"Excellence is routine”
It’s what all golfers are striving for and it’s how Savannah Vilaubi (Downey, California) – who will be a 2017 Symetra Tour rookie – perceives the road to becoming great.
Growing up in a baseball family, she drew inspiration from the great New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.
“He could not miss (his spots) and we just loved, loved, loved watching him pitch,” explained Vilaubi, who advanced to Stage III of Qualifying Tournament in 2016. “I would always ask ‘how do you get that good?’ because it was inspirational watching someone be that good when he did it routinely.”
Now, Vilaubi is on mission to channel her inner Rivera and continue to climb the ladder towards the LPGA. The 2015 First-Team All Big West performer at UC Riverside played predominantly on the Cactus Tour in 2016. She won twice and finished third on the money list. This year, she takes a step up to the Symetra Tour.
“It’s exciting, I have positive nerves heading into a new tour,” said the well-spoken Vilaubi,. “The same thing happens at every level from high school to college, from college to my first Cactus Tour event and now Cactus to Symetra (Tour). It kind of seems a little daunting at first, but I’m really looking forward to acclimating. My game feels good overall.”
Over the last six months, Vilaubi has improved most in the mental game. She wasn’t throwing clubs, but she struggled with the “here we go again” mindset that many golfers suffer from.
“I used to have the mindset that ‘oh, I made a birdie on this hole so I should probably make a bogey on the next’ so I had to get rid of the context behind my thoughts,” said Vilaubi. “In tournament rounds, when I felt pressure, I would always think ‘oh my gosh, it’s so like me to make a bogey after a birdie’ so I had to break that attitude”
Vilaubi admits that she used to beat herself up for five hours on the golf course and would say hurtful things on purpose like “you don’t deserve this” and “why do you even show up these tournaments”, but quickly realized that the negative energy was hurting her game.
She credits a lot of her improvement mentally and technically to her swing coach since high school, Micky Yokoi, who is the men’s golf coach at Long Beach State.
“He’s been rock solid, super positive and basically family. I adore him.”
Vilaubi, who won the Texas Women’s Open in 2016, said the biggest improvement she has made on the course is from 130-yards and in with her short irons.
“My proximity to the whole from 100 yards and in was just not what it should be and I was struggling to score because I never had kick ins,” explained Vilaubi. “I was hitting greens, but having too many two putts so I tried to figure out why.”
She concluded that her distance control was good, but she was starting the ball off line. She took comprehensive notes during practice rounds and charted her putting distances to identify patterns.
The 23-year-old may be a rookie on Tour this year, but her social media following will be amongst the top on Tour with close to 27,000 followers on Instagram. Vilaubi posts a mixture of golf swings and fashion with the hopes of making the sport more trendy.
“I really love being able to find the community of other women golfers that love the game and are super cute and enthusiastic about the sport,” explained Vilaubi. “Instagram has made golf not feel like this itty-bitty tiny sport. We can engage in this huge golf community and reach a lot of people to rally support.”
There was once a time – when Vilaubi was younger – that she wasn’t all in on golf in part because she didn’t want to wear “clunky shorts” or a “wide collared polo”.
“Fashion is a huge driving factor in getting more women into golf,” added Vilaubi. “It’s really excited to wear different outfits and be bright and colorful. I love that I can be in the winner’s circle and still wear a dress and a bow and lipstick and all that stuff.”
With her debut at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven around the corner, Vilaubi simply wants to “have fun” and hopes that scores fall as they may.
“2017 will be successful so long as I am patient and trust the process,” said Vilaubi, who sounds a little like Sixers center Joel Embiid. “I have to stick to the basics."