Before Laura Diaz embarked on a successful LPGA career, which includes two victories and more than $4.1 million in earnings over the last nine seasons, she honed her skills at Wake Forest University.
The Scotia native, who owes much of her professional success to the time she spent developing her game with the Demon Deacons, became that college’s first female golf star and will be inducted into the 34th annual Wake Forest Hall of Fame Saturday at the Marriott Hotel in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Diaz will be enshrined along with Mark Erwin, a member of the first Deacon soccer team; former football and basketball standout Rusty LaRue; and Dr. Herb Appenzeller, a nationally renowned expert in sports management.
Although her collegiate career got off to a slow start, Diaz went on to become a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference all-star. She won the Atlantic Coast Conference individual championship as a sophomore in 1995, recorded eight top-10 finishes en route to being named the ACC Player of the Year as a junior, and finished in the top 10 in nine of her 10 tournaments as a senior.
Diaz led the Deacons to 12 tournament championships during her college career, and received the Marge Crisp Award as Wake Forest’s top female athlete in 1997.
“It feels great to be honored like this. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was still playing there,” said Diaz by telephone this week. “I have fond memories of the time I spent at Wake Forest. I really sharpened my short game while I was there, and playing at the Old Town course there helped my course management, because it was an extremely challenging layout.
“My experience at Wake Forest was wonderful, and I’m honored to be included with such great former student-athletes.”
Wake Forest head golf coach Dianne Dailey recalled that Diaz arrived at the school with a solid swing, but not much of a killer instinct.
“She did have very strong fundamentals when she came here,” said Dailey. “When I recruited her, she didn’t have a lot of tournament experience, but she was definitely somebody who had a lot of potential. She was strong, with a fairly simple swing. It wasn’t very complicated. It was a nice, compact swing, but very fundamentally sound. She was somebody who could hit the ball a long way. Her father [former local pro Ron Philo] did a great job of teaching her the game, and I didn’t tinker with her swing at all once she got here.”
“My father has been my golf coach my entire life, and coach Dailey understood that. She didn’t try to change my swing at all, and I appreciate that,” said Diaz.
Dailey said her first priority was to improve Diaz’s putting, chipping and pitching.
“We worked on her short game all the time,” she said. “All those shots around the green were the most important thing we helped Laura with. She was an extremely hard worker, and was very disciplined. She picked up the things we taught her very quickly.”
But Diaz didn’t make much of an impact as a freshman, and Dailey noticed that her young
recruit wasn’t happy sitting on the bench.
“When she first got here, she wasn’t that competitive. She just wanted to play golf.” said Dailey.
“When she didn’t make the team for the first couple of tournaments, that wasn’t much fun. She really got a lot more competitive as time went on. Then, she got so competitive that you couldn’t believe it. When she first got here, she played golf for fun and wanted to see what she could do, but the more experience she got, the more she really stepped up. She was so determined. Soon, she wanted to be the best golfer that she could be.”
Dailey said that Diaz showed promise at the end of her freshman season, and took off from there.
“She had a chance to win a tournament at South Carolina, and she learned from her mistakes and won there the next year,” Dailey said. “Then, as a sophomore, she shot 69 in the NCAA tournament. I knew she would be a good player, but I didn’t know she would become as good as she turned out to be.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to her father for the way she turned out. Her dad was the central figure in her life. He taught her a very good swing that doesn’t get off line very much. She’s a solid player, and she is so deserving to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. She proved to be a very good professional player, and it’s even more difficult when you have a child to keep everything in focus like she has.”
The former Laura Philo married Kevin Diaz in 2000. She gave birth to her son, Robert Cooper, in 2006, but she hasn’t missed a beat. She made 18 cuts in 23 events, and earned $342,432 that year.
Last season, Diaz earned $528,529 and posted five top-10 finishes in 23 tournaments. The highlights of her pro career are a pair of wins, three Solheim Cup appearances and a
career-low round of 63. She is 29th on the all-time earnings list.
The former Gazette Women’s Amateur champion had an outstanding amateur career that included winning the 1995 North-South Amateur Championship and the 1996 Eastern Championship. She won three times on the Futures Tour, and was the Women’s Professional Golfer’s European Tour Rookie of the Year in 1998.
“I plan on attending the Hall of Fame dinner with my family,” said Diaz. “Everybody is well. Both of my parents recently celebrated their 60th birthday, and my son is doing very well after having surgery to remove his adenoids. He’s sleeping very well now.”