The competition on the LPGA Tour grows stronger each year thanks to the women with impressive amateur résumés who join the Tour. At the recent CP Women’s Open held at Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, this strength was on full display. On the Wednesday before the tournament began, two of this season’s rookies, Maria Fassi and Cheyenne Knight, shared what it is like to be out on the road during their first season on the LPGA Tour.
Fassi spent four years at the University of Arkansas and was the 2019 NCAA women’s individual champion. Perhaps most significantly, she was the runner-up at the first ever Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Knight (above) was a two-time Texas state champion and joined NCAA powerhouse Alabama, where she was a three-time All-America selection. She spent a year on the LPGA’s development tour before joining the LPGA Tour full time this season.
What most people don’t understand is what life on Tour is really like. It’s much more than what we see on TV. Travel, accommodations, food, fitness, and financial management are all things that players must figure out once they join. Some have agents, some utilize family, but all must learn to deal with the weekly grind of being on Tour.
It can be tough, especially financially. Many rookies initially lean on family and friends for support. “After Alabama, I played on the Symetra Tour for a year. It’s not glamorous but my parents have helped me out a lot. Travel is expensive; golf in general is super expensive,” Knight said.
Added Fassi, “It’s tough to find sponsors, tough to find people. Everyone really wants to help, but when it comes down to giving big amounts of money, it’s hard. It’s a lot of money that we need to pay for all of our expenses. It takes a lot.”
Lesley Hawkins is the general manager of Adidas Golf Canada and part of a program called the DCM Power Up Bursary. It was established in 2018 and is an annual award that supports up-and-coming female golf professionals in Canada. They receive a $5,000 bursary; apparel from Adidas Golf; media and personal brand training; and financial literacy training from professionals at RBC.
“We’re giving them a ton of help,” Hawkins said. “We got Natasha Staniszewski from TSN [to be] part of the board. She’s helping them run their social media and teaching them how to build their profile. DCM is helping them create a stable of contacts and helping them with their networking. RBC is helping them with financial planning. For Adidas Golf, we’re dressing them for the tour they want to be on, not necessarily the tour they’re on today.”
Sponsors can be vital to a player and take a lot of pressure off them. As Fassi (below) found out, it was a little easier to find sponsor support for her professional career after she finished second at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Being a featured player throughout the broadcast no doubt helped her when it came time to find sponsors.
“From the meetings I have had with people, some of my sponsors or people that were interested in helping me out, Augusta was a really big tournament. It was always, ‘Oh I saw you at Augusta,’ and that was a big help,” she said.
For Knight, who is currently talking with potential sponsors, her parents have been her biggest supporters. “My Dad is a financial advisor, so he helps me a lot with my expenses and teaching me how to save money,” she said. “Hopefully down the road I’ll be able to pay him back for all he’s done.”
Being a rookie on the Tour is a thrilling week-to-week experience and makes for a jam-packed summer. “It’s exciting but challenging,” said Knight. “There’s a lot of little things that you don’t realize as a rookie, but I told myself to step out of my comfort zone and introduce myself to people and play with veterans. I could just go with people I know, but I have met new people and asked for help, and that’s hard to do.”
Her home course in Texas, Shady Oaks, is also home to Tour veteran Angela Stanford, giving Knight a veteran she can lean on for guidance.
Pro golfers put a lot of effort into preparing for events each week. “Lots of travel, jetlag, lots of weeks in a row and your body aching,” said Knight. “Last year on the Symetra Tour I got a bit of a glimpse, but it’s nothing compared to how much you travel out here. I’ve just got to make sure to take care of myself.”
Added Fassi, “It’s very busy—overwhelming at times—at least for me. There’s a lot more things going on other than golf. The fact we have so many things to do, and most of the time it’s back-to-back weeks, it can be exhausting.”
They must quickly learn the best ways to pack and travel, where to stay, how to eat on the road, how to maintain their fitness, and how to look after any injuries. Most rookies will have family or friends travel with them that first year to help manage all of these things.
Despite the challenges and the learning curve a rookie faces in her first year, being on Tour is a dream come true for these women. Both Fassi and Knight dreamed of being pro golfers since they were little. The best part? “Traveling is great, but for me it’s competing,” Fassi said. “I love to compete. Just being able to do it in front of crowds and doing it next to people who I used to look up to and watch on TV is the best part for me.”
Added Knight, “It’s been my dream since I was nine years old. I think some days when I am tired and I don’t want to practice, I take a step back to when I was sitting here as a girl watching LPGA players on the range and dreaming of playing on the LPGA Tour. It pushes me. So I think that’s my favourite part, living my dream every day!”