The True Path of Making It As a Female Professional Golfer By PGA Professional Maria Tulley
The Beginning Golf
started for me at the age of 11, whilst growing up on a council estate in Cornwall and that is where the dream began! It all started at Cape Cornwall Golf Club with my brother. Unfortunately my brother and i were the only juniors there but after a short time we moved on to West Cornwall Golf Club and joined the junior section there. When i started there with Dean (my brother) i was the only girl & to be honest if it wasn't for my brother being there with me i probably wouldn't have continued as i felt pretty out numbered. Playing golf as a young girl also got me some unwanted attention at school, in the form of bullying, kids saying it was weird & a “old mans” sport & sometimes getting physical with me over it, but it never stopped me wanting to pursue the dream!
By the age of 15 i had won several County Girls Championships & been selected for the under 16 England Squad, which was a great honour. My golf was going from strength to strength & all i could think about was golf! My school results were not fantastic because of it, i literally lived and breathed golf!
I went to college and through those 2 years my golf took a back seat as i wanted to concentrate on my studies so that i could go on and get a degree or diploma. After finishing college i chose to look into the PGA Qualification as so matter what happened in the playing stakes i wanted a career in golf, especially the teaching side. I managed to get a placement at my Junior club West Cornwall & worked and did my 3 year PGA degree there. I enjoyed every aspect of the PGA course, but again the playing side of golf had to take a back seat, until i completed it. Once completed i continued to teach at West Cornwall building up the juniors, especially the girls. When i decided to move on and leave, the junior section was thriving and West Cornwall had a very healthy Girls section, which i was & am very proud of.
After spending a few years teaching i decided that my true dream was still to play, but that was never going to happen if i stayed in Cornwall. So i made the decision to leave and try and find a part time role in the South East. I sold most of my belongings and rented a double room in a young couples house! After the 1st couple of weeks in my head i thought that i had made a massive mistake! Giving everything up in cornwall (a house, good job, nice car, friends) for a double room, no guarantee of income, no friends & miles away from my family.
It was hard. I started talking to members at the club trying to explain to them that i was looking at pursing a playing career, but in order for me to get there i needed some form of investment/sponsorship. I entered a few events after moving up, but was still not playing full time which is what i needed to do. I played with a Spanish girl in Morocco & she asked me my situation, which i said i was working but trying to play at the same time and she said to me that considering i haven't had much game time or time to practice, that i was quality and i needed to really pursue only concentrating on playing as working and teaching as well as trying to play will not work! Sacrifice needed to be made!
After returning, i made myself a plan! I wanted to be realistic and also fair to myself. I believe in my head that if i get the chance to practice & play full time for 5 years & still do not make it then i believe i will not be good enough, but realistically i think that is plenty of time to make it happen if it is going to! Practice plans, top coaching & not having to worry about making a putt to pay my rent & bills, but this could only be done with financial support as i do not have the option of the bank of Mum & Dad, so the money needs to come from somewhere & not me working all hours to try and provide it as i cant fully commit to the golf.
I managed to get some sponsorship, which took the work load off me a bit but still wasn't enough to play full time, but i still entered and played in events when i could. Even winning some great events including a Tartan Tour Event in Montrose & The sussex Professional championships ( The 1st lady to win it in 101 years ) so things were getting better, but still not what i needed for my 5 year plan.
As i mentioned i was still struggling to afford to play & my bank account was looking pretty low, so i decided to turn to LinkedIn, a site that allows you to connect to business men & women all over the world. I spent countless hours on linkedIn every night connecting to MD’s of companies and sending emails, hoping to get at least one reply that would be interested in helping. After several hundred emails i did get a positive response from a guy who was running a golf day & invited me along to do some teaching & meet people, which i did. I must say it was pretty daunting not knowing anyone & just trying to make conversation with loads of Business people, but it needed to be done for me to network & try and get some support, which i managed to get from that day. Before that golf day though i had been promised some help with sponsorship from others but nothing come of it, which is why you should never take someones word when they say “we will help you”!
The First 2 years of the Plan
After securing that sponsorship which was going to allow me to focus full time on my playing i got to work straight away, I found a top coach to work with, found a better practice facility, worked with a personal trainer on a regular basis & entered events without having to worry about the bills for once! i felt free to solely concentrate on my golf & my dream.
I started winning more events, my scoring averages were coming down & i pre qualified for the Ladies British Open & got to the Final Qualifying in the 1st & 2nd year of playing full time, which previously i failed. Birdies went from in 2014 & 2015 (50 Birdies) to 2016 & 2017 (119 Birdies). Everything was progressing nicely & could really see the difference from when i was not playing full time to when i was! I felt great & life was great, it was like all the sacrifices were worth it to get here!
In November last year i decided to take a group out to cyprus on a coaching trip as it was my off season, I had a great week teaching & Playing. I played against a local English Man out there & he spoke to me & mentioned how impressed he was with my game. He then continued to say that he would like to support & sponsor me for the final 3 years of my plan! As you can imagine i was overwhelmed & so grateful! We sat down & wrote everything down, what he was going to provide for me. Everything was covered, tournament costs , flights, entries , living costs, leasing a car and a signed contract, which for me was great security as i never had that with the 1st sponsor. After arriving home i told close friends & family which was emotional as it meant so much to me. I arrived back to England & explained the situation to my current sponsor & he was extremely happy for me & wanted me to go with this new sponsor as he was offering me the security of the 3 years i needed.
once back i continually kept in contact with the new sponsor & he insisted to me several times that the money will be in my bank account in the 1st week in January 2018. He also insisted on the phone that i get on and sort a 3 year lease deal out on a car. Naturally i would always wait until i had the funds to go ahead & order anything like that & trust me i have met several people in my career who i can tell if they are genuine or not & he came across extremely trustworthy & sincere. As requested by him i ordered the car & it arrived on the 11th January! At this point i still had no funds in my account & was starting to panic,
I had also arranged with another professional golfer to play in South Africa on the Sunshine Tour for a few weeks as the sponsorship allowed it, this as well was worrying me, with no funds still in the account. It came to the end of January & still no money, but did receive a message from the sponsor stating for me not to worry and it will be sorted & even included a picture of some paper work regarding the contract on an office desk! So why would i worry!
At this point i had rent to pay, a lease car that he insisted i get to pay for & trying to practice & play! My bank account was very low, i started to really panic & lessons were extremely quiet, doing work in the pro shop wasn't covering my costs so i needed to do extras on top, including cleaning & gardening until the money was due in the account! Trust me digging holes for trees in the pouring rain in the winter is not fun & also not good for a golfers back!
The 6th February was a day i will never forget! After cleaning from 9am - 2pm and arriving at the club to do some practice i received an email from the sponsors colleague informing me that the sponsor is going to pull out! I felt sick, i cried, my mind was going crazy & i was in complete shock. I panicked & thought “what am i going to do now” i had a car to pay for that he told me to get, rent, everything & hardly any money to do it with.
That night i cried, phoned family & wanted to give up on the dream, i felt cheated , deceived & stupid. I was literally broken from what the guy had done to me.
Never Give up
The day after, i woke up & phoned my coach, we had a good chat & he reassured me & reminded me why i gave up everything in Cornwall & sacrificed everything i have done. It was not to let one guy ruin my dream! He reminded me of the success I've had with hardly having the opportunity & the realistic potential of actually achieving my dream with the right support & say that not everyone is like this guy. After a day or 2 of self pity, i agreed with my coach that this was not going to beat me. I made i plan of once again spending hours in the evening on LinkedIn & knocking on doors for some support, which may i add isn't a very nice thing to do as its a pride thing for me but in this case i have no other choice! I need the backing! I continued to clean & garden as well as teach, but teaching was quiet. There were moments where i felt like giving up again as the months went by, i could see other female professionals uploading photos & videos at events which i felt i should've been at but instead i was busting a gut trying to pay my bills & entries into smaller events. But i was determined to keep going!
Keeping the Dream Alive
I managed to get some sponsorship last month (April 2018) with a travel company, which has really helped, plus an agent has come on board to help me & point me in the right direction regarding other potential sponsors. My focus now is getting ready for LPGA Tour school in August, if i can raise a bit more. In the mean time i will be playing PGA Pro Ams and picking myself back up, starting from where i left off 4 months ago with my golf going from strength to strength. I am hoping you will be seeing me on the LPGA Tour within the next 3 years & my dream would have really come true!
The Moral Of The Story
The reason i have written this article explaining my experiences on the way to pursuing a playing career is i feel there is too many misleading stories out there. Plus i wanted to show aspiring Professionals what to look out for when it comes to obtaining sponsorship & trusting people. Also social media can be misleading, you will see all the selfies of golfers loving life abroad, at parties & getting given free stuff & posting about it etc, but you never really see the lows of getting there. The practicing on a wet windy day in England & eating your homemade packed lunch in the ladies changing room as you are trying to save every penny you have, real life experiences. Asking for support from equipment /clothing firms when you need it most & they say no! But when you can finally afford it they want to give it to you! It is not a easy path at all, but if you want to achieve something so badly. With the right determination, motivation & support of good people you can achieve anything you want! Just like me!
Continue to follow Maria story on twitter @mariapro86
photos Janos Schmidt