Mama Mia! Go get it, girl
Filipino golfer Jennifer Rosales has faded from the spotlight in recent years, but she earned the distinction as the first Filipino to win on the US LPGA Tour in 2004. Her one-stroke victory in the Chik-fil-A Charity Classic in Florida reverberated halfway around the world, elevating Rosales, instantly recognizable for her loud, colorful outfits and hair highlights, to celebrity status.
Little did Rosales know that it was the same victory that had inspired a young girl back home to also chase her golf dreams.
Mia Piccio was a bespectacled 12-year-old girl from Bacolod who was starting to make her mark in the country’s junior golf circuit. She had followed Rosales’ exploits on television.
Now a 17-year veteran of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Rosales enjoyed her best run in 2004 and 2005, winning two events, and finishing fourth in the US Open. It was also around this time that Piccio decided to set her sights on eventually playing on the LPGA Tour.
“She was really excelling on the LPGA Tour,” Piccio recalls of Rosales’ feat. “She was an inspiration because she proved that a Filipino can win on the LPGA Tour. That’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to pursue a career in golf.”
Piccio burst onto the scene with a second-place finish in the 2005 Philippine Amateurs championship, where she lost to Frances Bondad in the matchplay finals played at her home course, Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club, also known as Marapara on the local golf circuit.
“I was 13 from a small town and there I was challenging for the title,” says Piccio. “I was young and immature, but I really wanted to get better.”
Twelve years on, Piccio, a member of the Philippine team that won the gold in the team event in the 2009 Southeast Asian Games in Laos, is still chasing the dream. Having played on the European Tour in her rookie year as a pro back in 2014, Piccio has spent the last two years attempting to crack the top women’s professional tour in the world.
She came closest two years ago, missing out on getting an LPGA card by a single stroke during a Qualifying School event in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“All you need is one good week,” says Piccio, referring to the LPGA qualifying tournament. “That week I really felt good about my game, but maybe I put too much pressure on myself. When you feel good, sometimes it also becomes a problem because you also expect things to get better. But golf is a tricky game. It can change in an instant. That happened to me.”
Now 25, Piccio has been playing on the Symmetra Tour, the farm league of the LPGA, since last year. The Tour offers LPGA cards for the Top 10 in its money list and Piccio intends to play as many events as she can from March until the Tour championship in October.
Regina de Guzman got a full exemption to play on the LPGA Tour this year, while Dottie Ardina earned conditional status for a 14th-place finish in the final qualifying stage late last year.
“It’s very competitive,” Piccio says of the Symetra Tour. “Being on the Tour just proves that you have to earn everything. Nothing comes easy if you want to reach your dreams.”
Piccio is the youngest of three siblings. Her oldest brother, Carlo, saw action in the 1500-meter freestyle and 400m individual medley event in the Sydney Olympics. Parents Ernesto and Gina have gone all-out in supporting their youngest daughter, the same way when Carlo, who won a gold medal in the 4x200m freestyle in the SEA Games in Hanoi, was still competing.
“My parents have been very supportive,” says Piccio, who graduated with a degree in Psychology from University of Florida where she was a golf scholar.
Being alone on the road, traveling from one tournament to another can also take a toll emotionally. “It gets lonely on the road sometimes,” says Piccio, noting that the Symetra Tour has around 24 to 26 events a year. “You get homesick and you want to be with family, but you also want to continue working on your goal.”
In preparation for the season, Piccio trains in the gym four to five times a week to complement the work she does with coach Jaythree Alteha, who is also the mentor of Asian Tour campaigner Miguel Tabuena. She’s working on improving her approach, as well as her short game.
“Golf has given so much,” says Piccio. “I was able to get a degree on a scholarship. I got to travel, representing the country. But I can’t think of anything else that I’ll be doing right now than to work on reaching my dream to play on the LPGA Tour.”
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