My path to the pros
As told to ESPN The Magazine's Sarah Turcotte:
I was 3 when I started swimming at the Oahu Club in Honolulu. That was the first sport I played. By the time I turned 5, I was playing soccer, golf, tennis and baseball. I was the only girl on the baseball team. I guess that was foreshadowing, huh? I was a really good hitter, but I couldn't catch. One day, I was in the outfield picking flowers and some kid hit a ball right at me. I put my hands in front of my face, but the ball went right between them and nailed me in the face. That was the end of baseball for me.
At 4, I already hit the golf ball really far. I was breaking windows and stuff way back then. When I turned 8, I was really only playing golf and tennis because I was better at them. That's around the time I started working with my coach, Casey Nakama. He was a great feel coach; he taught me a lot about shaping shots and how to play around the green.
The Hawaii State Junior Golf Association really made my growth possible. Mary Bae Porter-King, my golf godmother and a former LPGA player, insisted that we have competitive tournaments in Hawaii because traveling to the mainland to play national events was just not realistic. So I'd travel to Maui and stuff, but my first trip to the mainland was for the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links when I was 10.
The middle school days
I was winning everything in Hawaii, so it was hard to find competition to push myself. It's not like California where you can drive from event to event. I played against the same people every week, and I didn't want to get in a rut. So after that first Publinx, I tried to qualify for all of the USGA events. And then, when I was 12, I qualified for the LPGA's Takefuji Classic, which was held in Hawaii. I was the youngest to ever qualify for an LPGA event. I missed the cut. I cried again.
I played all the USGA amateur events. I loved those. I really started to love match play. I got to know all of the rules officials, and that's really how I learned to play in competition. I don't regret any of those decisions, but when I went back and would play USGA girls or whatever, people looked at me differently. They thought I was too big for my britches, so to speak. That was difficult. I had great friends in my school and stuff, but I wasn't too popular with my golf peers at that time.
The high school years
I never really got interest from college coaches. They can't contact you until junior year, and I officially went pro a week before my 16th birthday. I wanted to be a pro so badly; I didn't see any point in waiting. I was playing around six to eight events a year. [The max for sponsor exemptions is six, but she was also able to qualify for the U.S. Open and British Open, which she did.] I signed with IMG, Nike and Sony. People had been talking to my parents about potential sponsorships from when I was like 12. No one pushed me or pressured me. But I was already competing at that level, so why not?