Barrington, R.I. – Gabriela Lopez is a 17-year-old from Mexico City who is competing in her first USGA championship this week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Lopez, who has verbally committed to attend the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2012, opened the competition at Rhode Island Country Club with a 2-over-par 73. After her round, she chatted with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter about coming to America to compete and other subject matters dealing with the game and her home country.
Have you played much golf in the United States?
Lopez: Yeah. This summer I play nine tournaments. All traveling [around the country] and sometimes going back to Mexico in between tournaments.
What are some of the bigger events you have played?
Lopez: I played the Callaway Junior World [in San Diego] last year and I won it. And this year I finished ninth.
How did you find out about playing in USGA events?
Lopez: Because I play tournaments here in the USA and my golf coach in Mexico (Santiago Casado) is from the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy and he has contacts, and he told me about it. Santiago Casado works for the academy, but he lives in Mexico.
Where in the U.S. have you played events this year?
Lopez: I played in Arizona (American Junior Golf Association Thunderbird Invitational). I played in San Diego (Junior World) and Glendora in California to qualify for this tournament. I played in Dallas, Reno and Oregon (for the Rolex Tournament of Champions).
I see you are wearing a Mexico hat. Does the Mexican Golf Federation help support you?
Lopez: Not to this tournament. The Mexican Federation has been helping me for many tournaments. We have a Mexican [junior] ranking and the person who wins it gets helped [financially] all summer.
Do you play bigger amateur events in Mexico as well?
Lopez: There’s a Mexican Amateur. It’s at the beginning of the year. I didn’t play last year because I had surgery. I had a nose surgery. But next year I am going to play it.
What is your home course like in Mexico?
Lopez: It’s plain. It’s flat. I think the greens here are more flat. Their speed is good and a lot better than Mexico.
You have committed to play at the University of Arkansas. How did you end up choosing that particular school and program?
Lopez: It was a tough decision. I have many choices. I had many opportunities. There were about 30 schools interested in me. I think the coach has to be very nice with you. I think all the team [has to be right] because you have to play with them four years of my life. And there’s another Mexican girl who is going to Arkansas (Regina Plasencia). She’s from Guadalajara.
When anyone mentions Mexican golf, the name Lorena Ochoa immediately pops up. How big an influence did she have on you?
Lopez: I admire her very much. I have met her and played with her. It was amazing. I was 14 years old and then I played again with her when I was 16. She’s amazing and is really, really kind.
What kind of advice did she give you to improve your game?
Lopez: First she told me to play longer courses. And that’s what I have been doing since that moment. And she told me to [devote] 50 percent of my practice to short game. Putting is what makes the difference between the professionals and amateurs.
Has there been an increase in golfers, especially among the female ranks, in Mexico?
Lopez: Golf is not that fashionable in Mexico. I think she influenced a lot to grow junior golfers. But we don’t have a lot of public golf courses in Mexico. It’s mostly private clubs.
How many kids play golf in Mexico?
Lopez: I might see as many as 50 players at a tournament. That’s the most. And the least it would be 20. That is why I am going to college here.
Have you participated in international competitions for Mexico?
Lopez: I played the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship last year in Argentina. We did pretty good. We finished 13th.
How much did that experience prepare you for an event like the U.S. Women’s Amateur?
Lopez: I have grown up since all those events. I have played two LPGA Tour events in Mexico. The Corona Championship and the Morelia, but they are both gone [from the schedule].
How important is this week for your development?
Lopez: It’s amazing. I just made a double on the last hole (No. 18). I need to learn how to finish strong.