One of two players competing in her home state of Indiana this week is tournament sponsor exemption Erica Shephard (Greenwood, Indiana). Shepherd’s first experience competing in a professional event came at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open and since then, she has made five starts as an amateur on the LPGA Tour. This week at the Donald Ross Classic will be her first start on the Symetra Tour.
“I’m so excited to play in a Symetra Tour event. It will be my first one and I always love any chance I get to play in Indiana,” said Shepherd. “I have been down to the French Lick area before and it’s an amazing place with amazing golf courses.”
The 20-year-old amateur is currently in her sophomore year at Duke University, who has previously had players go on to compete on both the Symetra and LPGA Tours. Most recently, Ana Belac was the 2020 Symetra Tour Player of the Year 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. She joined the Tour after her senior season at Duke University was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I landed at Duke without knowing how good of a school and program it was. Being from Europe, you don’t know about colleges in the U.S. but I was really lucky. I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond and I think that was the best thing. I was able to learn from people like Leona [Maguire] who was on my team for two years. It made me realize I really want to do this after college. Once I started shooting the same scores as her, I realized this might be something I can do,” said Belac. “(Erica) was my little ‘freshie’ and I would tell her this week to enjoy it and not take golf too seriously. That is one thing I have learned since I’ve been on Tour. Sometimes it doesn’t get fun because you are trying so hard, but when you go out there and just embrace that you are playing a Tour event and look at the big picture, it will be great.”
“Ana [Belac] was a senior when I was a freshman and she was like my mother,” said Shepherd. “We are super close and how good she did on the Symetra Tour was fun to follow. I’ve received a lot of insight from her about it. A lot of Duke players have gone through the Symetra Tour on their LPGA path and it’s cool to watch that and try to follow in their footsteps.”
From Maguire to Belac to Shepherd, the inspiration and success of Duke University runs deep. Other notable players who have taken the same path to a professional career include Brittany Lang, Laetitia Beck, Jean Bartholomew, Beth Bauer, Lindy Duncan, Celine Boutier and more. Shepherd shared how inspiration and love for the game has not only been sparked by her fellow Blue Devils, but also one special week at the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Wyndham Cup.
“The first Wyndham Cup I played in was in northern California. Until then, I was a very reserved golfer and didn’t really have any golf friends. It was just a grind out there and I am not sure if I enjoyed it that much,” said Shepherd. “After Wyndham Cup, it completely turned golf and my life around for me. Realizing how golf can be fun and you can meet so many great people, it’s what the AJGA does and was a life-changing moment for me and one of the best experiences of my life.”