Gators at Olympics: Maria Torres continues women’s golf tradition

Noah Ram
Special to The Sun
Maria Torres

Few expected Maria Torres to end up in this situation six years ago.

The former UF golfer arrived in Gainesville as a top prospect but struggled to soar in her first two seasons.

It seemed Torres would become a bust, a looming star who fizzled out.

Six years later, she’s vying for Olympic gold in Tokyo.

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Torres ranks as one of the 60 female golfers who will be competing at the Kasumigaseki Country Club starting Aug. 4.

She maintained an easier path to qualification than many other athletes.

Golf at the Olympics doesn’t include trials like most other sports. Instead, the IOC bases the field off the Official World Golf Rankings.

The top 15 on the list are guaranteed qualification. The next 45 rate as the highest ranked from countries that contain fewer than two participants.

As the only Puerto Rican golfer, Torres earned a spot on the team.

She’s the second consecutive UF female golfer to qualify. Sandra Gal from Germany finished T25 in 2016, golf’s return to the games for the first time since 1908.

New Florida coach Emily Glaser eyed the Trujillo Alto product after her impressive amateur career and recruited her to come to UF in 2013.

While Torres received first team All-SEC Freshman honors in 2014 and clinched two top-10 finishes her sophomore season, she knew she failed to peak.

“I think the time management was key,” she said. “My first year, I was so excited, but I was leaving home, so you are alone and need to balance your time.”

She exploded like a long drive off the tee her junior year. She secured first team All-SEC, obtained an All-American honorable mention and claimed SEC Golfer of the Year, UF’s first female recipient in school history.

In her senior year, Torres collected a Golfweek and WCGA First Team All-American spot.

Her success started when she clinched her first tournament, she said, as it led to a chain reaction.

“I knew I was capable, so that first tournament gave me a confidence boost,” she said. “Also, if I wanted to play professional, I knew I had to perform highly.”

Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2018, Torres has produced mixed results. Her best performance occurred in 2019, when she achieved fourth at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

In 2021, she missed the cut in all but two tournaments. However, Torres – who enters at No. 47 of 60 in the Olympic field – knows anything may happen in the land of the rising sun.

“The hardest part is getting there, and once you get there, all you have to do is get hot and not worry about others,” she said.

In contrast to most other athletes, Torres said the yearlong postponement of the games hurt her more than helped, adding it only heightened her anxiety.

Torres said she, along with every challenger in the field, benefits from the format, mentioning its similarities with the LPGA Tour.

“It’s almost considered another major, with the four rounds, but only with 60 players,” she said.

Torres noted this should quell her nerves, as she’ll battle many of the same players from the tour.

The alum still maintains close relationships with Glazer, even visiting Gainesville for a few days in March.

Back home in Puerto Rico, Torres enjoys an opportunity to serve as a role model, which awards her great pride.

“We are always trying to grow the sport,” she said. “I hope this can inspire young girls to achieve their goals if they are passionate and commit to it.”

The competition concludes Aug. 7 when Torres looks to become only the second Puerto Rico woman to take a medal back to the island.