Massachusetts’ Bri Vega
is bouncing these days from hotel room to hotel room, following the sun as she competes on the Futures Tour.
It’s not an easy way for a 25-year-old to live. But Vega is chasing a dream as well as the sun, and what she hopes will be a place on the LPGA Tour.
“I hope I have a long career ahead of me,” says Vega, who burst onto the national golf scene when she won the Golf Channel’s “Big Break VI” reality show. “And this is just the beginning. It gets frustrating at times but it’s a learning experience. Everybody hears about the Paula Creamers and Morgan Pressels of the world. But the average time spent the Futures Tour before you make it to the LPGA Tour is seven years.”
She adds, “Plus, I enjoy traveling, seeing new places and meeting people. You have to or else you lose your focus.”
Vega didn’t take a club in her hands with intent until high school. But once she began hitting the ball with conviction there was no stopping her. She played on her high school boys team and was named All-State for girls and second team All-State for boys.
She earned a golf scholarship to North Carolina State University, where she still holds the 18- and 54-hole scoring records. She finished 10th at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship her senior year, and in 2004 won the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur. She qualified for both the 2002 and 2004 U.S. Women’s Open.
The last two years have been spent on the Futures Tour. She made only four cuts last year, but did have a fourth place finish at the Hunters Oak Golf Classic in Maryland. She made seven cuts in 18 events in 2005.
Vega, who lists Pilates, running and shopping among her off-course hobbies, wintered in Florida and finished sixth in that state’s Women’s Open.
As a result of winning the Big Break, Vega earned several LPGA sponsors exemptions for 2007. She used her first one at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii in February, where she missed the cut.
“It was a great learning experience,” says Vega of her initial LPGA start. “I’ve got a couple more exemptions and I’ll use them later in the year. The one thing I’m doing right now is working hard on my putting. In one tournament this year I was sixth in driving and last in putting.”
She adds, “You can become a good putter. I’ve always been a good striker of the ball, so it’s not like a need a swing change or anything like that.”
The road is made a little less lonely for Vega, who has also lived in New Jersey and Illinois, thanks to the companionship of her parents--Alan and Shelia. Her mom travels with her the road and pop flies to tournaments to serve as her caddie. In true paternal fashion, Alan Vega caddied 36 holes for his daughter at the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open qualifying round, while Shelia Vega walked the entire loop with a broken foot.
“My parents (who live in North Andover) were avid golfers when I was young and they introduced me to the game,” says Vega. “We had memberships at Andover Country Club and then at Georgetown Country Club, and I started playing when I was five. I absolutely hated it because there were no kids playing golf at my age. But I never had any pressure to play, which worked out well because I probably never would have liked it later on.”
Instead of golf, Vega played just about every other sport growing up. That included basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, cheerleading as well as dance. “Anything besides golf,” she says with a laugh.
Vega, whose career low professional round is 67, believes winning the Big Break was just that. Vega beat fellow Tour player Bridget Dwyer, 3-and-1 to take the women’s competition and then beat Denny Helper for the overall title, winning $21,000. She is also a cast member of this year’s “Big Break VII: Reunion.”
“It was a big break. It opened a lot of doors for me and gave me tons of exposure that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I wouldn’t be able to play on the Futures Tour without some financial help, and I received that help because of the Big Break. It’s very expensive on the Futures Tour. You don’t make money unless you are at the top of the money list.”
She adds, “The Big Break also gave me confidence that I can pull off big shots when I need them. That experience is priceless.”
Vega said spending the winter in Florida, where she practiced and played just about every day, was helpful.
“It was so different than spending the winter up north. Playing golf on a daily basis throughout the year is beneficial.”
Vega will be playing close to home this summer. She’ll compete in the Cigna Chip In For A Cure Classic at Bloomfield, Ct.’s Gillette Ridge Golf Club July 14-16, and also at the Laconia Savings Bank Classic in Concord, N.H. Aug. 4-6. In the meantime she will make stops in Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin and anywhere else the Futures Tour pulls into town.
Her immediate goal is to grab one of the top five spots on the year-end Futures Tour money list and earn a battlefield promotion to the LPGA Tour. If that doesn’t happen, she’ll attend the LPGA “Q School” at the end of the year.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else at this stage of my life,” she says.