf swings,’ ” said Tardy. “I don’t know why I would never believe that.”
At a U.S. Women’s Open, she’d see people watching her on the range and worry about them nitpicking her swing. It was the same on the putting green.
“No one is even looking at you,” she’d tell herself.
Bailey Tardy and her mother Kim (photo courtesy Alison Palma/Symetra Tour)
A more confident Tardy hit the road last year with her mother Kim, whose real job is real estate agent, as her caddie.
Mom is there for comic relief, said Bailey, and they make a great team.
Two years ago when Florida Tech won the NCAA Division II title, a volunteer assistant coach convinced one his players – who was 6 down through 12 holes – to go into a tree pose to work on deep breathing in the middle of the fairway. Kim Tardy read that story and as a yoga enthusiast, now jokingly tells Tardy to go into a tree pose when she gets nervous.
(By the way, that Division II player rallied to win the match after that yoga pose.)
Mom will be back on the bag for the first part of the 2021 season, at least until work brings her back to Georgia.
Tardy met Sophia Popov for the first time at the LPGA stop in Portland last year, after the Symetra Tour player from Germany broke through with that inspiring victory at the AIG Women’s British Open.
From Symetra Tour player to major champion in the span of one week gave hope to countless grinders who are still waiting for their big break.
“She has fought to get to where she is,” said Tardy. “You may have one setback, but it doesn’t mean anything. I kind of related to that.”
This spring, the fight continues.