For Laurette Maritz, a United States International University junior from South Africa, the Kyocera Inamori LPGA tournament is her first professional golf experience.
As the only amateur in the field of 143 at Bernardo Heights, she has one fear that rises above the worries of putting and driving.
She does not want to step on any professional toes. She just wants to fit in. But she knows she has a different perspective. Professionals don’t have to worry about squeezing in 18 holes before going to a night class.
Earlier this week, while Maritz, 22, was sharpening her skills on a practice green, she noticed her childhood idol, Sally Little, putting next to her.
Maritz had spoken briefly with Little, also from South Africa, at a banquet in their homeland some years back, but the two-time All-America golfer figured the 15-year professional had long forgotten their meeting.
Watching the smooth putting motion of Little, Maritz nearly mustered the nerve to introduce herself to her one-time idol--but she quickly stopped short.
“I didn’t dare disturb her,” Maritz said seriously.
Maritz, battling nerves, fired a five-over-par 77, which is 11 strokes behind leader Mindy Moore after Thursday’s opening round. Maritz has had the jitters since last Thursday, when she qualified with an even-par 72, her best round on the 6,391-yard course.
“I don’t want to go out there and make a fool of myself,” Maritz said the night before the opening round. “I want to carry myself well, hit some good shots and finish respectfully.”
Although Maritz, who teed off at 7:30 a.m. on the back nine, was dealt some bad bounces by the course, she retained her composure throughout her first round. At times, it didn’t look easy.
On the 470-yard 13th hole, Maritz powered a strong drive down the fairway, which has a slight dogleg to the right. Her second shot on the par-5 appeared headed for the green, but it ended up at the edge of a bunker.
“I wasn’t really lucky on the 13th,” she said. “But you have to go out there and get teed up and take your licks.”
Keeping cool is Maritz’s style. She’s known for keeping her emotions to herself on the golf course, even under the worse conditions. Thursday, when she suffered a bad bounce or missed a shot, Maritz would drop her head, take a slow half-swing with her club and seem to shake off the shot.
“You can’t let something like that get to you,” she said. “You have your next shot to think about and you just try to shake it off and do better next time.”
Coach Gordon Severson, the USIU golf coach who followed Maritz around the course, knew her nervousness would affect her play on the opening holes of the first round. By the third hole, Severson said he could see that Maritz had found her normal groove--a groove that has propelledher to the top ranks of collegiate women golfers.
Monday, Maritz shot an even-par 73 to win the individual championship of the California Women’s Intercollegiate tournament in San Jose. In October, the two-time All-American, won the Nancy Lopez Invitational amateur tournament in Tulsa, Okla.
Last year, Maritz, a physical education major, won two collegiate tournaments and finished no lower than 10th in the 12 in which she competed. Severson said Maritz’s serious style of play has set an example for other USIU golfers, some of whom also followed her round Thursday.
“When we go to a collegiate tournament, I don’t have to get Laurette ready to play,” Severson said. “When the flag goes up, I know she’ll be ready to play.”
Maritz was recruited in 1983 by a USIU official searching for soccer players in Johannesburg. Maritz was playing throughout Europe at the time, taking a brief break from studying after graduating from high school.
The USIU official saw a story about Maritz in a local paper, consulted USIU, and then called Maritz, offering her a full scholarship.
She was quick to accept USIU’s offer because she had seen the success that Little and Gary Player, another South African golfer, had after coming to the U.S. Soon after she began playing golf, at age 11, Maritz set a goal to one day be a touring profesional in the U.S.
“I always wanted to go to the United States because this is where golf happens,” she said. “Coming to the United States was good for me. It has improved my thinking and my playing.”
When Maritz had spoken with Little at that banquet years ago, the pro had instructed her to go to college before turning professional.
“Right now I’m glad I’m at school,” she said. “It is the best place to be to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.”
She says she has been pointing to this tournament for months because it was in San Diego. Although Severson and she had queried the LPGA earlier, Maritz did not know when she would get a chance to qualify until the day before the qualifying round.
“It all happened so quickly,” she said. “In one week I’m playing with professionals, it’s like a dream come true.
“Just qualifying was exciting to me. It was almost like a bonus to get to play after I qualified. I’m enjoying every minute of it. It’s been a good experience for me . . . an adventure.”
Today she must match her best score, 72, to survive the cut.
“I think it will be a little easier after (Thursday’s play),” she said. “It’s like the first time you go to the dentist, you’re so scared you think you’re going to die, but after a few times it’s not so bad.”