Tiffany Lua had a problem.
It started as a slight pain in her wrist, just a minor inconvenience. Then, one day in the summer of 2012, she unexpectedly struck a plant root under her golf ball while taking a swing.
She felt an explosion of pain – the impact had severely hurt her weak wrist.
The discomfort soon became chronic, so unbearable that by fall, a lengthy layoff from golf was her only alternative to surgery and an eight-month recovery period.
Lua, currently a senior, had played the game for over half of her life, dedicating countless hours to expanding her mastery of the sport. She was one of the most talented golfers in the nation, who’d played in the U.S. Women’s Open multiple times, competed on the winning 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup team and led the Bruins to an NCAA championship in 2011.
But now she was forced by injury to turn her back on the sport she loved. And she could do nothing about it but rest and wait for her wrist to get better. For a person used to doing everything at a million miles an hour, coming to a grinding halt was the hardest thing she had ever done.
“Golf was my life, and I didn’t really understand how much golf defined me as a person,” Lua said. “I was kind of lost for a little bit, and a little upset, because I felt denied of what I wanted to do.”
Her coach, Carrie Forsyth, had a problem as well. For three years, she’d witnessed Lua’s development into one of college golf’s superstars. Lua was incredibly skilled even as a freshman, but her discipline and tireless work in practice helped her refine and perfect her game. Over the years, Forsyth had shared countless laughs and memories with Lua. But now, she was forced to watch as the golfer was sidelined with no definitive prognosis for recovery.
“That was probably the only time where (I’ve seen) her falter a little,” Forsyth said. “It was unusual for her to be in a situation where there was nothing she could do but wait.”
As Lua stumbled, so did her team. In the 2011-12 season, the Bruins were dominant, winning more than half of the tournaments on their schedule. This changed after Lua went down, and the team struggled, failing to win a single tournament in the fall of 2012. According to sophomore Erynne Lee, losing Lua was a crucial factor in the team’s struggles.
“It was very difficult without Tiffany, her being such a key player on the team,” she said, “There was a lot of pressure on (us) when she wasn’t around.”
The team missed Lua not only on the golf course, but off it as well.
Forsyth said Lua’s hilarious, outgoing personality and straightforward, no-nonsense attitude made her a natural leader as well as one of the most personable people on the team.
According to Lee, Lua’s ready smile is as consistent as her golf swing, and the team missed the former just as much as they did the latter.
Behind this exterior, however, lies an iron will, and it was this fortitude that carried Lua through one of the most trying periods of her life. Her coach attested that Lua is a person fueled by her determination.
“Tiffany makes up her mind about certain things, and then makes them happen,” Forsyth said. “When she sets her mind to something, it gets done.”
And so Lua resolved to get through her long recovery, finding things to replace golf in her life. An ardent food lover, she explored Los Angeles’ vibrant food scene. She caught up on television and spent valuable time with her family. Never one to remain idle, she kept in shape by doing yoga, running and building up her upper-body strength.
During winter break, she traveled abroad, visiting Dubai, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. Her trip gave her an opportunity to take a mental break from the stress of the past few months and was a reprieve from the pain, both physical and emotional.
“(My break) made me appreciate things a lot more, made me appreciate the people I had in my life, the opportunity I have to play,” Lua said. “You kind of lose sight of that when you’re in the moment.”
Lua’s dedication paid off, as it has so often in her life. She was cleared to play before the second half of the season, and she emerged from her sojourn physically stronger and mentally calmer. She was also hungry to get back to the course – her injury had not sapped her fierce competitiveness.
Her return was a blessing to the Bruins, her steady hand righting the helm of a ship that had veered off course in her absence. Since she has been back, the Bruins have regained their spot in the upper echelon of college golf, winning two of their five tournaments and surging from No. 40 to No. 10 in the rankings. They are once again a force to be reckoned with, and Lua’s consistent play has been key to this surge.
“When you have a player that the other players know (they) can count on,” said Forsyth. “(The knowledge) that she’s going to post a good number just about every time she tees it off, it brings everybody up.”
This trademark steadiness wil be vital when Lua becomes a professional this summer. Consistency is key in the professional game, and Lua’s ability to regularly perform at a high level will ease the difficult transition.
As her time as an amateur wanes and her professional career approaches, Lua admits the experience is surreal. Looking back on her illustrious college career, she says that she would never have believed that she would get the chance to do what she has accomplished. As she nears the end of one journey and the beginning of another, she is grateful for the way everything fell into place.
“I feel really lucky and blessed, because not a lot of people have been able to experience what I have seen and go to the places I’ve gone, meet the people I’ve met,” Lua said. “This overall experience, you can’t take that back.”
But she is not ready to let reminiscence rob her of focus on her current goal. Lua has just over a month left in her college career, and she is determined to close it out in fine fashion – by leading her team to a national championship.
Few players get the opportunity to win a championship once in their career. Lua is poised to win a second, and she is determined to do anything necessary to make that dream a reality. Her teammates and coach recognize how much a second championship would mean to Lua.
“I think (winning the championship) would be the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that has been her college career,” Forsyth said. “It would be pretty special.”