The 26-year-old stood in the par-5 18th hole’s greenside bunker at The Links at Stoney Point in Greenwood, S.C. It was Sunday, May 10, the final hole of the Epson Tour’s Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic – possibly the biggest event of the season because of the purse and quality field. Casey Grice was just short of the green in two, and they were tied for the lead. Llaneza played first and kept in mind that Grice had chipped in twice previously that day. She aimed to make the bunker shot and blasted to tap-in range. Grice’s chip went 8 feet long and she missed the comeback putt for birdie.
The victory, the biggest of Llaneza’s professional career, moved her from 26th to first on the Epson Tour money list, a position she still holds as summer approaches with the goal of a top-10 Epson Tour placement and exempt status on the 2016 LPGA. She also became only the third Mexican to win on the Epson – following Mexican golf icon Lorena Ochoa in 2002 and Violeta Retamoza in 2007.
“That tournament is like a major to us,” said Llaneza, who is splitting time on the Epson Tour and LPGA this season. “It’s a great week and they treat us really, really well. It all came at a very good time. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster. I really learned a lot from that experience.”
The previous week, Llaneza played in the LPGA’s Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout. She contended in the first round and then fell back to miss the second cut of the week. She discussed plans for the following week with her caddie and opted to play in Greenwood, S.C. – a good choice.
Following her Greenwood victory and still riding a high, Llaneza and her caddie bolted for Greenville, S.C., to return their rental car. No one was manning the office early Sunday evening, so the duo was basically stranded. They opted to stay over in Greenville, arose on Monday morning, drove six hours to Richmond, Va., to scout the U.S. Women’s Open qualifying site and then on to Williamsburg, Va., late Monday for last week’s Kingsmill Championship where she finished in a tie for 66th. On Monday, she was co-medalist at Hermitage Country Club for the Women’s Open qualifier – wearing good-luck red, white and blue – and is set to play in her first U.S. Women’s Open this July.
“What a crazy week,” Llaneza said. “So many things going on, so many people to thank.”
The back and forth from flying to Dallas and driving from South Carolina to Virginia was a microcosm of Llaneza’s professional career thus far.
She learned the game from her father at age 10 and grew up playing among golfers her age, mostly boys. The competition against the boys led her to becoming a five-time Mexican girls junior champion and earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona where her heroine, Ochoa, attended.
Much of the ability to not only play professionally – but stay on tour and work her way up – is due to terrific support from Mexico City. That comes from her family and the Impulsando al Golf Professional Mexico (IGPM), a non-profit organization led by Monterrey, Mexico businesswomen Rosalba Papacostas and Marina Villasana to benefit aspiring professional women golfers. The organization, formed in 2008 after Mexican women met a roadblock on their road to the LPGA, raises money from businesses and individual donors to pay entry fees for Mexican professionals.
“Once you make it to the LPGA it’s easy to get sponsors,” Llaneza said. “But it’s very hard to bet on you when you’re just starting your career. It’s like starting a job without previous experience. Seven girls are supported now by the IGPM and everything is done by the book. We’re like a team.”
Llaneza plans to focus on the Epson Tour for the foreseeable future to secure her spot for the 2016 season but is clearly infused with confidence after her win in Greenwood.
“For sure, I will play in more Epson events than I was planning on before,” she said. “That’s what seems to be the best. But in three to four more weeks I’m sure I’ll have a much clearer idea.”