In what is unfolding as “The Year of the Breakthrough” in women’s golf, Maria Torres is making a run at becoming the most stunning of all.
She’s an LPGA rookie.
She’s No. 184 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
She has missed the cut in more than half her starts this year, with 11 MCs overall and seven in a row.
But she enters the weekend at the Evian Championship with a share of the lead and in contention to join Pernilla Lindberg and Georgia Hall as players who broke through this season to claim major championships as their first LPGA titles.
Torres’ personal tale makes her Cinderella story even more compelling.
Almost a year ago, Torres was huddled with family in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria pounded her homeland, with 155 mph winds thrashing the island. The storm hit on Sept. 20, just a few weeks before she was supposed to fly to the second stage of LPGA Q-School.
Though her family emerged safely from the devastation, Torres found herself in a hard spot getting ready for Q-School. Survival in 90-degree heat, with no power, was challenge enough. The family moved into Maria’s grandmother’s house, with a small generator helping them meet basic power needs and cook on a portable stove. It meant standing in long lines in the heat to try to get gas and other supplies.
Torres prepared for Q-School by putting on her grandmother’s carpeted floor and chipping balls at a nearby park. She finally got a flight out to stay with former teammates at the University of Florida and better prepare.
The obstacles didn’t prevent Torres from becoming the first player from Puerto Rico to earn an LPGA tour card. Overcoming them makes putting her homeland’s flag on the leaderboard at Evian this week a source of even more pride back home.
After following up Thursday’s 6-under 65 Thursday with a 69 on Friday, Torres looked into a Golf Channel camera and sent a message home to Puerto Rico.
“I love you guys,” she said.
The island is still rebuilding from the worst natural disaster on record.
“It’s incredible to be here and have this opportunity,” Torres said. “I have no words for it.”
Torres, 23, shared the first-round lead with Carlota Ciganda and is tied atop the leaderboard after 36 holes with Mi-Hyang Lee, Mo Martin and Amy Olson.
That opening 65 came the first time Torres played a tournament round at Evian Golf Resort, a quirky course with lots of awkward side-hill lies and dramatic slopes on the greens. She had never led or shared the lead after any round of an LPGA event before this week.
“I love this course,” Torres said. “It’s really a strategic course. There’s no advantage to anybody.”
What was it like going off Friday morning with the lead?
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking,” Torres said. “I’m not going to deny that.”
Torres showed that with a bogey-bogey start in some early rain.
“After the two bogeys, I'm like, `You should start playing right now,’” Torres said.
She did with the sun coming out, with birdies over three of her next five holes and another on her second nine.
“I’m excited to be in this position,” Torres said. “Just grateful for it.”