Uribe’s passion ignites NCAAs

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — En fuego. Maria Jose Uribe’s putter practically spouted steam during Round 2 of the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship. The fiery Colombian threw so many fist-pumps around Caves Valley May 20 she might need to ice down that right arm. The Bruin was a one-putt machine.

“If everyone can do what Maria did, like once, in the next two days, I think we’ll be good,” joked teammate Tiffany Joh.

Uribe picked the Bruin team up and carried them around this demanding track, shooting a blistering 6-under 66 to put UCLA ahead by seven and take the lead in the individual race. Sydnee Michaels’ 75 was UCLA’s second-best score.

Of course, this is it for Uribe. The sophomore informed her coach and teammates well before the postseason that she’s leaving school. Uribe will finish out the quarter at UCLA after nationals, and then plans to make her professional debut in July at the U.S. Women’s Open. She qualified for the event by finishing 10th last year at Interlachen.

“The last couple of tournaments I’ve played way better because I’m more focused,” Uribe said. “I know what I’m going to do, my team knows.”

Every year it seems at least one premiere college player turns pro early. Uribe’s decision isn’t terribly surprising. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur the summer before her freshman season and then competed in all four LPGA majors last year, stealing the spotlight from Lorena Ochoa in her early-round pairings at Interlachen.

Forsyth said she’s had an inkling for some time now that Uribe might not last long enough to collect a diploma, despite being a good student. Uribe simply said she needed to reconnect with her Colombian roots and sort out her personal life. She has nothing but love for UCLA and the teammates who engulfed her in a group hug this afternoon behind the ninth green.

“I didn’t know the full scope of what was going on the home front,” Forsyth said. “Once I got a better sense of that, I completely understood that it was really important for her to get her foundation more solid before she gets her career started.”

Neither Uribe nor Forsyth went into detail about exactly what needs to be sorted out in Colombia, but there is another piece to this turning-pro puzzle, and it sounds very much like the player she idolizes – Ochoa.

Shortly after Uribe won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, she had the idea to start a family foundation called FORE. She has big plans for the small towns of her country, starting in Giron, her birthplace. Uribe wants to build extracurricular centers for children to take dance and art classes; maybe even build a few libraries.

Uribe’s older sister, Silvia, is the foundation’s president and her father will help fundraise after he retires this year.

“I’m not like, super famous, but people do know me,” Uribe said. “It’s been sold as the story of the girl-next-door doing good. It’s really easy to relate to for the kids.”

Uribe isn’t sure how much money is needed to open the first center at the end of the year.

“I just talk and play golf,” she said with a laugh.

Forsyth describes Uribe as the most socially conscious player she’s ever coached. The passionate player represents the golf team on the Bruin Athletic Council and through that organization works with Mattel Children’s Hospital and Marathon Kids. She also works with Team Prime Time in L.A., an organization Uribe said is comparable to FORE.

“Maria is like intense in everything she does,” Joh said. “The girl eats her morning cereal as intensely as anyone I’ve ever seen.”

In other words, nothing Uribe does is half-hearted.

Since Uribe made her decision to leave UCLA and announced it to family and friends, she’s been noticeably calmer.

Her swing coach Pedro Russi is here in Maryland as well as her mental coach. After last year’s British Open, Uribe decided she needed to make major swing changes to compete at the next level.

Russi flew to L.A. once a month to keep tabs on her new swing plane, and Forsyth helped Uribe remain more upright in her putting stance.

She finally felt comfortable enough to stop thinking about her swing at the NCAA Central Regional, which she won. On Wednesday at the NCAA Championship, Uribe needed only 24 putts – including a 3-putt bogey on the final hole – in her 6-under showing. She hit 12 of 14 fairways but only 11 greens.

“I’m good under pressure,” Uribe said matter-of-factly. “I was changing my swing this year, and I was supposed to peak at this time.”

Forsyth couldn’t ask for a better parting gift.

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