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Saturday, June 15, 2024

For Sandra Gal, a week in Hawaii is more than a vacation: It's a wake-up call.

"I have a job now," the UF senior said. "It's kind of hard to understand. Golf has always been my hobby, and now it's my work."

It's a job that takes her all over the country.

"(Golf means) traveling and seeing a lot of different golf courses," she said. Gal started her pro career in Kahuku, Hawaii, yesterday at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.

And golf, at the professional level, means a different level of independence than the two-time All-American was accustomed to at UF.

"It's hard if you don't have anyone with you," Gal conceded. "I'm going to miss the support from the team and the whole college feeling. I had a really great three and a half years at UF," she said.

Gal said UF's program was instrumental in helping her realize her professional dreams.

"I think you need to play college golf to be successful as a professional here," she said, citing differences in American and European courses and players.

But after she earned her Tour membership at the vaunted Q-School, the PGA's qualifying tournament, in November, Gal and UF women's golf coach Jill Briles-Hinton, who called her "head and shoulders above" the field at the event, both knew the LPGA was the only option.

"A chance like that you just don't throw away," Gal said.

Still, she's got a backup plan, should she need it. Gal is communicating with professors and classmates by phone and e-mail, and will finish her degree in advertising this May.

Freshman Jessica Yadloczky, who only played with Gal for the Gators' fall semester, said it didn't take long for her to realize Gal was special.

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"She led by example," Yadloczky said. "She would stay an hour and a half to two hours after three and a half hours of required practice and work on things that she needed to perfect before upcoming tournaments.

"She went out there to get the job done," the freshman added.

And now, for Gal, that job gets tougher.

She knows the competition will get stiffer, and she knows she needs to get better.

"I think I need a lot more experience and practice," she said. "I need a little more consistency."

Thanks to a chance connection to one of the game's greats, she knows what success looks like.

"I played a practice round with Annika (Sorenstam) yesterday," Gal said. She shares a trainer with the Swede, arguably the most accomplished female golfer of all time. "It was amazing to see the way she plays. She almost doesn't make any mistakes."

Gal admitted she would be anxious for her first tee time, but she's sure it will subside. "I'm very excited," she said on Wednesday. "I'm going to be nervous. But it'll just be on the first tee and it'll go away."

Gal finished her first round tied for 10th place with a two-under 70.

She was one stroke back from third place and three strokes off the leader.

She's optimistic about her chances and confident in her talents.

"Who knows?" she said. "If I have a good week, it could be a win or a top 10."

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