Current Residence: Orlando, Fla.
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Home Course: Valle Alto
College: San Jose State University
Profession: Professional Golfer
The most experienced competitor on Big Break Atlantis, Marcela Leon has been competing on the Symetra (the LPGA developmental tour) for the past nine years, recording several top-10 finishes, highlighted by a runner-up finish in 2004. She will be the first one to admit that life as a touring professional is a struggle, full of ups and downs and self-doubts.
“I’ve been basically on the road for the past nine years,” said Leon. “You have to have a clear, open mind and a lot of patience to do what we do for a living, as life on tour can really beat you down. It certainly has for me.”
Growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, Leon knew from an early age that she wanted to be a professional golfer. Her father introduced her to the game when she was 6 years old, and she was hooked immediately. She recalls that the head golf professional at her home course in Mexico still remembers her first day at the course – Leon spent more than five hours in a bunker hitting golf balls.
“My head pro still laughs at that story,” said Leon. “I think that might be why I am so good at bunkers today, because that is how I started. I remember by age 8 that golf is what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what that meant at that time but I was passionate about the sport and just wanted to do it. Forever.”
Leon played competitive golf all through elementary school and high school, becoming one of the top junior golfers in Mexico. She joined the Mexican National Team at age 13, giving her the exposure she needed to attract attention from college coaches in the United States. She competed at San Jose State University, and was a member of the golf team all four years.
“College golf was a big wake-up call for me,” said Leon. “I just didn’t perform up to my standards.”
She also considered transferring.
“I am not a quitter,” said Leon. “It’s part of my personality. I always try to make situations better, and I apply that to everything in my life, whether my golf game or my personal life. I just don’t like to give up.”
During her senior year of college, she got her first taste of the spotlight of the LPGA Tour. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as an amateur in 2001. While she didn’t make the cut, the experience helped shape her career. She wasn’t prepared mentally for the big picture of the U.S. Women’s Open, but she recalls on the first tee at Pine Needles, when her name was called, she smiled and said to herself, “This is where I want to be.”
Following graduation, she turned professional, and has competed full-time on the Symetra Tour for the past nine years. Although she says she is not to be a quitter, injuries, swing changes and self doubt put that to the test, to when in 2009, she hit a breaking point. She withdrew from a tournament in the middle of the event, packed up her clubs and drove home to Mexico. Golf was no longer making her happy, and she needed a break. At that point in her life, she thought it would be permanent.
“It almost felt like a divorce from a relationship that I had with golf for so long,” recalled Leon. “I was going against everything I stood for, but I knew I had to remove myself from the game and find something that made me just as passionate as golf did.”
She found that passion. Only this time, she wasn’t competing. She was coaching. At her home golf course in Monterrey, she was given the opportunity to coach and mentor young kids. She recalls those first two months of coaching the best feeling she has had in her career.
“Looking back, I thought I was helping them, but they were helping me more than they could possibly imagine. Just seeing these kids enjoy the game the way they do, it was something that I will never forget. They made me realize how simple the game is and how much fun it is. They taught me so much more than I taught them.
“They re-ignited my passion for golf.”
When the 2010 season began, Leon resumed her golf career, complete with a fresh, new outlook. She has posted some of the best numbers in her career, making 11 cuts in 16 starts in 2011. Re-invigorated, she is grateful at the second chance to fulfill her dream of competing full-time on the LPGA Tour.
“What I’ve experienced these past two years has helped me so much personally and professionally,” said Leon. The kids gave me a new perspective on not only my golf game, but in life. I am definitely looking forward to my future, no matter what it is or where it will take me, even though I know where I want to be, and that is on the LPGA Tour.”