Update (March 9): Ole Miss announced it has signed Fierro, who will be eligible to compete for the Rebels this fall and have two years of eligibility remaining. Ole Miss beat Oklahoma State in last year's NCAA final.
Isabella Fierro wants to make it clear that she wasn’t necessarily unhappy. But she could be happier.
That’s why Fierro, a junior at Oklahoma State who is ranked just inside the top 50 in the country, opted to enter the transfer portal last month. Her decision marked the second major blow to the Cowgirls, who saw junior Caley McGinty, an Annika Award contender, depart the program in January.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the team,” Fierro told GolfChannel.com a few days ago. “I’ve learned and grown so much with the golf aspect of my life. But outside of golf, it’s been very challenging for me to have a life. … I feel that for three years that I haven’t fit into the social life outside golf in Stillwater.”
Fierro has harbored such feelings for at least six months. Busy competition and practice schedules, lack of time to build relationships outside of the golf teams, online classes, the pressure and expectations that come with representing Oklahoma State; though certainly not uncommon for an elite college-golf program, it all had slowly taken a toll.
Earlier this year, Fierro’s mother and instructor came to campus to visit with Fierro for two days after what Fierro described as a “rough patch.” Though Fierro’s golf game was in a good state – she recently won the Columbia Classic, her first college victory in about two years – mentally, she was struggling. When they left, Fierro knew what she had to do.
When she broke the news to her team two weeks ago that she wanted to transfer, Fierro explained how the team environment had become too “business-like” for her liking.
“They told me, ‘Do you think it’s not going to be like that on tour?’ And I said, ‘Exactly my point,’ because it’s going to be like that on tour. You’re playing for money, you’re playing for a sponsor, you’re playing to live… I want to be able to enjoy my last year in college and fully live the stuff that I haven’t been able to because of COVID, because of my schedule, because of how it works here; most players probably like how it works here, but it didn’t work out for me.”
Ideally, Fierro would’ve liked to have finished out the spring semester with her OSU teammates while she weighed options on landing spots for the fall. But Oklahoma State head coach Greg Robertson, like he had done for McGinty and even last summer with first-team All-American Maja Stark, drew a hard line in the sand:
If a player entered the portal, she’d no longer be able to compete in tournaments or have access to the team's golf-related resources.
“We figured we’ve got two choices: We can focus on scores and results and make that our priority or we can focus on the people that we have on the team,” Robertson told Golfweek, which first reported the news. “We went the route that we’re going to focus on the people and we’re going to be committed to the ones that want to be here – not just this year but are committed to be here beyond [this year].”
Robertson also shared a follow-up email with GolfChannel.com that he sent Monday to Fierro (and copied several athletics staffers on). In the email, Robertson expressed to Fierro that he was "NOT dismissing you from our team."
"Our stance on this is that, as long as your name is active in the transfer portal, you will not have privileges with the OSU golf team (playing tournaments; using Karsten Creek and Stillwater Country Club, and all practice facilities associated with both; using all workout facilities in Gallagher-Iba; eating training table at Karsten Creek, etc.)," Robertson wrote. "Should you decide (at any time) to withdraw your name from the transfer portal, you are welcome to those privileges. In the end, this is your choice as to where you want to take it from here. If you decide to keep your name in the transfer portal and stay at Oklahoma State, you will still have access to all other resources outside of golf (training room, Trevor, academics/tutors, etc.). Those resources will not be taken away from you at any point throughout the remainder of the spring.
"The rationale behind this is that we want players that are 100% committed to the Oklahoma State women's golf team. That means fulfilling their commitment for the entire time that they signed for their scholarship. In our opinion, if you are in the transfer portal and being recruited by other coaches so you can leave a year earlier than your signed commitment, it's not right for you to use all of the OSU golf resources and take opportunities (playing time) away from others who are committed beyond just this year.
"We would love to have you on the team for the rest of this spring and on into next year, but we also understand that you need to do what's best for you."
Fierro said she respected Robertson’s policy, though she still thinks about what could’ve been. After a national runner-up finish last May at Grayhawk, Oklahoma State had enjoyed an undefeated fall and ranked second in the country before McGinty entered the portal. The Cowgirls had also finished third in two events without the English Curtis Cupper, who originally committed to Robertson when he was the head coach at Kent State.
While there is still plenty of talent left, notably sophomores Maddison Hinson-Tolchard and Rina Tatematsu, there’s no denying that the Cowgirls’ NCAA-title prospects have now taken two sizable hits with the departure of their two lowest scorers.
“I have so much care and love for this team, it’s hard to put into words,” Fierro said. “But they didn’t take it as well as I thought. I knew they were going to be sad and upset; when coaches really care about their players, yeah, they’re going to be sad because one of their best players is leaving. ... They were worried about next year – I’m like, next year is next year. Coaches want to be competitive and have their best players possible to win national championships, and we were so close last year that it really didn’t make sense that they didn’t let Caley stay.
“We had really, really, really high hopes with Caley and me on the team. It’s hard to look back now, but definitely it would’ve made a lot of sense for Caley and me to stay. I think it was kind of drastic for them to say we weren’t committed when we were saying over and over and over again that we were. I am loyal to them, but it’s just we have to do what’s best for us.”
Responded Robertson: "I really did enjoy coaching Isabella, and she brought a lot to this team over the last two and a half years, and I wish her nothing but happiness at her new school and beyond."
No longer with a free place to practice in Stillwater, Fierro is hoping to find a new team in the next week or so. Once she finalizes her decision, she plans to return home to Mexico until traveling back to the U.S. for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
After that, she’d love to be able to settle into her new surroundings and prepare for the fall with her new teammates.
“I still have the same goals, the same mentality of working hard, but I want to enjoy things whenever I’m not at the golf course,” Fierro said. “I just realized that Stillwater was not the place for me, and it took me a little while to realize it.”