Oct 12, 2017

After Whirlwind Summer, UT Golfer Finds LPGA Tour Future in Range

Reporting Texas

Sophia Schubert, a senior on the UT Women’s Golf Team, hits a golf ball at the practice green. Shelby Light/Reporting Texas

Sophia Schubert stood alone on the practice range on a recent fall morning at the University of Texas Golf Club.

She fine-tuned her alignment and decompressed from an eventful year in golf. She’d won a tournament in April as a junior at Texas. She’d won the biggest championship in women’s amateur golf in August. She’d played in her first professional major in September. She’d earned exemptions into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open and Women’s British Open.

The magnitude of what her future may hold finally came full circle. But alone on the range early in her senior season, Schubert wasn’t thinking about the future.

She was just dialing in her pitching wedge. Every shot she hit was a two-yard draw that never left the target.

“It’s all happened so fast,” Schubert said of her summer. “I’ve always felt like I was capable of it, but just to prove it to myself now is pretty incredible.”

Inside the Longhorns’ practice academy, the tall, shiny Robert Cox Cup sat on the pingpong table in the women’s golf locker room. The U.S. Women’s Amateur trophy was delivered while she was in France, playing in her first major. When she returned, she got to see the trophy for the first time since Aug. 13.

It was on that August day at San Diego Country Club when the entire complexion of Schubert’s career changed.

A 36-hole match with Albane Valenzuela of Stanford stood between Schubert and the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship. The night before had been tempestuous. After winning her semifinal match over 13-year-old Chia Yen Wu from Chinese Taipei, Schubert just wanted to see a movie to get her mind off of the tournament.

But Schubert and her mother, Delisa, arrived late and missed it. They tried to go to a restaurant, but they couldn’t get a table. They went back to the hotel. They grabbed Panda Express to go. Schubert settled in for the night and prepared for a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, but around 3:15 a.m., rowdy baseball players in the hall prompted a United States Golf Association official to call security. Nothing was going smoothly.

“It was a frustrating, tense night,” Delisa Schubert said.

But her daughter was never fazed. She dominated the morning 18 holes and led 4-up heading into the two-hour break. She ate lunch in the clubhouse with her mother and Texas head coach Ryan Murphy, who caddied for Schubert. But she didn’t want to eat or talk — she just wanted to keep playing.

“I definitely got in the zone,” Schubert said. “I wanted to keep going right then.”

She never allowed Valenzuela back into the match. Schubert holed a three-foot putt for par on the 31st hole to clinch the championship.

“I said, ‘Can you believe that you’re the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion?’” Murphy said. “You go through this gauntlet to arrive at that moment, and it’s just a heavy, heavy moment.”

That moment had been years in the making.

Schubert, a native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, began playing golf a month before she turned 4. She won her first tournament at 6, played with the legendary Nancy Lopez at 10 and collected three high school state championships while at the Christian Academy of Knoxville.

“What always stuck out the most to me was she just seemed to have a mental edge over everybody else,” said Shane Wells, her high school coach. “Some people have that special ‘it’ factor, and she had it.”

Schubert admits that she does feel different after winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur — not necessarily as a person but as a golfer. Her career and life changed, and a professional future in the game is within her grasp. She has sponsor’s exemptions into three of the next four majors, as she did for the Evian Championship in September. Her stellar play continued in October, when she won the Betsy Rawls Invitational in Austin by four shots.

She plans to turn pro once her senior season at Texas is completed. Then the road to an LPGA Tour career begins.

“Everything that she’s gone through has prepared her for where she is today,” Delisa Schubert said. “She’s ready, willing and able. She is prepared.”

In September at the Evian, Schubert got a taste of what the future could be. It was the first professional tournament she had ever played in, let alone her first major. She opened with a 3-under par 68 in the first round and sat only five shots off the lead. But she posted rounds of 73 and 76 to finish tied for 58th in the shortened, three-round event.

She got to play a practice round with Danielle Kang, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. And she had some of the biggest names in women’s professional golf coming up to congratulate her, including Juli Inkster, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis.

Schubert got a small glimpse into what the future may hold. But it was just a glimpse.

And now the future is in her hands.

“I’ve always put so much pressure on myself,” Schubert said. “I’ve just kept telling myself, ‘Just enjoy it. Enjoy these moments. No one can take them away from you.’”