“Ladies and gentlemen, number four on the Volvik Race for the Card money list. She’s the life of the party, please welcome Daniela Iacobelli”
That’s how Golf Channel’s Damon Hack introduced Iacobelli at the Volvik Race for the Card ceremony. Life of the party is a phrase that might sound unbecoming for a professional athlete, but Iacobelli says she’s fine with it as long as it’s perceived properly.
“Our concept of ‘life of the party’ is potentially the person going out and drinking and having a good time and being wild and crazy,” said Iacobelli. “I view the term as a good thing. When you go to a pro-am party it’s typically like your first middle-school dance. You have the left side with all the sponsors and all the pro-am guys and then the right side is the players. As the ‘life of the party’ I want us to all enjoy the same gathering together.”
This is not just interview speak. If you’ve ever spent time around Iacobelli, she truly is the person that can hold a conversation with the 50-year-old CEO of a fortune 500 company and his 10-year-old son while also juggling a gossip session with three of her fellow competitors.
After a consistent year on the Symetra Tour where she posted eight top 10 finishes in 22 starts and a win at the Tullymore Classic, she’s ready to show the LPGA that her golf game is the true ‘life of the party’.
“If I can get my golf game to match my personality, Mike Whan and I are going to have a fun year on the LPGA.”
Mr. Whan, get ready for a fun 2016.
In 2012, Iacobelli finished 5th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list to earn her LPGA card for the 2013 season. She’ll note that her game, both physically and mentally, was not up to snuff on the LPGA. She made just two cuts in 15 starts. Iacobelli also points out that in 2012 on the Symetra Tour, she won the last event to sneak into the top 10. On the contrary, in 2015 she was one of the most consistent players on Tour all season.
During last offseason, Iacobelli took advantage of the LPGA’s new relationship with the application “Get Real Golf Stats” and became golf’s version of the sabermetrics guru that Billy Beane was for the Oakland Athletics. Iacobelli was first intrigued by statistics after watching a Golf Channel program and learning that Zach Johnson, a 12-time winner on the PGA TOUR, employs a full-time statistician.
“I asked myself, here is a guy who has won numerous tournaments including The Masters, why is he employing a statistician,” said a much more introspective Iacobelli since turning professional in 2010. “Once I had 15-20 rounds under my belt, it was interesting to see where there were gaps (in her game) and during the season I worked on those areas and it made my practice more efficient. It helped me realize what I needed to improve.”
Iacobelli figured out that when she missed the green in regulation, her average first putt was from 7.4 feet from the pin.
“I looked at my make percentage from 7.4 feet and realized that I need to get my chips closer and I clearly needed to work on my seven foot putts,” said Iacobelli. “It’s unbelievable the numbers the application gave me access to and it was a huge help.”
Iacobelli’s 2015 scoring average of 71.42 was the lowest of professional career. In fact, the average was over a stroke less than 2014.
In 2016, Iacobelli will head back to the LPGA, where she says she’s wanted to be since she was 4-years-old.
“It’s been my dream, my families dream – they recognized potential and ability when I was a young kid,” said Iacobelli. “I used to make my mom (Maria) take me to the driving range because I wanted to hit balls.”
Iacobelli says the journey back to the LPGA has been even more satisfying because she has done it on her own and by own accord. Her dad, Grazio, taught her the basics of the game when she was young, but she’s been without a true “coach” since turning professional. She’s also had no significant financial help.
“I had a head pro job in 2011 for nine months, I worked at target in 2012 and sold cellphones that year too in order to save up money to chase my dream and that’s why this year has been so gratifying,” said Iacobelli. “It’s also what I talked about before, because I played well all year, getting my card was attainable all season.
After earning her card on October 18, Iacobelli took a whopping five days off and after a mini vacation to Fort Lauderdale, she was back to playing with her buddies at Baytree National Golf Club and Suntree Country Club in Melbourne. Iacobelli is truly a golf addict. If she goes more than a few days without picking up a club, she has withdrawals.
Interestingly enough, Iacobelli realizes that one area she needs to get better at next year on the LPGA is knowing when to put the clubs down.
“If I can find a balance between getting my work done at the course and rest, I’ll be fine,” said Iacobelli. “The LPGA is just a significant amount more travel (than the Symetra Tour). I need to understand when my body is tired and when I need to rest. When I studied my stats, I realized that if I had the year I had on the Symetra Tour this year on the LPGA, I would have had a good year.”
Where Iacobelli truly wants to be the ‘life of the party’ is when she’s around kids trying to use her platform as a professional to grow the game. She recently spent time with fellow pros Jackie Stoelting, Megan McChrystal and Alex Jacobsen at a junior foundation event in Vero Beach.
“We did a Q&A with the kids and parents and they were really nice,” said Iacobelli. “In true Daniela form, I asked for a team selfie after. I love hanging out with the kids. I didn’t have anyone to turn to or look up to when I was that I age. I was able to figure it out over time, but it’s nice to be able to help the next generation.”
A more mature, wiser Iacobelli feels better prepared to compete on the LPGA, but she’s still the ‘life of the party’ that fans, sponsors, kids and fellow players will gravitate towards.