RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – For Sandra Gal, a year plagued with injury offered one small ray of hope that has amounted to a big shift in thinking. It’s about the journey, and Gal is all in.
The past year was one in which Gal, 25, struggled with back and wrist injuries, missing seven cuts in 21 LPGA starts. Gal’s dad Jan said playing with the injuries caused his daughter’s career to begin a spiral in the wrong direction before time off righted the ship and set the stage for a maiden LPGA victory at last week’s Kia Classic.
“You get injured, you miss some cuts, you start to lose confidence, you start to think, ‘Is it the right thing I’m doing?’” Jan said. “She took some time to think about her life and realized it is a journey and she loves the journey, and then suddenly she’s been more happy.”
Gal proclaimed herself injury-free Wednesday on the eve of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club. The timing of this clean bill of health couldn’t have been more perfect, especially considering it now is coupled with that je ne sais quoi that comes with winning for the first time. She can’t put her finger on what, exactly, that feeling is, but doesn’t argue it was there on the 18th hole at Industry Hills Golf Club. Gal chipped to two feet, tapping in the birdie to beat Jiyai Shin by a shot.
“You know it’s funny, last week when I was on 17 or 16, I was walking and I was in the lead or shared the lead, and I was like, ‘Well, this is how it feels,’” Gal explained. “You’re still on the golf course, you’re still playing the shots, you have the ball there, your clubs, your caddie. At the end of the day it’s not different than anything else.”
With time, Gal might be considered the female counterpart to fellow German Martin Kaymer. She insists there is no secret to recent German success, but can speak to the high level of support she received from the German Golf Federation as a member of the national team.
“We travel to so many tournaments, and in the winter when it was cold we’d travel to warm places just to get some practice in,” she said. “We had great (facilities), and that is something that definitely helps your development as a junior golfer.”
A remaining milestone for Gal is a spot on the Solheim Cup team, something she calls a big dream. Gal, however, is not a member of the Ladies European Tour, meaning she cannot qualify through the point system or be chosen as a captain’s pick.
It’s hard to believe that Gal is such a relative unknown after such early success. Compared to many players who spend years grinding it out on tour before their first win – years which often are preceded by time spent climbing the ranks on the Futures Tour – Gal has seen fast results. She earned her tour card with a T-14 finish at LPGA Q-School in 2007. At the time, Gal still had one last semester left at the University of Florida. Jan said it wasn’t a decision the Gal family was expecting to face, but suddenly there was a pro career for the taking.
“When she went there, it wasn’t really her intention to turn professional, it was more like she still has about six months of school and we were thinking, ‘Let’s go there and see how it feels,’” Jan said.
Jan said the university supported Sandra’s decision, and all agreed it was the right thing to do. Gal, with four collegiate wins to her credit, took the offer and turned pro immediately after the round. She completed her degree during her first year on tour – all while securing three top-20 finishes as a rookie – and doesn’t regret the decision.
“I think it was a good time for me to play Q-School and I got lucky, you know?” she said. “I was lucky to get through and get on tour, and I’m happy with my decision.”
So who is Sandra Gal? Former college star, German sensation, LPGA winner. The past three years should prove that Kia wasn’t a fluke. Gal has the staying power for a long and successful pro career.