At the beginning of the golf season, Alea Andrade had one goal: to qualify for nationals.
“From the start of the season, it was always in the talks of making it to nationals,” the first-year EMCC student golfer said. “I knew it was going to be hard because there are about five girls from our division who go, as well as two teams. I knew I had to make it on my own so I really had to put up some good scores.”
Putting up good scores is not new to Alea, even though she’s only been playing golf for about five years. The first-year college student knew she’d have to score in the low 90s to scrape her way into the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Women’s Golf Championship May 13-16 in Daytona Beach, Fla., but she went a few steps further and assured her spot.
“When I pulled off one score in the 80s and one score in the 70s, I knew I had a good chance,” she said.
Actually, those scores gave her more than just a good chance. The 18-year-old placed third out of the five girls who qualified from Arizona.
“When I found out I qualified, I was really excited, but I was kind of hesitant like is this real?” Alea said. “I was the third person out of five from Arizona to qualify for nationals, which was huge because I thought if anything, I’d be barely the fifth person. The two other girls are really, really good and they’re consistently in the 70s, low 80s.”
Alea knows a thing or two about consistency. The petite biology major, measuring 4 feet, 10 inches tall, drives like a pro every time she tees off.
“She drives consistently 230 to 240,” her father, Evan, said. “The longest I’ve ever recorded is about 260, which is phenomenal. I don’t know how it’s possible.”
According to Golf Digest, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour pros drive 248 yards off the tee on average.
“I think my drives are my strong suit,” Alea said. “I don’t where I get that strength from. Every time, I just swing as hard as I can.”
Alea, whose first sport was softball, joined her high school golf team her freshman year simply to improve her ball game.
“I started playing golf to improve my mental side to better my softball game,” she said. “And then I just switched entirely to golf because I really liked it. It was a calmer sport and more fitting for me.”
Her first private lesson came after her sophomore year. A donation to her high school allowed the entire golf team to take lessons during the summer. On day one, she stood out and the golf pro began pushing her to play in college.
“She jumped in the car and said, ‘Find me a golf coach,’” Evan said. “At a certain level, if you want to get better, you need a professional coach.”
That was the summer Alea decided to hang up her softball bat and golf exclusively. When she wasn’t practicing with her high school team, Alea was practicing on her own and spending more than a few days a week one-on-one with her coach. Her natural talent coupled with her commitment to the game landed her a full-ride scholarship to EMCC.
“She had athletic scholarship offers from all over the country,” Evan said. “They totaled close to a million dollars.”
But EMCC with its close proximity to Alea’s home in Surprise as well as her coach in the West Valley won out.
“It was really important to me to stay near my coach because I knew I’d need the instruction,” she said.
That instruction is paying off as the young golfer tied with three others for 61st place out of 127 at nationals.
The first day of competition was canceled due to inclement weather, but the days that followed were picture perfect with below-average temperatures in the low 80s.
“I was upset that the first day got canceled because I felt well prepared the day before,” Alea said. “But at the same time, I was also relieved because I knew the course would be in bad shape by my late tee time.”
Alea posted scores of 87, 97, and 94 over the three days.
“I feel that I could have posted a better score for my second day but overall, my game is still growing and I think that considering all the factors, it could have been worse,” she said. “I learned that adjustments need to be made according to the condition of the course, and that the right mindset is needed to keep pushing to the next day after a bad round.”
After graduating from EMCC, Alea plans to transfer to an out-of-state university and play golf for at least another two years.
“We’ll see where it takes me,” she said.
One thing’s for certain, it’s already led to a strong work ethic.
“Golf has helped in several aspects of my life,” Alea said. “Just finishing something I start. Every time I go out and play, it gets rough in the middle, but I know that I still have to finish. It’s taught me a lot about perseverance — sticking it out and working through it.”