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With a Little Help from a Legend, Fassi Getting Acclimated to LPGA

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LPGA Tour newcomer Maria Fassi strikes an approach shot at the Marathon Classic on Friday. (GETTY)

SYLVANIA, Ohio — Maria Fassi spent the past weekend in Toledo trying to figure out why after several months of hard work, she missed the cut at Inverness Club, but sometimes a little help from back home goes a long way, especially when the assistance comes from a World Golf Hall of Famer.

Lorena Ochoa is one of the most well-known women’s golfers of all-time, and resides in Guadalajara, Mexico, so when her countrywoman Fassi reached out, the advice back was simple.

Relax, those kind of weeks are going to happen.

“You’re going to have those weeks,” Fassi recalled Ochoa say. “You’ve got to forget about expectations. I don’t care if you feel like a million dollars or if you feel bad, no? It’s a different day. You just got to go out there and play golf.

“So she kind of got on my butt about that. It was kind of good to hear it just so plain and harsh and simple I guess from her.”

When Fassi hopped on the call with Ochoa she did not know what to expect, whether it was kindness or indifference. Even during a follow-up call Thursday, Ochoa just listened before finally providing her thoughts.

As Fassi began her second round of the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana at Highland Meadows Golf Club, she did so from the first fairway and beautifully struck her iron on a line right for the hole. The ball landed within tap-in range and her day was off to a quick start.

“I almost holed it on the first,” said the former University of Arkansas star. “I was like, Okay, this isn’t too bad.”

Fassi had been working with her coach David Leadbetter on having a more consistent swing, with the focus specifically being on having a shorter backswing and ultimately just keeping things simple. Early returns on the week are positive as she feels that she can be aggressive while her swing can still hold up.

Slowly but surely, things are getting better which is validating after getting “hit hard in the head” a week ago.

On the topic of getting better, this week in a sense marks Fassi’s second year around the LPGA Tour. Perhaps most will know of her runner-up finish to Jennifer Kupcho at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last spring, when the former led but ran into an opponent that had an unprecedented back nine.

For the past year plus, it has been about turning the page and finding success as a professional on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s a different ballgame,” she said. “You kind of have to forget what you did as an amateur and just start from scratch by making cuts, gaining more confidence and then, as weeks go by and golf starts feeling good again, be more aggressive. I believe in myself quite a bit so it is harder managing my expectations, not having them super high, so controlling them has been a challenge.”

Soon Fassi will become a seasoned veteran as for the first time as an LPGA Tour member, playing at Highland Meadows Golf Club marks her second time doing so which certainly helps with sight lines, finding the proper locations to aim and finding comfort around the greens.

Really, in a week where things can get stressful it is one less item on the list to think about.

“Last year I had to focus on getting a proper game plan for the week and kind of have to be everywhere at once,” said Fassi. “Now I know the course very well, so I can just focus around the greens and do what I need over there. It takes lots of stress from the week for sure.”

Taking what Ochoa said to heart, Fassi posted a 4-under-par round Thursday and put in a follow-up call taking advantage of the standing offer to have a dialogue at any time.

This exchange lasted around two hours in which Ochoa grounded Fassi telling her that the first round was just that and she would to hit a reset button and do it all again the next day.

Fassi focused on each moment as it occurred Friday and believed that Ochoa’s voice was present with her as she fired a 5-under par 66 to snag solo fourth place entering the weekend.

he not only has a chance to break through for her first LPGA Tour victory, but also each of the 10 lowest scores who have yet to qualify for the AIG Women’s Open Aug. 20-23 at Scotland’s Royal Troon will be able to punch their respective tickets this weekend. Fassi currently is first on that list.

Fassi’s approach shot on the opening par-4 Friday showed that ability to stay both aggressive and in the present. That approach shot was set up by a layup iron shot off the tee which clearly left her with a comfortable yardage.

“I can definitely see how in the future it’s going be amazing how much more knowledge you have,” Fassi said. “I get more comfortable, I’m not having to practice as hard during the week because I know the course a little better. I’m confident with the way our game plan is. It definitely helps knowing the course and I’m excited for the rest of the year hopefully I can keep up and do the same.”

One thing viewers saw when Fassi played at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was a competitive golfer who grinded for every birdie or par out on the course. That was very present Friday as even in the second round of competition, the fist pumps were plentiful and especially with no crowds present clearly self dialogue to keep attack.

Despite this fiery side, the compassionate side was just as present, as Fassi congratulated Kupcho after every good shot, they bumped fists several of times and hugged at the end. Though hugs are certainly not encouraged during COVID-19 times, Fassi always complimented a good shot and also made sure to thank every volunteer she encountered throughout her four-hour journey across Highland Meadows.

You could be a competitor, volunteer or even a media member. Fassi treated you the same, with respect and time.

“I think at the end of the day it is who we are as people that matters,” said Fassi. “Golf will always be there. We’re going to have good days and bad days, we just have to have a kind heart and be thankful for the people that are working this event and putting it together. Without them, we couldn’t be here.

“We have to be appreciative of their time and I am happy to see some familiar faces from last year and get some claps here on 18 after a good round.”

While Fassi may be best known for that magical day at Augusta National, the possibilities for that to change are very real, though she refuses to look too far ahead.

“I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and then when Sunday comes, we’ll see where that leaves me,” she said. “Hopefully up there.”

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