No place like home: Scotia native Laura Diaz helps raise $118,000 for charity

Laura Diaz, a two-time LPGA Tour winner, was on familiar ground at the Ellis Hospital Skins Game Mon

Nice try, Blaine McCallister.

The PGA Tour pro attempted to pull a fast one on Laura Diaz on Monday, asking a spectator to walk up to Diaz and impersonate someone else, but the practical joke backfired when the person informed McCallister that she was Diaz’s cousin.

“That’s pretty hard to pull off when everyone in the crowd is related to me,” Diaz ribbed McCallister over a wireless microphone as she got ready to tee off on the sixth hole at Mohawk Golf Club on Monday.

The 33-year-old Diaz, a two-time LPGA Tour winner, was on familiar ground at the Ellis Hospital Skins Game, showing off some crisp and not-so-crisp shots, but mostly soaking up the warmth of the community in which she grew up.

Currently 15th on the money list after finishing fifth at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in Havre de Grace, Md., on June 8, Diaz lives in Amelia Island, Fla., but still calls Scotia home.

“I always love coming back to my hometown,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough that my sister moved back a couple of years ago, so I have a really good excuse to come home. But I also have my closest, dearest friend here today. We lived across the street from each other when we were kids, so we really like getting together with our boys . . . well, my boy, duking it out with her three.”

That would be 21⁄2-year-old Cooper Diaz, who romped around Mohawk, taking a whack at some balls with his mom’s fairway wood and yelling, “Yay, Mommy!” on the eighth hole.

On the third hole, it was Laura Diaz calling out “Dad?” over her microphone after an errant drive, soliciting advice from her father, Ron Philo Sr., the long-time teaching pro who was somewhere out there among about 1,000 who turned out for the 16th annual charity event.

Diaz and fellow tour star Morgan Pressel were the first women to be featured at the Skins Game, which used a two-person best-ball format teaming Diaz with McCallister, and Pressel with Shaker Ridge Country Club assistant pro Scott Berliner.

Diaz had a difficult time hitting the fairway, but made a 14-foot putt on No. 3 to take a pair of skins.

For Diaz and Pressel, the Skins Game, which raised $118,000 for the Bellevue Woman’s Care Center, was a relaxing, fun break from the grind of the tour, especially for Diaz, who travels with her husband, Kevin, who caddies for her, and Cooper.

“My husband is so supportive, similar to my dad,” she said. “He’s always encouraging. We all travel together, so it definitely takes a unique relationship. When I hit a bad shot, he doesn’t get upset. In fact, I get upset, and he focuses on the next shot.”

The 20-year-old Pressel, who became the youngest LPGA player to ever win a major when she took the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship less than two months shy of her 19th birthday, said she can appreciate how difficult it is for women like Diaz, who choose to have children while trying to maintain a high level of performance on tour.

In the Diazes’ case, they were further hampered by health issues with Cooper that required about a weeklong stay in the hospital in each of the last two years.

“Especially with what she’s gone through with Cooper,” Pressel said. “What a great kid. He’s so cute, and it was so cute that he was out here screaming, ‘Yay, mommy.’ Like we talked about with Juli Inkster. That’s who I look up to, and I know that’s who she said that she does [look up to], in terms of really being competitive and still being able to raise a family at the same time. And to not have missed a Solheim Cup is pretty great, too.

“It’s hard. I couldn’t imagine, but I hope I get to do it one day.”

“We had a tough two years with my little guy,” Diaz said in the morning, her voice cracking. “It’s good that he’s healthy now. Motherhood is the greatest gift that I’ve ever received.”

The theme of family and Diaz’s hometown roots was inescapable throughout the round, which was shortened to nine holes because of a passing thunderstorm.

When McCallister referred to a lesson he had received, Diaz said, “Ron Philo, that’s where he got that lesson.”

On the eighth hole, Diaz talked about her team’s strategy, and when a cellphone rang just as Pressel was about to take a four-foot birdie putt, Pressel said, “That’s your strategy?”

“Yeah, that was my fourth cousin,” Diaz said.

When Skins Game co-chairman Dr. Steve Goodman quizzed Diaz on the third hole to name the two U.S. senators from Florida, her adopted home state, Diaz said, “I don’t know. That’s not my home.”

“I love Scotia-Glenville,” she said before the round. “I enjoyed playing Mohawk, although I didn’t get to play it a lot as a kid, but I was fortunate enough to play it in high school matches, and my dad was a member of the Northeastern section for 20 years, so he knows everybody, and it’s a good feeling in your hometown. I don’t have that attachment where I live now.

“It’s weird. When I was a kid, I never dreamed of playing on the LPGA Tour. It wasn’t something that I aspired to. My father was my hero; I wanted to be competitive like he was. As I got older and golf became more and more part of my life. I did start to look to people on the LPGA Tour and think, ‘Hmmm, maybe I could do that.’ And to think that now that is what I’m doing, it’s surreal. It’s like you’re living in a dream world.”

Diaz has $4,471,550 in career earnings, and has three top-10’s this year, including a tie for second at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay to start the season.

Even if their respective games weren’t real sharp during the

casual round, she and Pressel had the Sharpies out in full force.

“You know, I watched a commercial yesterday on the U.S. Open, with this kid, and they say to him, ‘What do you want to do?’ He said, ‘I want to sign autographs,’ and I sign thousands of autographs, and I think to myself, ‘What do they want my autograph for?’” Diaz said. “But I wouldn’t mind George Clooney’s autograph, so I guess it’s kind of the same thing for kids.”

For the record, Diaz and McCallister won most of the skins, but Pressel had the last laugh, as she dialed up her best off-the-patio-rug wedge game.

After the storm passed, the Skins Game organizers decided to forego the back nine and use a three-hole chipoff off the back porch of the clubhouse onto the 18th green to determine who would get credit for the rest of the skins money.

Pressel was closest to the pin on all three attempts, perhaps

evidence of the work she’s done on her short game to keep up with the longer-hitting players she sees on tour. After missing three straight cuts in April and May, she was tied for second at the Sybase Classic and tied for sixth behind Diaz at the LPGA Championship.

“It’s getting better,” she said of her overall game. “I’ve struggled quite a bit this year, and the struggle’s my putting and my short game. I worked so hard during the offseason on gaining distance that I really didn’t work as hard on my short game, which has always keps me in tournaments. I tried to make that change and realize that I can play from a little bit further behind some of the other girls if I can just roll the ball in the hole, and that’s what I’ve been working on lately, and it definitely helps.”

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