Local match play created unique U.S. Open opportunity

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The number of opportunities has continued to increase ever since the PXG Women’s Match Play Championship was created in October of last year.

Some opportunities are on a large scale while others come by way of much smaller levels of support but are valuable to female profession golfers trying to make a name for themselves in the world of golf.

The latest of these opportunities included Sofia Garcia, 23, who competed in the inaugural match play championship, qualifying, and making the cut at last weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open.

Not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Garcia, but also for St. Augustine chiropractor Dr. Scott Fechter.

Fechter signed on to play in the INK! Charity Pro-Am, which was part of the Match Play Championship’s festivities, and six months later, found himself walking inside the ropes at the 77th U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

He was paired with Garcia during the pro-am and as they talked, he became more fascinated with her story and was impressed by her game.

“When I met Sofia, I knew she could be a star,” Fechter said. “Her game and her personality are both very noticeable.”

As a result, a professional relationship grew as Fechter’s local Pain Relief Centre practice became Garcia’s primary sponsor.

It has been such a long journey for me and on the way, I have met so many wonderful people who are forever part of my journey,” Garcia said. “In this case, I have connected with someone who has gone the extra mile. There is the obvious thing of the financial relief but there is also the magical thing of having someone believe in you.”

However, he began asking himself a question that runs through the mind of many golfers trying to make it to the top. How do you become a star when the financial deck is stacked against you?

“The more she told me her story, she’s not a wealthy kid from a wealthy family and that is not unique to her, the more I wanted to get involved,” Fechter said. “We love Sofia and look forward to her continued rise. I’m glad we can be even a small part of her success.”

Garcia made the cut at her first U.S. Women’s Open and finished tied for 60th with a score of 12-over.

However, the fortunate meeting between the two was close to not even taking place.

Garcia barely made it to World Golf Village in time for the Monday morning pro-am, having played late Sunday at the LPGA Q School second stage in Naples. 

She finished second overall in that event and because she finished late, and she did not make the pairings party on Sunday night at Murray Brothers’ CaddyShack.  When her name was drawn that night for Fechter’s group, he was introduced to the potential fill-in in case Garcia could not make the pro-am in time.

However, she made it and it has turned out to be a turning point in her career.

The East Coast Women’s Professional Golf Tour, owned and operated by Ponte Vedra resident Mark Berman also oversees the PXG Women’s Match Play Championship.

According to Berman, players on the tour typically earn less than $20,000 in a season.  And a recent survey by the East Coast Women’s Professional Golf Tour found that 70% of women professionals work second jobs to make ends meet in either restaurant or retail jobs. 

“It's hard to practice efficiently and play competitively when one has a day job or her boss won’t grant the days off to play tournament golf, her actual career,” Berman said.

That scenario exactly is why Berman created this the match play championship in the first place.

“Our mission with this event, and now the entire tour that it inspired, is to create opportunities on and off the course for these amazing women so they have a fighting chance to get to where they work so hard to go,” Berman said.

Julianne Alvarez of New Zealand, who finished runner-up in the Match Play Championship, also competed in the U.S. Women’s Open, while current ECWPGT golfers in the field were Gabi Ruffels, Alyaa Abdulghany, Mariel Galdiano, Karen Kim, and amateur Bailey Shoemaker.

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