Mariel Galdiano set a record at one of the most prestigious tournaments in women’s golf for competing at just 13 years old.
The U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament is the oldest of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour’s five major championships and boasted a $4.5 million prize in 2015, the highest in women’s golf. But Galdiano didn’t let her age stop her from competing.
“I would just go out there and do my own thing, and it turned out I could match up with the older high school or college girls … of course, I didn’t know that I almost beat like a sophomore in college or anything,” said Galdiano, a three-time Rolex All-American. “I think that really helped in terms of developing my game.”
The UCLA golfer spent the past two summers competing at tournaments in places like Cancún, Mexico, and Ireland. She most recently won first place at the World University Games in Taipei in August, beating out the best collegiate golfers around the globe to earn the title.
The rising sophomore grew up in Pearl City, Hawai’i, playing against older opponents to develop her skills, as well as her mental strength.
But it hadn’t always been easy for Galdiano to maintain her composure on the course.
“When I was younger, I used to be a little hothead on the golf course,” Galdiano said. “Maturing really early was really helpful for me in golf. Your skill set is there, it’s sometimes just about overcoming the mental part of golf.”
Galdiano plans on studying psychology in college before eventually becoming a professional golfer, and said her interest in the subject directly applies to the mental aspect of her sport.
One of the people she said has helped her the most in this aspect is Jeff Troesch, a sports psychologist and mental training coach, who has worked with professional and collegiate athletes at schools like UCLA, Cal Poly, UC Berkeley and Stanford, helping golfers, tennis players and swimmers among others. However, his longest tenure has been with UCLA women’s golf.
“We don’t get a lot of pushback typically with UCLA women’s golfers because I’ve been with the team for 15 years, so there’s just a culture around understanding that the mental game is important,” Troesch said. “(Mariel) is receptive to the notion of mental training, and she sees the psychology of the sport as something that is additive to her skill set – I think it’s absolutely helped her.”
He said some sports like tennis or softball make it easy to externally attribute one’s failures, because if you’re struggling, you can always attribute it to your opponent or the other team for playing really well that day.
Golf, he said, is a different story.
“In golf, the ball’s just sitting there,” Troesch said. “So it’s really just you with the golf ball, and there’s really nowhere to look except within oneself for why one’s playing well or poorly.”
Troesch added that women’s golf tournament rounds tend to take a long time, particularly in college.
“If you imagine that (Mariel) is taking several seconds to prepare, then actually get her shot, and have some reflection post-shot, she’s probably taking one minute for each of those 70 shots on average,” Troesch said. “Which means she’s got four-plus hours of thinking to do … that’s a lot of time to keep one’s mind and one’s emotions in a really healthy productive place.”
Galdiano’s interest in psychology sparked some interesting conversations, he said. Troesch often travels with the team to competitions when it is in season, holding individual meetings with Galdiano and her teammates almost every night.
“When he’s at the golf tournaments, he seems to change the mood of the team,” Galdiano said. “He brings comfort and security, because if you have anything that you’re dealing with mentally, you can just spill it all out to him and he’ll help you work through it.”
Galdiano finished second on the team her first collegiate season, producing five Top 10s and seven Top 20s in 10 events. She placed second in her best tournament, held in her native Hawai’i.
The Bruin hopes to get an individual win during her time at UCLA, with the team’s season kicking off on Oct. 1.
“The amount of practice we put in is quite big,” Galdiano said. “So I try to stay focused and mentally prepared for the hours we’re out there, so I’m doing more than just show up.”
UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said although all athletes need to develop their mental game, golfers in particular rely on mental fortitude. At a certain level, only the players who can handle pressure and keep themselves calm succeed.
“You have a lot of time in between your ears to be thinking about things. Mariel is certainly not weak in that arena,” Forsyth said. “When she’s put under pressure and under the gun, she’s the kind of player that can step up and make those birdies when she has to … and she’s only going to get better at that.”