This year the Symetra Tour crowned its first champion from Slovenia, Ana Belac. Few on tour knew her name this spring. She did not start the season on the Road. In fact, she was gearing up for her senior year at Duke University to defend her teams 2019 NCAA Champion title before COVID-19 interfered. During quarantine Belac made the decision to turn professional and live a dream a younger version of herself barely knew existed. The entire country of Slovenia has only 13 golf courses for its 2.1 million people. That’s about the same population as suburban Charlotte, North Carolina where there are 50 golf courses and another 50 within an hour’s drive.
Growing up, Belac focused on competitive skiing.
“I started skiing when I was really young when I could barely walk. One of my first memories is just playing in the snow, I always loved the cold,” said Belac. “My parents were big skiers so eventually they got me some lessons and it turned into my first love. Skiing was all I wanted to do. I was always watching it on tv and my favorite thing in the world was the Winter Olympics. Growing up I thought I was going to be professional ski racer. My biggest role models were Lindsey Vonn and Tina Maze and they still are today.”
Female athletes on the rise have often found role models who have paved the way before them. For Belac, Lindsey Vonn has grown to be more than someone she looked up to in the skiing world. Today, Belac can look back at how much she has grown personally and thank Vonn for inspiring her.
“Women were supposed to be quiet and keep to themselves even if they were really successful. I think in my lifetime when I am watching sports, Lindsey really stood out to me because even when she was successful, she always wanted more,” said Belac. “Ten wins weren’t enough; 20 wins weren’t enough. It really inspired me. It wasn’t like ‘Ok, you are a woman; you should be ok with a couple of wins and retire.’ it was, ‘I want more.’ She showed me that it’s possible to be successful, have a long career and it was ok to want more.
“In Slovenia, growing up they didn’t show much women’s golf. I was always watching men’s golf; Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy,” Belac said. “On the women’s side Annika (Sorenstam) and Lorena Ochoa. I obviously couldn’t watch them, but even just hearing about them inspired me to know there are women out there, not just men, who can succeed on the big stage.”
Hearing the possibility that she could live this dream in America, Belac looked for guidance on what would be the best next step. Unable to travel to the United States to tour from university to university, she was blessed with advice from a friend.
“There were not that many players from Slovenia going abroad for college. I was a little hesitant. Going so far away from home, I didn’t really know what life was like over here, how good the education was, and which schools were good. I had heard of Duke. We have heard of about five colleges over there and Duke was one of them,” Belac said with a laugh.
“When I mentioned to my friend that I was considering going to the United States, and he told me I should check Duke out because they have both a good women’s golf program and schooling. My parents were all about a really good school and I was all about a really good golf program, it really came together nicely.”
Belac found great success in golf, education and to top it all off friendships that would last a lifetime. Sisters Leona and Lisa Maguire crossed paths with Belac while competing for the Blue Devils. Now, Leona and Belac will compete together on the LPGA Tour.
“I always had a role model on the team with me, Leona Maguire. Playing alongside her and forming a great friendship to now following her professional career as she competes in the majors has been so cool. When someone who is so close to you is doing so well out there, you can’t help but think I want to be there too. I want to join in. It’s really special to have someone like that and now to compete out there myself makes it even more special.”
“My dream golf scenario would be playing Augusta National with Leona, Lisa and Tiger Woods. I want to pick his brain,” Belac said with a big smile. “I would want to ask him, ‘What is going on different in your head than everyone else? What enables you to win and win and win and dominate for so many years? What drives you?’”
Belac may be looking to one of the greatest of all time for answers, but she has certainly found the path to success on her own thus far. Thanks to zero missed cuts across nine starts, including a win at the Carolina Golf Classic presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Belac collected Symetra Tour Player of the Year honors.
She made her professional debut at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship in July and played well beyond her years as a 2020 “Road to the LPGA” rookie. Belac led the Symetra Tour in birdies (111) and sub-par holes (113). She also made her LPGA Tour debut as a professional at the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana in August with rounds of 69-75.
“I think when my mom came to caddy for me in Florida, it gave me that little extra boost of confidence I needed,” she said. “I started playing better and getting in the flow of things. I think that was really a turning point for me. Then I took that good game to Pinehurst.”
Following her success this season, Belac reflected a lot on the opportunities that made a career on the LPGA Tour possible. She is passionate about finding and creating new ways to help the next generation of athletes, no matter their background.
“I think education is the most important thing a young person can get,” she said.
“I really want to help, in any way I can, to provide more opportunities for kids to play sports in communities that might not have any. This might allow them to find a road to a college degree that was not there before. That is what happened to me,” said Belac. “I wasn’t necessarily from a poor country but going to college by playing golf opened so many doors for me. So, for someone who might not be able to afford college, playing a sport can help your life outside the ropes or court if all it does it helps you get to college.”
Winning the 2020 Player of the Year award on the Symetra Tour has allowed her to start making a change with providing her $1,500 to donate to a charity of her choice. Belac chose to support her role model and donate to the Lindsey Vonn Foundation.
The Lindsey Vonn Foundation is committed to engaging the community and our future generation with a positive and constructive atmosphere. Our focus is to help the next generation grow as individuals in whatever their passions may be as learners, athletes, or artists. Our programs help girls and boys to gain confidence, build inclusivity, and discover their grit within. All donations and funds raised will be put towards programs to help girls and boys achieve their dreams. Our future goals are to hold more camps, give out more scholarships, and put on more speaker series across the country to the kids who need it most.
“Keep working on it and keep believing,” Belac said. “There have been times where I was told ‘well you are a girl from Slovenia, golf is not big here, you are not talented enough’ and so on. But if you really want something, work for it. If you shoot for the moon you might land among the stars.”