Ana Belac makes the phrase “if you put your mind to it, anything is possible” come to life.
Growing up in Portoroz, Slovenia, a coastal town along the Adriatic Sea near the Gulf of Trieste, the closest golf course—Lipica Golf Club—was roughly a 45-minute drive away. The practice balls were cracked and yellowed, and course maintenance consisted of mowing the grass and little else. Nonetheless, Belac won her first event around age seven. She didn’t fall in love with the sport right away, though.
“I was the only junior at the golf club and I thought it was really boring because it was pretty much just a lot of older people,” said Belac. “I liked to ski at the time. I played tennis and was into track and field, all way more competitive and interesting to me as a kid. When I won, it gave me the motivation and showed me there was a real competitive side to golf.”
Although she spent a lot of time with other sports, Belac ultimately focused on golf in her early teenage years. And it would all pay off. When Belac teed off in the 2015 Annika Invitational Europe, little did she know that Duke University women’s golf head coach Dan Brooks was watching. “He had a slightly intimidating presence,” Belac said.
An official visit was set for later that year. Not long after, Belac was part of the Blue Devils athletic family.
“Coach Brooks and Coach Whithaus picked me up from the airport, and I remember thinking how great of people they are,” the two-time All-ACC selection said. “I just felt comfortable, and they made me feel welcomed and that I had a great experience on my visit.”
Belac had only been to the United States one other time—for the Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic when she was 13—prior to making the move to Durham, N.C., to begin her college career. While other Duke students unpacked U-Haul vans and SUVs, all Belac had to her name was her golf bag and clubs. The airline lost her suitcase in transit. Brooks and Whithaus were the first to offer a helping hand.
“Coach Brooks helped me move in because I came here alone. Then Coach Whithaus brought me lots of clothes because my bag was lost,” said Belac. “It was stressful coming from another country and now I think about it, was all really crazy what I went through.
“Those moments help you appreciate. I remember when I got my first package of Duke clothes and I was just so overwhelmed. That was a big thing for me. It taught me how to appreciate little things and to be grateful for all the help that my coaches and teammates provided.”
During her time in north-central North Carolina, Belac learned a lot from Brooks and the greatest female golfer in NCAA history, former teammate Leona Maguire. Belac grew as both a player and person. It led to her guiding the Blue Devils to the 2019 NCAA Championship as a junior. She was eager for a chance to help her team defend their title, but the crazy year that is 2020 had other plans.
“We were driving to the Valspar Augusta Invitational in Georgia and I remember that morning seeing all the news about the NBA shutting down,” said Belac, who graduated this spring with a degree in statistical science. “The coaches wanted to start the drive just in case the event still happened. Then about an hour into the trip, the Athletic Director called to turn around because the ACC was suspending all athletics. Then three hours later, the NCAA suspended everything. It was sad and disappointing that all the hard work we put in we would not have a shot to win Nationals again.”
Even with her skills on the links, Belac enjoys putting her time into other forms of competition to make her a well-rounded athlete. That led to the hobby of weightlifting.
“Being a former skier, I needed something to prove my strength,” said Belac, a 2020 NSCA All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year. “Lifting became my way out of stress. I push myself and forget about everything else. I never wanted to be a typical golfer. I have always thought of myself as an athlete.”
Now, the lone Slovenian on the Symetra Tour readies for her professional debut. Does she anticipate a sleepless night ahead? Not one bit. But she does expect the atmosphere around the competition to be different.
“When I left for college, I was a big fish in a small pond in Slovenia and then I came to Duke which put things into perspective,” Belac said. “I never thought I would come this far. The four years at Duke really changed everything for me.
“I’m not too nervous to start on the Symetra Tour. If anything, it feels different because I haven’t played since the college season ended. Either way, I’m excited for the next step and this new journey ahead of me.”