Clariss Guce spent her childhood in the Philippines on a different kind of track, one made for racing thoroughbreds. She didn’t start playing golf until she was about ten years old.
While Clariss grew up watching Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods, it was her grandfather, Pablito Guce, that introduced her to the game. He liked to practice his short game by the race track while training his horses with Clariss watching and lovingly shagging the balls.
“My grandparents lived next door to me back then so my grandfather would just have my mom wake me up at dawn to take me with him to the track,” said Clariss, who will begin her rookie year in January on the LPGA Tour. “I’m not sure why or how it all started, but my main motivation was to beat my grandfather. We were both competitive, and he knew how to press my buttons.”
When her family moved to the states, she didn’t play the game for a while and admitted she preferred basketball to golf. Clariss dusted off her clubs again around middle school, however, by the time she hit high school having reached a whopping 5’2” she knew it was time to pick a sport other than basketball; one more advantageous to her petite stature.
Clariss didn’t believe she was very good in high school, yet despite the lack of confidence in her game, she was recruited to play in college and went on to play four years at California State, Northridge.
During Clariss’ sophomore season she was sidelined due to shoulder surgery; she admitted the time away, and a coaching change gave her a new appreciation for the game.
“Having Annie Young as my head coach when I came back was an amazing experience,” said Clariss. “She challenged and pushed me to become a better player by redefining my definition of hard work and true mental toughness.”
The Filipino graduated college in 2014 and decided not to go to the LPGA Qualifying School immediately following college due to financial reasons. Instead, she spent the next year working a few jobs to save money while playing mini-tour events to remain competitive.
After spending several months in the workforce and traveling the mini-tour circuit, Clariss decided she was ready to compete with the world’s best. She entered the LPGA Qualifying Tournament where she earned Symetra Tour status for the 2016 season.
She admitted she had a rollercoaster year her rookie season on the Symetra Tour.
“I went from missing five cuts in a row and getting ready to pack it up to winning twice in five weeks and contended to get my LPGA tour card that year,” Clariss said. “I failed to get my card, and I ended up finishing 11th on the money list.”
Clariss is the only player since 2008, when the Symetra Tour started annually awarding ten LPGA cards to the top players on the money list, with two wins in a season not to earn LPGA membership for the following year.
Undaunted, Clariss played two more years on the Symetra Tour before earning membership for the LPGA Tour. Clariss said she felt the Symetra Tour gave her an opportunity to mature as a player while giving her a preview of what life was like on the road.
“I think so many of us spend most of our lives trying to get here,” said Clariss. “Grinding day in and day out, working several jobs in the offseason, and driving across the country to play tournaments and to finally get here is a privilege.”
Clariss, the once lightly recruited college golfer at California State, Northridge, is now living the dream and competing on the biggest stage in women’s golf.