By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Britney Yada is living the life of a pro golfer in the minor leagues, learning about the game, and even better, a whole lot about herself.
The 2009 Waiakea graduate is playing on the Cactus Tour, comparable to Double-A ball for a Major League Baseball team’s farm system.
She pocketed her first pro win in late May at the Apache Creek Sun Pro-Am in Arizona. Yada also picked up her first winner’s check worth $1,800.
But the Portland State graduate, with a degree in economics, quickly discovered there are more valuable things than a first-place trophy.
“I feel like I’m getting more well-rounded as I play more,” she said. “I see a lot more improvement in the mental game, knowing I can actually do this after I won.
“It showed me that I belong, and I can actually win and I’m good enough to win. I just need to work on being more consistent.”
Ask any high school golfer or a collegiate one what’s their mental approach, and most will respond with some version of, “I try my best.”
Yada pointed out that it’s a major league jump — in mindset — from being an amateur to a pro playing for dough.
“It’s a totally different game when money is involved,” she said. “You can say, ‘I’ll try my best,’ but when you’re standing over a putt, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m paying a $560 entry fee.’ It’s hard not to let that creep into your mind.
“But I believe in myself and that I’m good enough to be there, and everything should be fine. I had a rough start to the year, but lately I’m doing pretty good.”
Yada’s obvious goal is to play on the LPGA Tour, no easy task with stiff competition from all corners of the world.
But it’s not an impossible dream. Q-school is the obstacle course that opens its doors to everyone, and rejects those not good enough – Darwinism at its finest.
There are three stages, and first one is Aug. 26 at Mission Hills Golf Course in Palm Springs, Calif. The other stages are held October and December.
Last year, Yada passed the first stage, but didn’t play well in the second.
“My goal is to be on the LPGA Tour,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll play better in Q-school. At least, I’d like to do better than last year. Then I’d have better status on the Symetra Tour. I’d get in more of those tourneys. It’s a big deal.”
The Symetra Tour is golf’s Triple-A, one step from the big leagues. Yada hasn’t played an event on that level, the polishing graduate school for future LPGA players.
Paying her dues
Yada is living with relatives in Arizona, where she works at the Bear Creeks Golf Course. She works in the pro shop and sometimes has outside services.
She doesn’t have to worry about rent, one less headache. However, if tournaments are far from home, Yada has to foot the bill for everything: airfare, hotel, food and that $560 entry fee, which could buy you a nifty driver or a pretty big television.
“It’s very difficult to make a living on a mini-tour,” said Yada, who put her economics degree to work. “You pay $560 to get in, and only win two grand for first place. But after paying for a flight, food and hotel you’re lucky if you have anything left.
“I’m lucky I don’t pay rent or food. All the money I make at my job goes toward my entry fee, and what not.”
Yada is 6 feet, very tall for a female golfer. Michelle Wie is 6 feet 1. They don’t really look alike, but that doesn’t stop customers from giving her the business.
“I get that on the job five times a day,” Yada said. “Everyone says, ‘Has anyone told you that you look like Michelle Wie?’ I got that four times earlier in the day.
“Some customers even think my name is Michelle, even though I’m wearing a name tag that says, ‘Britney.’ I’ve never met her, but I got her autograph one time.”
Yada’s favorite golfer is not Wie, now famous for her table top putting stance and U.S. Open victory, but Annika Sorenstam – owner of 10 majors, third behind Patty Berg’s 15 majors.
“Annika is my favorite golfer of all time,” Yada said. “She was so consistent and made it look so simple.
“Golf is 75 percent between your ears. That win gave me confidence and money, but the biggest thing was confidence.”