Golf is far from the most popular sport in Israel.
In fact, it is viewed by many locals as an elitist recreational activity which is reserved for a select few and is certainly not a sport they would consider watching.
But that could well be about to change.
It may not happen overnight, but Laetitia Beck has the potential to almost singlehandedly make golf relevant in Israel.
Beck became the first Israel to qualify as a fully-fledged PGA or LPGA Tour player on Sunday night, earning her 2015 LPGA Tour Card in the qualifying tournament in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“I don’t think it will ever sink in,” Beck told The Jerusalem Post of her achievement, with the excitement clearly palpable in her voice after a night of little sleep.
However, it wasn’t that the 22-yearold Beck had celebrated until the early hours of the morning. She was up bright and early on Monday to meet with LPGA officials and learn how her life on tour will look after being kept awake at night by the sheer excitement.
She came through a nerve-wracking experience on Sunday. After ending five rounds of play at the Hills Course at 4-under par, Beck found herself in a seven person, three-hole aggregate playoff. Matters still weren’t decided after the three holes so Beck and five other golfers went into sudden death for three spots.
Beck would ultimately secure her qualification when she sent her wedge from 132 yards to 18 feet and calmly sank the birdie putt to get out of the playoff and make Israeli sporting history.
Despite the dramatic finish to the day, Beck said that she wasn’t that tense during the playoff.
“I wasn’t extremely nervous because I was talking to the officials and was asking about the conditional status and if I’ll still be considered an LPGA player. He said yes, so I felt I didn’t really have anything to lose. I think it helped calm my nerves,” she explained.
Beck was born in Antwerp, Belgium, moving to Israel with her family when she was six years old.
The low level of local competition in Israel is perhaps best epitomized by the fact Beck already won the Israeli Ladies Championships at the age of 12.
Beck and her family were clearly always serious about doing whatever it takes to give her the best chance possible to become a professional player, with Laetitia moving to the US when she was 14 to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
She qualified for her first LPGA Tour event at age 19 in August 2011, participating as an amateur in the Canadian Women’s Open in Montreal.
Earlier this year, she completed four years at Duke University, after being part of the 2014 Duke women’s golf national championship team.
Beck, who decided to turn professional after qualifying for the British Open in July, was among 20 players who earned membership through category 12 on the LPGA Tour priority list in Daytona Beach, meaning she will be a full-time player on tour next season.
The LPGA Tour will feature 33 tournaments in 15 countries in 2015.
The season tees off in Ocala, Florida, from January 27-31 before moving on to the Bahamas and then Australia and will end with the November 19-22 CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida.
The 2015 LPGA Tour will offer a total purse of $61.6 million, an increase of just over $4 million from this year.
“Before I came here I thought to myself that I will have time to practice in the offseason, but now I made it to the LPGA everything is happening quickly,” said Beck, who plans to continue living with friends in Aventura, Florida for the near future the way she has been doing since leaving Duke.
“I have to really work hard in the next few weeks and try to get my game in the best shape, because to play on the LPGA I have to get my A game back.”
Beck, who plans to spend plenty of time at the gym and work with shortgame coaches in the coming weeks, wasn’t pleased with her play in Daytona Beach despite the end result.
“I know I have the game but I was struggling a little with my game and putting, and in golf putting is extremely important,” she noted. “So I was nervous and wasn’t extremely confident.
“This week I really didn’t have my A game in my opinion and didn’t feel good about my game, and the fact that I made it showed me how even when I’m not playing well at all I can still do it,” she added.
Beck believes that she has what it takes to not only become a permanent member of the LPGA, but to also contend and win titles on tour.
“I think I have the talent. I just need to improve areas of my game, but overall I think I can do it,” she said with confidence. “I do think that if I can get my game where I want it to be I should be very close.”
Beck hopes that her success over the weekend will help promote golf in Israel, but she thinks she will be able to make a real difference should she triumph on tour.
“Playing on the LPGA might help a little bit, but what will really help is if I do well on the LPGA. The big step is to be in contention in LPGA events and the exposure that it will bring,” she said.
Beck last visited Israel several weeks ago, but isn’t sure when she’ll next get the chance to come home following her recent success.
Nevertheless, despite spending much of the past nine years in the US, she is as proud as ever to represent Israel.
“I’m very proud to be Israeli,” said Beck, who is hoping to be on the blue-and-white’s Olympic delegation in Rio 2016. “Anyway I can I try to represent my country. I enjoy showing off where I am from.”
Israeli golf couldn’t have asked for a better spokesperson. Beck has already made history, but this is just the first step.[email protected]