After LPGA, Hage embraces a bold new challenge

Nicole Hage during the 2012 Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. Hage has since left the LPGA for a job in membership relations at a Dallas golf course.

Nicole Hage during the 2012 Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. Hage has since left the LPGA for a job in membership relations at a Dallas golf course.

Nicole Hage recently wore a cute, dressy romper to one of her first job interviews and left in a tizzy. She texted a picture of the ensemble to good friend Anna Rawson, who was sitting in one of her MBA classes at Columbia.

“I was just horrified,” said Rawson, who told Hage to immediately drive to her local Express store and buy a black pencil skirt and white button-down shirt.

A perplexed Hage then called Paula Creamer and reported that every person she had showed the romper picture to said she was crazy.

“I’m just wearing what’s in the magazine,” Hage told Creamer.

“Really?” Creamer replied. “I loved the jumpsuit.”

In retrospect, it’s a humorous exchange. But for Hage, 28, the process of trying to leave the LPGA in pursuit of a real-world job was a humbling and frustrating experience.

“They all wanted to (play) golf with me,” Hage said, “but they didn’t want to give me a job.”

In the end, a phone call to LPGA commissioner Mike Whan resulted in a connection at ClubCorp that ultimately led to a job in membership relations at a Dallas course. Hage started two weeks ago and texts a picture to Creamer each morning of her work outfit. She’s obsessed with Post-it notes and arrives to work an hour early because she’s just so excited to be there.

photo

Paula Creamer and Nicole Hage at the 2013 Ricoh Women's British Open, Hage's final LPGA event.

The Auburn grad’s story about transitioning out of the tour bubble and into an office setting offers a revealing look at life after the LPGA, even for those with a college degree.

“It was kind of a wake-up call in a sense,” said Creamer. “It shows how blessed and lucky we are that we have had the ability to play golf, but also how sheltered our life is, too.”

Hage graduated from Auburn in 2007 with a communications degree and qualified for the LPGA in her first attempt. In six years on tour, she made $74,174.

“I had the talent to be out there,” said Hage, one of the longest players in the game. “But mentally I just never figured it out.”

Creamer can recall practice sessions with Hage on the range when, after watching her hit balls for a while, she’d think, What is going on there? Why isn’t this being produced on the course?

“I would do anything if I just had a little bit of that,” said Creamer. “I had to work really hard and groove things, and she would naturally have that.”

But, as Creamer proves, there’s so much more to the game than being a talented ball-striker and putter. After Hage went back to LPGA Q-School last December for the fifth consecutive time and failed to earn her card, the two childhood friends had a powwow. Creamer advised Hage to take a break. Clear the mind.

Hage came back out in 2013 and was first alternate at four events. Each time she’d sit and wait, only to see a player start and then withdraw after a few holes. She never got in.

“It just killed me,” she said. “I was just sitting there wasting money, wasting time.”

After the Bahamas in May, Hage put together a resume and applied for jobs online.

For a month and a half she didn’t touch a club. Hage reconnected with all those people who told her to reach out when she had retired from the tour, but no one had a job.

Because her resume included nothing more than golf and a list of the sponsors she had acquired (without an agent) over the years, she didn’t get far.

“I thought it was going to be like college where everybody wants me,” said Hage.

Hey, I’m ready to work now.

She was so naive.

Hage thought she would land a job in a matter of weeks. Rawson told her set a goal of Jan. 1. Hage wanted a six-figure salary. Rawson told her to expect half that.

“She would call me crying,” said Rawson, “saying ‘I’m so far behind everyone else.' ”

Rawson reminded Hage that she had pursued a dream since childhood and reached the game’s biggest stage. She had traveled the world, and most remarkably, left the tour with money in the bank.

Hage excelled at selling herself, racking up logos and sponsorship dollars that would keep her out of debt. For a player who struggled every year to keep her card, Hage had an enviable number of corporate sponsors, as many as eight at one time.

Her peers joked that she looked like a race car driver, telling her ‘You’re not that good to have that many sponsors.’ ”

“I’d have at least $300K in debt if I didn’t have my sponsors,” said Hage. “I was one of the few that had a lot of logos on my body.”

But employers didn’t really care.

“On my piece of paper,” said Hage, “I’ve never really done quote unquote work.”

When she was able to land an interview, the verdict was almost always the same: “You’re so much better in person than you are on your resume, but you don’t have the experience. You’re high risk.”

With no job prospects on the horizon, Hage’s father encouraged her to play in July’s Manulife Financial event in Canada. She practiced one day and flew to Waterloo, where she opened with a pair of 67s and qualified for the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews.

Hage took that as a sign that the Old Course was where her career should end. Her birthday was on Sunday.

As Hage began telling players in Scotland that it was her last event, she was surprised by how many girls called her brave, saying “I kind of wish I could do the same thing but I just can’t do it.”

Hage didn’t see enough consistency in her game to warrant staying out there another five years and worried that the job process would only get tougher. Still, it was tempting to give up and go back.

“If I didn’t have my relentless side of me,” Hage said. “I would be grinding right now for Q-School.”

Because Hage felt she couldn’t sell herself on paper, she flew to Dallas three times to meet and network. Whan’s connection, a senior VP of ClubCorp, set up appointments for Hage, and she hit it off with a club GM. One week later she was packing up her stuff and moving to Dallas.

“I’m so at peace,” she said. “I’m sleeping at night.”

Hage took a picture of her first office paycheck and sent it to her mom.

It’s like being a rookie all over again.

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