Every year, the Epson Tour travels around the United States. Members see each other week after week as friends, family and competitors. The fact that many of them have been living this lifestyle from a young age and continue to lift each other up is what makes the “Road to the LPGA” unique.
Sundays on the LPGA Tour will see fellow competitors rush 18 green with champagne to celebrate their friend, their sister on Tour and the same is evident on the Epson Tour. The act of friendship, someone being there for another in many different forms. This week, Janet Mao (Johns Creek, Georgia) has long-time friend and former competitor Rinko Mitsunaga caddying for her at French Lick Resort. Mitsunaga is currently the assistant coach for the Tulane University women’s golf team.
“I have so many friends on Tour. You play together in junior golf, you play together in college and now on Tour, which is pretty fun. On the flip side, you have friends you competed with when you are young but decided not to play pro and pursue other career paths,” said Mao. “I feel very lucky that one of my best friends, who I have known since we were younger, we have kept this friendship and now share new moments like this. It’s fun and special in its own way. Having someone, whether it be Rinko or someone who knows my humor or how I react to things and help me find a balance with that, helps my game.”
“When a female wins on Tour, your friends come out with champagne and water. No other sport celebrates your competition like that than women’s golf,” said Mitsunaga. “The coolest part about it is that it’s an individual game, but we are all going to celebrate for you because we know what it feels like, we know what you have done to get there. It’s so unique of a sport where you become a family no matter what point of your career you are at.”
Mitsunaga and Mao met while growing up in the junior circuits of Georgia. While Mitsunaga shared that she hoped Mao would compete with her at the University of Georgia, Mao attended Northwestern to study Neuroscience. It was there she learned that professional golf is something she wanted, and could, pursue. A First Team All-Big Ten member, Mao graduated and competed in the LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, where she had Mitsunaga on the bag for the first time.
“On Tour, you play every single week, its intense. Trying to find a balance between how you frame your self worth and how you define success and what is important to you in golf and in life, how you manage that is important because you can’t place all your eggs in one basket,” said Mao. “Yes, you are devoted to golf and trying to do your best out here, both resource- and investment-wise to give yourself the best opportunity possible, but at the same time you have to find time to rest for fulfillment and enjoyment because it’s hard. Part of that is having great relationships with other people who can remind you of that and help be there for you.”