The finale of the Golf Channel’s hit reality show The Big Break is over, and Carling Coffing is the winner. Carling dueled it out with fellow finalist and LPGA Futures Tour player Lili Alvarez over 18 holes, and it came down to a clutch 25 foot birdie putt on 17 to take a one up lead with one to play. With a solid two putt on the final hole, the match was wrapped up and she was declared the champ.
Born in Middletown Ohio, Carling has had Type I diabetes since the age of 5. Taking your blood sugar and endless insulin shots every day is tough, but her life was made much easier in 2008 when she discovered her Medtronic insulin pump, which she affectionately calls “Hanc the panc”. The two are (literally) connected at the hip. While having diabetes presents a challenge, she doesn’t use it as a crutch and doesn’t make excuses. While competing full time on the LPGA’s developmental tour, she is way ahead of many professional golfers when it comes to understanding her place in the game. She is currently finishing out her season on the LPGA Futures Tour and getting ready for LPGA Qualifying School this December at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, FL. The two exemptions, cash and endorsements she won on the Big Break will be a big help in her road to the LPGA Tour!
Having witnessed her short game abilities first hand back in February, I knew she would have a chance on the show. She is living proof of something Harvey Penick once said: A good putter is a match for anyone. So, with the Big Break Sandals Resorts all wrapped up we got together and I was able to ask her some questions about her experience as a professional golfer.
ITG: Did your week at LPGA Q-School differ from your expectations of the event?
Carling: Before college I used to get nervous before every tournament that I played. The “shaky hands’ Syndrome was always running wild through my veins! But there comes a time in every player’s career where that goes away. You find out how to focus those nervous into positive energy, and you learn to play your best under pressure. UNTIL YOU GO TO Q-SCHOOL. I had prepared myself physically, but never expected HOW nervous I would actually be. I remember showing up thinking that all the other players looked six feet tall with a 25 foot flop shot. Those nerves can play tricky, tricky mind games.
ITG: How long have you been playing golf, and how did you get your start?
Carling: I had been watching golf on TV with my dad since I was six years old. He would tell me “those people have the best job in the whole world!”. Early on, I made it clear that I WAS going to be a pro golfer. Unfortunately, it is an expensive game to play–and we could never afford it. When I went into junior high, my dad’s Data Warehousing Company (Open Systems Services) had it’s best year ever, and we celebrated with a membership to a 9-hole executive golf course. I played every single day with my parents and two older brothers. We always played matches, talked smack, challenged each other, and shook each others hand at the end of every match.
ITG: You appeared on the Golf Channel’s Big Break series. What can you tell people about the experience that we may not know from watching it on TV?
Carling: Ooooo looking for insider details?? I have plenty!
- It took two weeks to film the whole series, and I started my day every morning at 4:30am. Unlike some my competitors, I chose to get up a half hour early to slip in a workout DVD before we got started (get the blood movin!).
- We filmed an episode every single day (with two days set aside for commercials/photo shoots).
- Before challenges we would have 30min-1hour to warm up and practice. Then you would interview, go over the rules, meet with the Golf Channel Lawyer, and sign a contract before every single challenge (no suing because you didn’t understand the rules!).
- If you won the immunity challenge, you could NOT practice while the others were competing because it would give you an unfair advantage. In fact, we did EVERYTHING together! If we were at the range and someone needed to use the bathroom, then we ALL went to the bathroom. It was like kindergarten class where everyone holds hands everywhere you go.
- Nothing was scripted. The Golf Channel did not tell us to say anything. They might have edited it the way they wanted, but all those funny/crazy lines were all us!
- I had my issues with a few girls on the show, but I made some friends for a lifetime. Seema Sadekar and Chris Brady helped me after my diabetic roller coaster, and Lili Alvarez gave me some pep talks that I’ll never forget. What great girls!
ITG: Has being on the Big Break changed your career? If so, in what way?
Carling: Being on the Big Break has given me so many opportunities that I never thought I would have! Golf is such an unbelievably tough game, and I feel blessed that so many people reached out to support my career. Getting help through sponsors has given me the ability to play more tournaments, and take my game to a whole new level. Plus, making it as far as I did on the show gave me the confidence to believe in myself. Once you know you can do it…you can accomplish anything.
ITG: Are you involved in any charities or business ventures off the course?
Carling: I am donating a percentage of my earnings this year to the JDRF (The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I am also working with Medtronic (my insulin pump company). They are sponsoring me this season, matching my JDRF donation, and giving me the opportunity to give speeches motivating other diabetics to reach for the stars.
ITG: How difficult is it financially, physically and mentally to play professional golf?
Carling: As a new professional golfer, the financial part can almost be the toughest part. Tournaments are $500 a piece, plus travel expenses, equipment, coaching, etc. Medtronic and Sassy Caddy have helped me, but I would never be able to do it without the help of my parents. My dad caddies for me and also keeps up with his full time job just to barely keep us alive. I always order off the Kid’s menu at The Outback Steakhouse and always joke that the “normal” size chicken is for the LPGA girls! Traveling eight months out of the year is physically demanding. I just went to ten tournaments in 11 weeks and feel like I’m ready to retire! I make sure to hit the gym 5 times per week to keep my stamina up on and off the course. I’m not the only one either, the new fad on tour is to workout like we’re in the NFL, and a lot of women are really stepping it up!
Mentally…well…We’re all nuts! I try to stay mentally balanced on tour. It’s important not to get too high or too low. It’s easy to get down on yourself after a few bad rounds, but you have to look at the big picture. Golf is a marathon, not a sprint. Okay…so I’ve thrown a few clubs in my day…My travel mate Carmen and I have a rule after bad rounds, “It’s okay to cry, but have to common decency to wait until you’re in the car!” But my Dad always says that you just have to focus on improving every single day, and don’t worry… you’ll get there.
ITG: How much time do you spend practicing and working out in a typical week?
Carling: We may have the best job in the whole world, but we put in our eight hours of work just like everyone else. During tournament weeks, I usually practice 5-8 hours a day (mix of playing/range/short game). Monday is ALWAYS an off day (but is also the travel day so you usually spend 3-10 hours driving while attempting to not get a speeding ticket!). I’ll work out 4-5 times per week. I did the p90x during the off season, but stick to cardio/abs during tournament weeks.
ITG: What do you like to do when you aren’t playing golf?
Carling: I love sports! My favorite thing to do is to catch a Cincinnati Reds/Bengals game while I’m in town. I used to work for OSU Football at Coachtressel.com, and can’t wait for the season to start! I also like to play racquetball with dad, shop with my mom, sew my own cute golf outfits, and practice my birdie dances with my dogs at home 😉 oh man..I just read that over..please don’t make fun of me!
ITG: Can you tell us something funny and/or interesting about you that most people don’t know?
Carling: I used to be soooo shy! Until I was about 12 years old, I hid from everyone and never spoke unless spoken to. I’m not kidding when I say that my older brothers used to call me “sally stupid stare!” Lucky for me, my dad is a professional speaker and taught me a lot of great tricks to improve my communications skills. Now I’m striving to be a sports broadcaster one day, and you can’t get to me be quiet!
ITG: Do you have a website or fan page people can go to follow you?
Carling: www.carlingcoffinggolf.com, Carling Coffing on Facebook, The OFFICIAL CARLING COFFING FAN PAGE on Facebook, @CarlingCoffing on Twitter
ITG: What advice can you give to young people who want to follow in your footsteps and become a professional golfer?
Carling: You have to truly love the game. It may be frustrating at times, but you have to LOVE how difficult it is. Go out there improve your game every single day (because if you aren’t, your competition will be!). Don’t ever settle on anything. If you think you’re the best putter in the world, continue to make it better (you can!). Keep a positive attitude on the golf course and remember that if you’re always getting better, then you’re THAT much closer to reaching your dreams!
ITG: Who or what has been the biggest influence in your golf career?
Carling: My parents. They never missed a practice growing up. My dad worked 15 hour days to support my dream. He was an All-American wrestler and taught me to push myself harder than I ever thought I could. My mom can’t break a 100, but she has seen my golf swing so many times that she KNOWS when the swing plane is off. We laugh because sometimes it feels like it’s us three against the world. Plus, they believe in me…which is the biggest influence anyone can ever give you.
ITG: If you could play golf with anyone – past or present – who would be in your foursome? What course would you play?
Carling: 1. Walter Hagen–Known for hitting the worst golf shots of all time, but recovering like a legend. Love the way he drove his Limo right up to the first tee. This man KNEW about entertaining golf.
2. Bubba Watson–I want a long drive contest! You have to respect a man that never took a real lesson, but can still hit the ball to the moon!
3. Lee Trevino—Bring on the smack! It’s a good thing he can back it up with his unbelievable golf, because I’m not letting him get away with anything!
I’d take these guys to the Ohio State Scarlet Golf Course. It’s an great track! Plus I’ve played it so many times maybe I’ll have a little bit of an advantage over them. Side bet, anyone?
ITG: If you could change any rule in golf, what rule would you change and why?
Carling: I can’t think of any particular rule that I would change, but I really wish there were more professional matchplay tournaments. I was trained “wrestler style!” and I love and good head-to-head match. I played in the Western Amateur one year and beat a girl 10 and 8 that morning, and won against another girl in 27 holes that afternoon. You never know what you’re going to get!
ITG: What’s the strength of your game? And where do you feel you need to improve?
Carling: The strength of my game is chipping. I used to practice flop shots for HOURS. Hey…it’s an entertainment business…and there’s nothing like a hot flop shot to please the audience. I need to improve my ball-striking. I have a tendency to miss fairways right now, and penalty strokes truly kill any golf round. So I can get up and down for par any day of the week, but I need to keep the ball in play if I want to start firing those 65s.
ITG: LPGA Tour players earn far less than PGA Tour players, do you think there should be more equality in prize money between men and women?
Carling: The men do make a lot more money than the women golfers, and I’m hoping to change that one day. I want to bring the fun and excitement back into this game, and really show the world what we are made of! Sorenstam has already made huge strides by shooting a 59, Michelle Wie has shown how good our young women players have gotten, and I want to to take the next step by getting the fans excited! Bring on the birdie dances! Bring on the cheers! The LPGA is on the rise right now, and once we start getting bigger crowds and more exposure then the money will starting rolling in.
ITG: What’s on your iPod right now?
Carling: Pop music! What else could those booty shakin’ birdie dance moves come from?
ITG: When I become a star on the LPGA Tour, I’m going to….
Carling: Start my own charity to find a cure for Diabetes, Start commentating LPGA/PGA tournaments, Stop ordering off the Kid’s Menu, Buy my parents a house and Fix the dents in my car (just ignore those for now!)
I would like to thank Carling for taking the time to answer my questions, and I look forward to hitting the links with her again for some putting tips! Stay tuned to intothegrain.com, because we’ll be interviewing other Big Break stars in the very near future!
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