portrait of Laura Restrepo, the tournament-winning 17-year-old
tall at the tee
Golf is a
like life. The things that matter require practice and dedication.
And then, when they don't go your way, you just need to step back,
remain calm, and relax.
the age of sixteen, Laura Restrepo (no relation to the Colombian
novelist of the same name) had already achieved every golfing honor
that could possibly be earned in Central America. At the time of our
first conversation for this piece, in March of 2010, Laura had
recently won the President's Cup of Panama, competing against the top
male golfers in the region and becoming the first woman to take the
was great news for her many fans and friends.
bad news was that if Laura remained in Panama, her home since the age
of eleven, her growth as a golfer would be stunted.
foreseen that possibility, however, with her parents' full support
Laura applied and was accepted to the Hank Haney International Junior
Golf Academy (IJGA), in Hilton Head, South Carolina. For those not
familiar with Hank Haney, he was Tiger Wood's coach during the
legendary golfer's most successful years.
the IJGA, Laura would have a chance to devote herself to pursuing her
dream --- to earn a living doing what she loves most: playing golf.
in Colombia, to Colombian parents, when Laura was seven her family
moved to Peru. It was there, at the age of nine, that she first took
up golf. Upon moving to Panama two years later, she became serious
about the sport.
love golf because I enjoy being on my own. Also, I like that when I'm
playing, the only person I'm competing against is myself," Laura
says. "Besides those things, my personality seems well suited
for the game. I tend to be positive, I'm calm, and I'm at ease under
known Laura since she was fourteen years old, a student in one of my
Spanish literature courses at Balboa Academy --- in the Republic of
Panama. Early on in the academic year, I noticed certain traits in
Laura that set her apart from most of her peers. As a student she was
--- and remains, I'm sure --- mature, supremely disciplined, and
highly organized. It was a pleasure to observe how Laura set high
goals for herself, but that she was also was willing to make
sacrifices and work hard to achieve them.
first time we sat down to talk about golf was a little over a year
ago, not long after she had learned that she was bound for the Hank
Haney International Junior Golf Academy. Although I --- along with
her other teachers --- was saddened to learn that Laura was leaving
Balboa Academy, I was also excited about the extraordinary
opportunity that lay before her.
asked what she hoped to gain during her year in Hilton Head, she
replied, "I'll be able to concentrate fully on golf. I'll be
able to work on my swing and participate in golf tournaments
alongside far more experience players than in Central America. In
addition, I hope to meet a few college coaches, and perhaps one of
these meetings will translate into an athletic scholarship."
we said farewell, I wished Laura luck in achieving her goals.
we sat down to chat again a year later, Laura Restrepo had attained
love the IJGA. The coaches and teachers are excellent. The schedule
is centered on golf as well. Every morning I get to practice from 8
until 11:30. Then it's off to the showers, a quick lunch, and classes
from 12:40 until 5:30. The school follows the block schedule. The
extended time allows me to concentrate on only a couple of subjects a
day. After classes, we have fitness training twice a week, and the
rest of the time is for studying."
regard to Laura's golf game, she adds, "I've improved immensely
in the mechanical and mental aspects of the game. This, in turn, has
helped raise my level of competitiveness."
Laura, not surprisingly to those who know her, managed to stand out
once again. The seventeen-year-old Colombian-Panamanian won four of
the fourteen tournaments in which she played. What's more, she placed
among the top five in the others. Better yet, she closed the year in
a most impressive fashion: winning the prestigious Bridgestone Golf
Tournament of Champions --- by six strokes, nonetheless --- in May of
victory means that I'll be invited to more exclusive tournaments.
Next year I'll get to play alongside some very, very talented
players. I can't tell you how exciting this is."
taking the Bridgestone Tournament, Laura returned to Panama to a
hero's reception as the news media enthusiastically spread the word
of her triumphs. She was already accustomed to such coverage. In
spite of being Colombian, over the years she always represented
Panama in international tournaments, much to the pride and joy of the
people in her adoptive country.
enjoy the news reports and articles that are published about me in
Panama. It makes me feel as if the entire country supports my dream
of playing professionally."
the news gets better.
of Laura's outstanding year at the Hank Haney International Junior
Golf Academy --- both as an athlete and a student --- she was offered
a full-scholarship to return, something her family celebrated.
the financial assistance," Laura says, "my return to the
IJGA would have been next to impossible. I'm grateful and I'm fully
aware that I'll have to work hard to repay the confidence the school
has shown in me."
her dedication to golf has kept her busy, Laura says that she missed
a few things about Panama during her year in South Carolina. "My
family, my friends, and definitely home-cooked meals. But I've also
made great friends in Hilton Head. Because of this I now feel a
little torn. But I'm not complaining. At the moment I'm in a great
third goal --- that of meeting college coaches and perhaps receiving
a scholarship offer --- also materialized. "I'm being recruited
by several universities. I'm keeping my options open. Still, I'm
leaning toward one in Kentucky, although I haven't committed yet."
a person who golfed avidly for a several years --- although I never
amounted to anything more than a hacker --- I've been able to live
vicariously through my former student's success. But placing my hopes
on Laura's shoulders was an easy, sure bet. And, ultimately, it
doesn't really matter how high Laura climbs up in the hierarchy of
women's golf. In the end, those of us who know Laura Restrepo well
are certain that regardless of the outcome of the pursuit of her
dream, she is well on the path of becoming an adult we all can
Sirias, a Nicaraguan-American who resides in Panama, is the award
winning author of Bernardo and the Virgin (Northwestern University
Press) and Meet Me under the Ceiba (Arte Publico Press). His most
recent work is Love Made Visible: Reflections on Writing, Teaching,
and Other Distractions. For more information, visit his website at