Think the road to the LPGA is tough? Try being the Symetra Tour's only mom

Rachel Rohanna

Think the road to the LPGA is tough? Try being the Symetra Tour's only mom

LPGA Tour

Think the road to the LPGA is tough? Try being the Symetra Tour's only mom

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For the first two events of the Symetra Tour season, Rachel Rohanna and her mother, Debbie, weren’t sure what to expect. With no free daycare on the developmental tour and no other kids around, Debbie spent six hours in the back of a van entertaining Gemelia with a Pack ’n Play while Rachel competed.

“Mom was going crazy by the fourth day,” said Rohanna.

Her husband, Ethan Virgili, flew down for the second event in Winter Haven, Florida, where Rohanna got DQ’d for signing a wrong scorecard after making the cut. Virgili had flown down to watch the final round and then take Gemelia back to the family farm in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

After the tournament, Rohanna was heading off to Phoenix for an LPGA Monday-qualifier and the couple’s gates at the Tampa airport were side by side. Rohanna had a small breakdown saying goodbye to Gemelia.

In between the Symetra Tour’s two California events, she flew home for 36 hours to see her baby.

“I can only go five days without losing my mind,” said Rohanna, the only mom who has traveled with an infant on the Symetra Tour in recent memory.

At this week’s Symetra Tour Championship in Daytona, Florida, the whole family will be on hand for what’s now a special place for Rohanna. She won the event two years ago while suspecting that she might be pregnant.

Gemelia, it turns out, was born a winner.

“She can never miss this event,” said Rohanna. “She’s my good-luck charm.”

There are days Rohanna feels like super woman, telling herself that she can do anything. And there are days she arms herself with goldfish and ketchup and looks at Gemelia thinking, please, just stay alive today.

At this time last year, Rohanna was up with Gemieia at 2 a.m. during the Tour Championship giving her a bottle. Her dad pulled an all-nighter so that Rachel could get some sleep.

Symetra Tour player Rachel Rohanna’s mother Debbie with Gemelia. Courtesy of Rachel Rohanna

There have been milestones on the road. At the Symetra Tour’s Cincinnati stop, Gemelia, who had just turned 1 on June 12, took off walking around their room at the Hampton Inn.

The U.S. Women’s Open marked the first time Gemelia tried out LPGA daycare. That was Gemelia’s turn to have a small breakdown. She’s inching her way into feeling comfortable with the daycare scene.

Rohanna came into the season No. 372 on the LPGA priority list and has competed in five events on the LPGA and 16 on the Symetra Tour, making a total so far of $25,524 over both tours. Rohanna figures it has cost around $20,000 more this season – roughly $70,000 – to travel with a baby.

She used to take advantage of player housing but found it easier to stay in hotel rooms with family and baby in tow. She also hired a professional caddie for the season, a job her dad held for several years. And then, of course, there were the additional costs of traveling back and forth to see Gemelia and having family out on the road with her to help.

It’s huge that Rohanna has a faithful backer in Maggie Hardy Knox, president of 84 Lumber and the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, two of her sponsors. Rohanna practices at the two Pete Dye Courses and three driving ranges at Nemacolin when she’s home. Trailstar International out of Alliance, Ohio, also sponsors the former Buckeye standout.

“We’ve been making it work out,” said Rohanna. “Farming is very similar to golf where there is no steady income.”

The couple have two businesses: Virgili Custom Meats and ERV Cattle. Ninety calves were born on the farm this year and there’s a big sale coming up. They also farm soybeans, corn and hay.

While Ethan followed in the footsteps of his grandfather at the butcher shop, Rohanna is on a path similar to that of her maternal grandfather, Dick Schwartz, who played on the PGA Tour in the late ’60s and the senior tour in the ’90s.

Debbie said she and her brother only traveled on the Tour during the summer months because her mother was a teacher. While there wasn’t any childcare on the PGA Tour at the time, there was one stop when help was available. Debbie was about 9 years old at the time and said that after a delay in play, the daycare worker closed shop and took she and her brother to their home.

With no cell phones back then, Debbie remembers panicking about whether or not she’d see her parents again.

“It still haunts me,” she said.

Perhaps that’s why sitting in the back of a van for six hours with Gemelia wasn’t so bad.

Rachel and her siblings were on a golf course almost from the beginning. Debbie remembers strapping a car seat to a golf cart and putting a bike helmet on her son Tommy’s head.

Debbie’s mother, Roseann Schwartz, put on exhibitions with a young Patty Berg when she came to Pennsylvania and was head golf coach at Youngstown State. Until recently, Roseann owned Whispering Pines Executive Golf Course, one of two courses in Rohanna’s family.

“As soon as (Gemelia) can balance herself a little better, she’ll be swinging a club,” said Debbie. “She knows to put the ball in the hole already.”

It is, after all, in the genes.

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