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Ex-Lobo set to tee off in Open

Ingrid Gutierrez Nunez, who played golf at the University of New Mexico, will be playing in the U.S. Women’s Open beginning today in South Carolina. PHOTO COURTESY OF SYMETRA TOUR

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

For Ingrid Gutierrez Nuñez, there was something different about the preparation for this U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier than in years past.

This time, time was on her side.

In the past, the former University of New Mexico women’s golfer had to deal with the stress of finals leading up to a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. That left her unfulfilled. She had never reached her dream of playing in a women’s major.

That is, until May 6.

She shot (71-68) 3-under-par 139 at Bradenton Country Club in Florida to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, which begins today.

“Past years, I always tried to qualify for the Open, but it was always after finals, so it was always like I didn’t have time to prepare myself how I wanted,” Gutierrez Nuñez said during a phone interview on Monday after practicing at Country Club of Charleston, site of the U.S. Women’s Open in South Carolina. “This time was actually the first time that I could prepare myself. I think I managed the day pretty well. I knew it was going to be a really tough day. I had to be patient with it.”

Gutierrez Nuñez, 23, who finished up at UNM in 2018, used her experiences from her time as a Lobo to move up the leaderboard at the qualifier. She said she always increased her energy, and in turn her level of play, for a day of 36 holes.

On that course for the first time, she finished second at the qualifier, one stroke behind medalist Megan Osland of Canada.

Yes, the preparation was different for Gutierrez Nuñez. But one thing that was the same was her toughness and confidence.

She acquired those valuable attributes at UNM, where she was No. 3 all-time in scoring average at 74.83. Jodi Ewart Shadoff, who also is playing in the Open today, is No. 1 in Lobo history at 73.11.

“She’s fiery,” UNM women’s golf coach Jill Trujillo said of Gutierrez Nuñez. “She’s fun to watch. She’s emotional. She’s very colorful. She just enjoys life. … She’s just a really great player. She was one of the best in UNM history.”

Trujillo keeps in touch with Gutierrez Nuñez, sometimes texting her, as she did earlier this week. Or, the UNM coach follows her on Instagram, as she did when she found out the news that she qualified for the Open.

Trujillo wasn’t surprised when Gutierrez Nunez qualified for the Open. Trujillo believed she could take her game to the next level when she left UNM.

“Now that she’s out in the professional ranks, she realizes now that it’s all been a process,” Trujillo said. “You don’t come to school as a 18-year-old freshman and have the game you do now. At UNM, she learned a lot about the game. She learned a lot about herself.”

Gutierrez Nuñez said being a Lobo made her tough. She also gained maturity as she was on her own, away from home in Mexico.

“My coaches, Jill Trujillo and Britney Choi … made me tough, ” Gutierrez Nuñez said. “They knew how to treat me and how to make me a better person and better version of myself. That was the best thing they wanted. That was what I wanted. UNM always gave me good values, personal values.”

Gutierrez Nuñez knows that she must remain tough while in her first year – she hopes it will be her only year – on the Symetra Tour, which is composed of talented golfers pursuing the goal of reaching the LPGA Tour.

She now has more time to, as she put it, “grind every day.” She says she has to stay patient and calm with the confidence that her game will continue to improve.

One of the most challenging factors of life on the Symetra Tour is income. When she’s not playing in an event, she stays with her parents in Cuautla, a city in Morelos, Mexico.

With no sponsors, money is tight. She spends $500 for most entry fees for each Symetra Tour event, she said.

Her best finish came May 11 at the IOA Invitational, where she finished tied for 13th after shooting (70-66-77) 3-under 213 at Atlanta National Golf Club in Milton, Ga. She won $2,321.

“My parents are helping me,” Gutierrez Nuñez said. “I hope I can get sponsors soon because I really need it. Money is running out very fast. It’s really tiring.”

Money is not the sole motivation to play well this week in Charleston, but she knows it’s an important factor.

This year’s Open purse is $5.5 million, with $1 million going to the winner. Both totals are records for women’s golf.

Of course, Gutierrez Nuñez wants to finish on top of an elite field, yet she would be thrilled with a top-10 finish.

She believes that could be a life-changing moment. Qualifying wasn’t at that dramatic level, but she realizes that it has changed her mentality. It gave her even more confidence.

Life after UNM is different.

“This is a life that I was not used to,” Gutierrez Nuñez said. “Over there at UNM, my life was to prepare every single day. I had to plan and organize every single second. Here, I don’t know what I’m going to do next week. It’s really changing all the time. You don’t know what’s going to happen. One tournament can change your life. In this life anything can happen. One good round can change your life, it can change the way you see goals. If you’re ready to quit, one good round can put you up and put you on a good run. You have to be really tough. That’s the only thing I’m still the same as before. You have to be really tough and fight for every second.”

However, she must be careful not to consume her life with all things golf.

“When golf becomes your career, you can become obsessed,” Trujillo said. “There has to be a balance. You can’t be on the clock every single day. There are some that can do it all the time, but others, they don’t last that long in the sport. You have to take time off.”

Gutierrez Nuñez does her best to find time to relax in Cuautla, where she helps manage a shop, sort of a novelty store, she said. She also sometimes plays the piano, sings and dances as a form of distraction.

“I just sell little things,” she said of the store. “It keeps me entertained and busy. It gives me something to do. It’s a really tough life, but I’m just happy to be here.”

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