Carrying Jewish pride
Hadas Libman’s golf career started in her native Israel and eventually landed her a golf scholarship at Baylor. She was realizing a success story to be sure, but something was missing in Waco, Texas that affected all parts of her life.
Libman is proud of her Jewish heritage and loves to spend time with members of the Jewish community. It was hard for her to find like-minded people in Waco, so after two years she transferred to UCLA.
It’s no surprise that Libman is flourishing in Los Angeles – socially, academically and with her golf game. Really, they’re all woven together.
“Growing up Jewish, I just wanted a place to spend holidays and be with people who are the same,” Libman said recently from the JD Morgan Center at UCLA. “It was really hard finding that there. I always like to find a Jewish community. It makes me feel good. It makes you feel closer to your roots, being that I’m so far away. Jewish people in general are very close. They’re very supportive everywhere I go. I now have places to spend holidays and Friday dinners.”
Often on Fridays, Libman will go to the Hillel at UCLA to observe Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. She was born and raised in Israel by her parents, Carmela and Yossi. She has two sisters, and all of her family live in Israel.
There aren’t many golfers to come out of the small country, and Libman hopes she can help change that one day. She enjoys talking to people about her heritage, and you can tell what she’s all about from what she wears to her equipment.
Libman wears a Star of David necklace and bracelet. She marks her golf ball with the Star of David and uses a ball marker with the star on it, too. In the summers, she carries a bag that says Israel, and she’s carried the flag, too.
“Wherever I go, I have as many signs as possible,” Libman said. “It’s part of my identity. The most important thing to me is representing Israel and Jewish people everywhere and making my parents proud.”
Libman said there’s just one 18-hole golf course in Israel – the Caesarea Golf Club – and it’s in her hometown of Caesarea. Libman played all sports growing up, but once she started playing golf as an activity at her elementary school, she was hooked.
“When you hit a good shot, it’s such a satisfying feeling,” she said. “You want to do it again and again. You’re never perfect.”
She studied swings on Youtube. She didn’t pattern her game after any particular player; rather she would search for sand shots and chipping and mostly look at videos of coaches.
She had a role model to follow in Laetitia Beck, who hails from Israel and represented her country in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She’s four years older than Libman and played at Duke.
Beck became the first Israeli to play in an LPGA event. Libman hopes to make it on the LPGA Tour and play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Beck left Israel to attend the IMG Academy, a boarding school in Florida, and Libman followed the same path. It wasn’t easy to convince her parents. She first asked when she was 14.
“For a few months there was a lot of tears and screaming,” Libman said.
Later that year, Libman played in a tournament in Florida, and her mom accompanied her. Afterward, the family talked, and they realized that attending the academy would be the best fit for Libman to pursue her dreams.
Libman speaks Hebrew and English. When her mom visits, Hadas translates for her so she can communicate with her daughter’s teammates and coaches and friends. Libman talks to her mom every morning and every night through WhatsApp.
Libman returns home in the summers to visit family. Worry is constant.
“I think her whole experience of being an Israeli is very different from the way we view the world,” said Carrie Forsyth, UCLA’s golf coach. “You hate to say it, but they’re surrounded by the enemy. Acts of terrorism are happening a lot. For Hadas, there’s a bit of anxiety toward what goes on in Israel. She’s far more in tune to the world than most of our American players. When you grow up in that environment, you’re super aware of what’s going on around you.”
Libman isn’t the only international player on the team and likes the mixture of different backgrounds of players. Her teammate Joo Seo was born in South Korea.
Every Israeli citizen – male and female – must go through boot camp and serve two years in the military. If you’re considered a sports prodigy, that service can be postponed. Libman has postponed boot camp while she’s in college, and said she’ll be able to fulfill her commitment in difference stages while she pursues a professional golf career.
Last year, Libman made seven starts for the Bruins and had a 77.3 scoring average through 20 rounds.
“She’s improved a lot,” Forsyth said. “She’d probably argue her scoring isn’t where she wants it to be and that would be true. The work she’s done with her short game … Her short game was definitely her weakness at Baylor, and between the summer she left Baylor and started at UCLA, she started to falter a little in ball striking as she was making big changes in her short game. She’s trying to focus more on that. She’s just got to put it all together. She’s starting to hit it well and with her short game, she’s willing to listen. She’s come a long way.”
She’s scheduled to graduate from UCLA with a degree in psychology in June and might pursue a Masters. After graduation, Libman wants to move to Miami. She likes the golf and Jewish communities there. She’ll look to secure sponsorships, likely from the friends and business owners in the Jewish community.
Her favorite place to play golf in Los Angeles is at Hillcrest Country Club, and she’s met many members there.
Really, she feels at home wherever she’s with members of the Jewish community. And UCLA has provided that.
“I’m way happier here,” Libman said. “I don’t think I’d be happier in any other place.”