Nichols: Maria Fassi is a superstar in the making, but she has to pace herself

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Nichols: Maria Fassi is a superstar in the making, but she has to pace herself

LPGA Tour

Nichols: Maria Fassi is a superstar in the making, but she has to pace herself

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Mike Whan walked up to Maria Fassi on the range at Hazeltine National and introduced himself. In his time as commissioner, Whan told her, he’s never heard more talk about a player.

PGA of America president Suzy Whaley played with Fassi in the pro-am at the KPMG Women’s PGA and called her the LPGA’s next superstar. If she chooses to, Whaley said, Fassi can single-handedly grow the game among Latinos, a segment of the population where golf struggles.

Golf Channel analyst Karen Stupples says Fassi has a film-star quality. Fassi’s veteran caddie, Gary Matthews, compared her to Tiger Woods and believes that she could one day dominate the tour. Former World No. 1 Stacy Lewis calls the fellow Razorback a once-in-a-generation talent.

“This may sound weird,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Estes-Taylor. “I think Fassi was born to do this.”

As Fassi autographed a ball following the final round of her third professional start, a volunteer scorer told the rookie that she enjoyed the walk – “You were kind.”

She’s explosive and magnetic, with the kind of swagger that turns heads, but kindness might be her greatest attribute. Fassi thanks everyone. She’s patient with the press and offers thoughtful responses. It’s all still new to her, but she has yet to give off the impression that anything is a chore.

She wants this. All of it.

“I mean, someone’s got to be the next superstar,” said Fassi when told Whaley’s comments, “and why not me, right?”

Runner-up Maria Fassi acknowledges the gallery at 18 during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament. (Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

Fassi wears a bracelet on her wrist with the words “One Day Closer.” It serves as a reminder for her to stay present as she reaches her goals.

When Fassi was 17 years old, she walked into Estes-Taylor’s office and told her she wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world. She has visualized this path, just as she did walking down the 18th arm-in-arm with her coach at the Blessings on the verge of winning an NCAA title.

Fassi hasn’t rushed into sponsorship deals. A contract with Rolex has been negotiated but everything else has basically been narrowed down to two companies.

“Luckily, I have that problem,” she said, knowing full well how unbelievably rare it is to have so many options in the women’s game.

Fassi got goosebumps on the first tee Sunday at the KPMG when some of the workers at Hazeltine National brought out their families and an oversized Mexican flag. They followed her every step for 18 holes.

She views the chance to grow the game in the Latino community as a welcome challenge. Big-picture thinking comes as naturally to Fassi as her oversized game.

Not taking on too much will be a challenge.

“She’ll do anything and everything right now,” said Estes-Taylor, “and I think she’s got to pace herself. … Fassi would run for president if you’d let her.”

Early on at Arkansas, Fassi knew only one way to play – overpower everything. Her driver swing speed has been clocked at 112 mph with a carry of 287. Men and women alike make audible gasps when they see her smash driver for the first time. (The reflective aviators add to the aura.)

Estes-Taylor recalled a time when the team was playing a tournament in Texas and Fassi drove the green from 290 to 3 feet during a practice round and made eagle. The first two rounds she tried it again and made bogey. When she pulled driver in the final round, while in contention, Estes-Taylor drove her cart down the middle of the fairway and headed back to the tee.

Needless to say, Fassi has gotten better at course management since coming to America.

That being said, Estes-Taylor said one of her greatest competitive advantages is her ability to forgive a mistake. It’s one of the many ways she operates beyond her years.

Whaley didn’t just marvel at the way Fassi interacted with sponsors, VIPs and volunteers. She took note of the varying trajectories and spin lofts on her wedges. Fassi’s game isn’t one-dimensional. It’s her work around the greens and half shots that will take her to the next level.

On Tuesday in Arkansas, she spent three hours working on her wedges with Estes-Taylor, who did the same for Lewis years ago.

It was Lewis who insisted that Fassi get out of the 100-plus degree heat at the U.S. Women’s Open in Charleston, S.C., and save her body. She’ll need truth-tellers like that in her circle.

Fassi missed her first cut as a professional at her “home” event, the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, but handled the disappointment with class.

Whan points to the “long string of can’t-miss college kids that missed” and hopes the degree-toting Fassi puts together a blockbuster career. Lewis remains the only four-year college player to rise to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. Women’s golf needs that kind of example, too.

Fassi expects nothing less.

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