Hilo’s Britney Yada probably thought she’d reached exclusive company when she teed off on the LPGA Tour for the first time, or when she played at the U.S. Women’s Open.
But it’s one of her old reliables in her adopted home state of Arizona that’s put her in an even more limited club.
With practically all of the nation’s professional sports scene in lockdown mode during the COVID-19 pandemic, Yada and the Cactus Tour are playing through, though not without taking precautions.
“The Cactus Tour director (Mike Brown) is really making sure he keeps us safe,” Yada said. “We have been playing in twosomes, with everyone having their own cart. We also are not touching the flag sticks; along with no rakes in bunkers, no water coolers, no ball washers, etc. He has also recommended we refrain from shaking hands or hugging after the round.”
According to the Associated Press, other precautions included downsized fields and a winner’s group photo in which the golfers practiced social distancing, standing an arm’s length apart.
“We followed all the guidelines,” Brown told the Associated Press. “It’s safer for them … not cramming into a golf cart right next to someone. But we’re obviously keeping an eye on how things go.”
The Cactus Tour – a stepping stone to the LPGA Tour that roughly translates to the Double-A or Single-A of women’s golf – is set to host its third tournament since the major pro sports leagues were shut down. Last Friday, Yada finished in a three-way tie for second at a 54-hole event in Buckeye, Arizona.
“I was a little surprised, but I also know that a lot of us golfers were somewhat relieved,” Yada said of the continuation of play.
The 28-year-old Waiakea High alum has won two tournaments this season, pocketing $2,000 each time. Sarah Burnham won the Buckeye event, and along with pocketing $2,800, she told the Detroit News she also was given another precious commodity: toilet paper.
“We are not like other sports that get paid regardless if we are playing or not. Competition is the only opportunity we have to make some cash,” Yada said. “And having the Cactus Tour continue their schedule is really helping us out in that aspect. Although it is a little scary with everything going on, we just have to make sure we are careful with what we touch and keeping things clean. Most people I talk to think it’s a good thing that we are still competing, as long as we stay safe of course.”
The tour added a tournament at Phoenix’s Moon Valley in mid-March – Yada beat par but tied for 13th in what was a loaded field – along with two others to its schedule after players started calling Brown.
At that time, the number of coronavirus cases in Arizona lagged behind other states, but it’s since spiked to more than 1,100, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. On Monday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order, but the Cactus Tour tweeted that its tournament starting Tuesday in Sun City would go on as planned because courses have been declared essential businesses.
Yada has played in one LPGA Tour major, the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, and the tournament at Moon Valley was captured by Anna Nordqvist, a two-time major winner. With little in the way of other options, LPGA players such as Tiffany Joh, Carlota Ciganda and Amy Olson also have entered Cactus Tour events.
“I think it’s been fun,” Yada said, “seeing where you stand up next to them, and knowing what you need to work on.”
And in time, she hopes to play with them again at LPGA Tour events.
The Portland State alum was the 2016 Cactus Tour money leader – winning six of the 14 tournaments – and that year she also qualified for her first LPGA Tour event. At the season-ending qualifying school, she earned a conditional LPGA Tour card and made her first tournament cut in 2017. She spent most of the past two years playing on the Symetra Tour – the LPGA’s top developmental tour – and the Women’s All Pro Tour, and that was her plan this year until the pandemic spread.
“My goal is get back on the LPGA Tour and stay there this time,” Yada said. “I’ve been working extremely hard, especially this year. Although plans have been put to a little bit of a halt due to this virus, gym’s being closed, bigger tournaments being canceled, etc. But I know it’s for the health and safety of everyone. I am excited to get back to my game plan though.”