Golf and flying are a perfect combination, according to Colombian golfer Maribel Lopez Porras.
Travelling internationally to play in golf tournaments is part and parcel of being a tour professional, but it’s easier when your entire family are pilots who can literally fly you around the world.
Competing in Lalla Aicha Tour School Final Qualifying this week in Marrakech, Maribel may be 4,510 miles from home in Bogota, but travel is not a problem, as her mum, Maribel Porras, is a pilot for Avianca who will fly her daughter home in an Airbus A330 on Christmas Day.
“My mum was the first woman from South America to fly a jet. She is a legend, right there!” says Maribel, pointing fondly to her mother, who has joined her in Morocco.
“From here, she has to go back to Bogota, then she has a flight from Bogota to Barcelona on the 23rd, then she’s picking me up and bringing me back on the 25th in her flight, so that’s really cool. We will spend Christmas in Barcelona and then fly back to Colombia.”
If Maribel qualifies for the Ladies European Tour next year, she will have her travel sorted for the season. In fact, she has chosen golf over aviation as a career for the time being, but also plans to train as a pilot in the future, like both of her parents and two brothers, who fly an A330 and a Dreamliner respectively.
For the moment however, her priority is Tour School and she made a promising start at the Final Qualifier, firing an opening 71 at Samanah Country Club on Friday followed by a 73 at Amelkis on Saturday.
Maribel progressed to the Final Qualifier after finishing seventh in the Lalla Aicha Tour School Pre-Qualifier D last month, which was played at Golf Club La Pradera de Potosi in Bogota, just 40 minutes from her home.
“It was the first time that Colombians had seen a women’s event, and they loved it!” says Maribel, 24, who started playing golf when she was four years old and grew up playing at La Sabana, before teeing up in her first tournament aged 10.
“They were like: ‘Wow!’ They have it in their heads that it’s only women that play at a high level and so when they saw the girls it was amazing how they were super supportive and enthusiastic.”
A member of the Colombian National Team in 2007, Maribel won several junior tournaments before studying Political Science and Communications at the University of Tulane in New Orleans, where she won three collegiate competitions and was Player of the Year Conference USA in 2011.
Competing in Pre-Qualifying in her home city was the highlight of her career to date and playing on the Ladies European Tour in 2016 would be a dream come true.
“When I heard that there was a tournament in my home city, I said, I have to play in it. It was nice because it was the first time I was able to play in a professional tournament in Colombia. Golf is not very big yet in Colombia, but it’s getting bigger and I was very glad to qualify,” she said.
“I’ve always respected the girls that play on the Ladies European Tour, they are really good and they play on great courses all over Europe and the world. It would be great for me to get the chance to compete at this high level.”
There are four players from Colombia in the field of 115 competitors at Lalla Aicha Tour School vying places on the 2016 Ladies European Tour, including Eileen Vargas, who finished eighth at Pre-Qualifying in Bogota last month and Paula Hurtado and Anna Christina Kindgren, who are both trying to regain their LET cards.
The LET’s presence in South America is growing and with more media coverage, the skills of these players will become increasingly recognised in 2016, especially when golf returns to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.
“It will be very close for all the Latin Americans to come and watch, so I’m sure it will rise up,” Maribel says. “Lorena Ochoa did a lot for golf in Latin America but I think the Olympics will give it a massive boost and I’m trying my best to be there!”