Waiting Her Turn
Gabby Lemieux is a three-time Idaho state champion who now is trying her hand at the professional level. She’s keeping her eye on the prize, during these long lock-down layoffs.
by Bob Bostwick
Gabby Lemieux has the heart and mind of a champion, her golf game complete and well-traveled from amateur and collegiate ranks.
At 23, she’s poised to play her way to an LPGA tour card via the LPGA’s Symetra Tour.
As is the case with professional golfers, her heart and mind may be on a winning path, but her clubs have remained mostly in the bag.
Lemieux is among those 30 million Americans currently out of work due to the coronavirus. The only good news in that regard shows the tour starting up in July, the first event set for the Prasco Charity Championship in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 8-10.
Idaho’s Circling Raven Golf Club was to be a Symetra Tour site in August, and Lemieux, a Caldwell, Idaho product and an enrolled member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, was looking forward to an event in Indian Country and in her home state.
That tournament, like many others, has been bumped a year down the road.
Meanwhile, golf has been, for the most part, a carpet to putt on and a net to hit into, life continuing for Gabby and husband/caddie Jared Lemieux between the walls of a 33-foot camper, currently parked alongside the in-laws’ house in Bruneau, Idaho.
If you’re wondering where that is, think 64 miles southeast of Boise. Think Bruneau Dunes State Park nearby; think geologic phenomenon, and mountains of sand rising over 400 feet above the desert floor.
“I have golf, just not a golf course,” Lemieux said. “I can work out and I can practice into the net. I have just about all I need to work with, and Jared and I can pass some time going fishing, the Snake River and C.J. Strike Reservoir being nearby.”
Real golf is possible, Twin Falls is not far, and Mountain Home and the Boise area is easily accessible.
But this young lady is taking COVID-19 seriously.
“I have played twice around here,” she said. “But I have family, including family members with health conditions, so I’ve been careful to mostly stay at home.”
Some serious play finally began for her in early May, and some solo rounds at Caldwell’s Timberstone Golf Club. With a welcoming sister in Nampa, and an air mattress to sleep on, she’s been able to continue play, and doing so on a daily basis.
“I shot even-par on my first round, and felt really good about that,” she said.
Circling Raven will push its three-year commitment of hosting the Symetra Tour to begin next year, the tournament date yet to be determined. PGA Director of Golf Dave Christenson spent most of his working hours over the winter lining up sponsors, seeking volunteers, and planning a two-day pro-am to precede the event.
“We’ve developed a relationship with Gabby and with Wendy Ward (a Spokane resident and four-time winner on the LPGA Tour),” Christenson said. “Of course, we’re wishing Gabby the best, and hoping that she earns her tour card. That would mean she won’t be playing here or anywhere on the Symetra Tour. People here who’ve met her all feel she’s super engaging and, along with representing Idaho and the tribes, she’s also a great spokesperson for the game.”
Lemieux has friends among fellow competitors on the tour, pretty much all of them, to be exact.
“These will be lifelong friends,” she predicts. “It’s cool because everybody is rooting for everybody, and that’s going back to the mini tour, and moving up to Symetra. I have been in touch with some of the players, phone calls and all, and that’s been good. It’s so good to be playing, and my mom is riding with me. I’d be losing my mind if I didn’t get to play some golf.”
As an amateur, Lemieux dominated the field playing tournaments in the Northwest. She was the medalist at the 2015 PNGA Women’s Amateur, and won three Idaho Women’s State Amateur titles, with those victories following a slew of junior titles.
It was those amateur wins that caught the eye of Texas Tech women’s head golf coach Jo Jo Robertson, snapping up Gabby Barker (as she was known then) as a recruit. That bit of coaching wisdom led to four collegiate titles for Gabby, and Player of the Year honors in 2016 in the golf-rich Big 12 Conference.
The Symetra Tour will, as now scheduled, include 17 tournaments, beginning with Maineville, and grinding away on mostly consecutive weeks into the fall. Although play will include tribal courses, Circling Raven is off the schedule until next year.
“I am kinda sad about that,” Lemieux said. “I have always wanted to play in my home state, and I have family and friends who were looking forward to it. But I am excited to get back out there. It’s been so weird – like having an off-season followed by another off-season, followed by another off-season.”
“We’re doing ok,” Jared said. “We’re keeping our expenses down to mostly groceries.” Jared is also able to work and earn at the family business in Bruneau.
In a sprinkling of professional events through 2019, Gabby has had some small successes. She will make cuts; she’ll collect some checks. That’s not enough in her mind. Winning is the goal.
“I set a goal to win a tournament on tour,” she said. “That would get me in position for a top-10 on the tour, and an LPGA Tour card. For now, we all just have to accept the way it is and the way it’s going to be, and prepare. I choose to look at the positive.”
Gabby Lemieux will, hopefully, win tournaments. If personality and character were cash, she’d be at the top of the money list, winning hearts and minds at every turn. She can almost certainly expect a growing fan base, one that begins in Southwest Idaho, and on to the Shoshone-Paiute Reservation that straddles the Idaho-Nevada line.
“I love where I come from,” Gabby said. “I feel like it’s a privilege. I’m thankful for so many who have supported my journey, and my feelings for tribal culture run deep, but it’s not just the tribe. Support comes from so many around Caldwell as well.”
Consistent play, earning checks, winning. She can do all that. Hearts and minds? That’s already in the bag.
Bob Bostwick is a former sportswriter and member of the Golf Writers Association of America, a TV news anchor, political reporter and editor, and a publicist. He has won numerous local, regional and national awards as a journalist and filmmaker.