Haley Moore is one of the strongest golfers on the LPGA Tour, and we’re not just talking about her ability to consistently drive 260 to 270 yards. The 21-year-old rookie out of Escondido’s San Pasqual High School and the University of Arizona has had to marshal considerable inner resources to transcend the years of cruel bullying she endured as a young girl. Haley was always bigger than most of her peers. And more athletic. Her father, Tom, was a football lineman and her mother, Michele, a tennis player, both at Ohio State. Haley’s size subjected her to taunts and jeers, insults and rejection throughout elementary and middle school. Pain that no child should ever have to endure.
Golf became her outlet, her escape and to an extent, her salvation. She picked up the game by tagging along with her father, grandfather and older brother, Tyler, on forays to The Hodges Golf Improvement Center in Escondido, where she learned the basics. “I knew it wasn’t all that difficult,” she recalls. When she wasn’t at the range, she’d shadow-golf at home, and the 4-year-old developed a nifty swing. She credits coach Dave Emerick for honing her game and giving her the encouragement that any junior golfer needs. Emerick guided Haley and “a bunch of us juniors,” still in the single-digits age range, to play in a tour of sorts called the North County Junior Golf Association. “It was all about being kids and having fun. He didn’t want us to worry about anything.”
The unworried Haley connected with top coaches like Chris Smeal and the late Jim Flick and began winning tournaments. By age 14 she determined that she wanted to play golf in college and subsequently turn pro. That’s exactly what she did. She graduated early from high school to accept a golf scholarship at the University of Arizona, where as a fresh-man she finished second in the nation as an individual, and then led her team to the NCAA championship as a junior. The 4-1/2-foot birdie putt she drained with the tournament on the line remains her career highlight. She went on to earn her LPGA card and had a few tournaments under her belt as a Tour rookie when we caught up with her for a chat.
FORE: Would you describe golf as a passion or an escape?
MOORE: At first it was a distraction. I was scared to go to school, scared of what people would say to me each day. So I’d get my homework done and ask my mom to take me to the driving range. Doing what I love, I didn’t think about what the kids were calling me. The more I focused on golf, the more my passion for it grew.
Most people would want to put all that negativity behind them, but you’ve made it your mission to help other girls and boys struggling with what you went through. Why and how are you doing that?
I just think it’s important. By telling them my story I can encourage them to do what they love — sports, hobby, college degree, whatever that is. I tell them to set their own goals and to get really good help from good people. As for how, it’s been through the LPGA’s #DriveOn campaign, though I’m in the process of starting my own foundation.
Sportsmanship is so intrinsic to golf. Have you endured any ugly treatment in or around the game?
No. From the time I started at Arizona at age 17, my coaches were really protective. My teammates always made sure I was okay. Now the Tour pros, the media — no one has said anything. They’re happy I got through it and that I’m here doing what I love.
You’ve said the bullying made you stronger. What does “being strong” mean to you?
It means overcoming it and telling my story. To just keep playing — that made me feel strong in myself, knowing I could get through it and move on.
Doing what I love, I didn’t think about what the kids were calling me. The more I focused on golf, the more my passion for it grew.
How’s your game going? What are your strengths, and what are you working on?
My game is good, and my major strength is in driving. I’m in the top 10 or 15 on the Tour. I’ve mainly been working on course management. Managing your way around courses is a big deal on the pro Tour.
What’s been the toughest part of being a rookie on the Tour?
The mental part. And I don’t mean on the course. You can be traveling four or five weeks, different time zones, up so many hours. And do you play every week, or do you build in breaks? It’s tough as a rookie to manage your way around the Tour.
That also includes the financial part of being a rookie, right?
Yes. Q School didn’t pay anything. Traveling to Florida, North Carolina, from the West Coast is costly. I did what a lot of rookies do — I set up a GoFundMe account. Fortunately I have fans and supporters who want me to succeed. Two individuals who followed my college career have donated their Hilton points and their airline miles. Then PXG approached me (about an endorsement deal). I’d used their clubs and felt really comfortable with them.
How was it playing Royal Troon in the British Open?
A really great experience. It was my first time in Scotland and learning links golf. It’s so different! I knew all about the history, all the great people who had won it. I played the Scottish Open the week before in perfect weather. Could we get that two weeks in a row? Nope. We got real Scottish weather. Rain, wind, everything. I had played in wind before, but nothing like that. I played as well as I could, and missed the cut by 1.
Any funny experiences so far on Tour?
Mainly it’s been playing with the girls and hearing their funny stories. I’ve been close with Christina Kim. She’s really funny. When she’s laughing, everyone is laughing.
What’s your secret superpower?
I can toss a ball up with my club and hit it really far. But sometimes I miss. I need to get better at golf tricks.
What golfers do you admire or try to emulate?
Growing up, I really liked watching Annika Sorenstam play. She went to Arizona. She just fought her way through and made it all look really easy. I went to an AJGA tournament in Florida while she was running her academy, and she did a Q&A. I learned about how she thought. That really helped me through tough times when I wasn’t playing my best. As for current players, I still have to learn from everyone.
What are your favorite courses in SoCal?
Torrey Pines, of course. I played the North Course in the Junior World Golf Championship. That was just great. And I watch the guys play the Farmers there. When you see them struggle you know it’s a hard course. It’ll be great to see how they manage at the U.S. Open next year. It’ll play really difficult. Rancho Bernardo is where I’ve played most of my life. All the members there watch me and root for me. They’re on my side like a second family. Pauma Valley CC is a really great long course with some good holes. The greens are tricky when they’re fast. It’s great preparation for the LPGA. I’ve played a lot outside of California too. I’d say Augusta is at the top of my list right now.
Do you have an immediate or future goal?
Short term, I want to play in all the majors and get a top 10 or 15. In the future, I want to go out and win one. It’s a grind: four rounds of golf that go your way. To have a great week like that would be really special. I wouldn’t care which one — winning one, or a couple, would be awesome.