Backup plan on hold as Echeverria opens strong

Paz Echeverria during the first round of the 2013 U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack in Southampton, N.Y.

Paz Echeverria during the first round of the 2013 U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack in Southampton, N.Y.

— Paz Echeverria draws an imaginary box with her hands to describe how her mind works. Echeverria is a left-brain thinker, exceedingly practical for a 28-year-old and brutally honest.

Echeverria’s honesty was most apparent Thursday when, in response to a question about Sebonack, she shrugged her shoulders and pursed her lips.

“I’m not impressed about this course,” Echeverria said. “If you hit it good, you are in the right spot. You can use the slopes.”

It wasn’t a knock on the Women’s Open venue, but simply an observation. Echeverria is playing in her first Women’s Open this week and posted a 3-under 69 Thursday, good for a tie for seventh. The native Chilean, whose first name means “peace” in Spanish, is only the second of her countrywomen to find a place on the LPGA tour. Nicole Perrot, whose only career victory came in 2005 at the Longs Drugs Challenge, was the first. After spending the past two years on the Symetra Tour, Echeverria earned conditional status last December with a tie for 32nd at LPGA Q-School.

The timing for that next step couldn’t have been better, because with Echeverria’s practical nature comes the realization that the Symetra Tour does not a long-term career make. She gave herself a maximum of three years on the developmental tour, which is heavy on travel and light on pay, to advance her professional career. If by that time she hadn’t made the LPGA tour, Plan B involved moving back to Chile to get a real job – “one with four walls.”

Echeverria speaks often of her back-up plan, which was made possible by the combination business/economics/marketing degree she earned from Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile. Echeverria wasn’t interested enough in golf as an adolescent to pursue a college career in the U.S., and high standardized test scores opened the door to virtually any Chilean college she wanted to attend. During her years at Pontificia, golf practice happened about once a week.

“I believe that maybe I don’t have the pressure that other girls may have,” Echeverria said of her life. “. . . Like probably I see life in a different way.”

Echeverria is partly hooked on professional golf because of the travel aspect. She took a three-month trip to Southeast Asia with friends when she was 24 and got the travel bug. The prospect of traveling the U.S. to play golf suddenly seemed much more desirable. Her roots still in Santiago, Echeverria has a home away from home in Miami and sometimes stays there with friends.

Echeverria’s first Women’s Open berth came in the form of a birthday gift. She qualified out of the Baltimore sectional May 7, the day she turned 28. It was only a month before her first major start at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. She missed the cut.

Despite being in contention at the Women’s Open, Echeverria said Chileans probably will not take much notice. Golf headlines back home, she explains, are small and often buried.

Echeverria guesses there are only 40 golf courses in Chile, and about 17,000 people playing the game. Echeverria learned at a course near her family’s beach house in Santiago. When her dad went there to play, Echeverria was instructed to entertain herself and not bother him.

Fellow Chilean Macarena Silva, a former Florida State player, also is in the field at Sebonack this week. When Echeverria and Silva outgrew the Chilean national team, the future of women’s golf in that country fell off a bit. Chile sent a men’s team to the World Amateur Championship in Turkey last year but not a women’s team. The decision was made to save money.

Winning this week would go a long way to change that.

Echeverria benefitted Thursday from solid putting, but perhaps more importantly, hit 14 greens.

“It was one of those days when everything came together,” she said.

Echeverria has been waiting for that day, and so has caddie Ruben Yorio, who sang the praises of Echeverria’s game on Thursday, happy to see all the pieces come together. Echeverria picked up Yorio at Q-School last year, when he was working with rookie Victoria Tanco, who didn’t return to the tour this season. Yorio also has worked with a handful of European Tour players, and carried Angel Cabrera’s bag in 2009 when Cabrera won the Masters.

“She’s a good player,” Yorio said of Echeverria. “She’s so kind.”

With Echeverria, Yorio has, appropriately, found peace.

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