A qualifying series is stressful for whatever Tour you’re working to get status on.
For late bloomer Celine Herbin, this week’s LPGA Q-Series at Pinehurst No. 6 and 9 provides an opportunity to get as high into the Category 14 status on the LPGA Tour as she can get come Saturday’s final day. The top-45 finishers are guaranteed that status, as well as status on the Symetra Tour.
The French golfer has a lucky charm on the bag this week: her longtime swing coach, Vicente Ballesteros.
An older brother of the late Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros, Vicente is a former pro golfer and trick-shot specialist, and a swing coach who has coached Herbin since 2011. Both player and coach are experiencing the beauty of Pinehurst for the first time.
“I think it’s an awesome place, just very beautiful,” Herbin said. “I really like these kind of golf courses and it’s unbelievable how many golf courses are here for such a little town. I’m really enjoying my time here at Pinehurst.”
Vicente brings a wealth of experience to Herbin’s bag this week. He’s been around the game for six decades and used to caddie for his famous brother in what he estimates about 20 majors in a five-year stretch, including wins at Westchester, a couple World Matchplay wins, and a win in South Africa at Sun City.
Not a bad resume.
So between Celine and Seve, which player is easier to caddie for?
Ballesteros didn’t have to think twice.
“None of them are easy,” Vicente said through Celine’s interpretation as she laughed.
And they shouldn’t be for a 67-year-old who struggles with a bad back. Even though he’s not carrying the bag this week, he’s still using a pushcart and walking eight rounds in an 11-day stretch through Pinehurst’s hilly terrain.
Having Vicente on the bag is not a new thing for Herbin, as he loops for her during many of her Ladies European Tour starts because lighter golf bags are allowed on that Tour. For events on the LPGA Tour, players are only allowed to use a light bag during two starts per season. So Vicente caddied in just two LPGA events this past season.
This week, she considers having her coach on the bag as a strong advantage versus other competitors, and she knows he understands how to wear the right hat when needed.
“He knows very well when is the time to be a caddie and when is the time to be a coach, so obviously during the tournament he’s doing his job as a caddie on the course,” Herbin said.
It’s not lost on Herbin the experience Ballesteros brings inside the ropes, they even got her first pro win at the 2015 French Open together as player and caddie.
“It’s an honor for me to have him as a caddie, it’s a privilege for me,” Herbin said. “He has the perfect skill to caddie. He helps me to stay in the present and move on to the next shot after (each swing).”
On a week like this, Herbin leaves most of the green reading to herself.
“Eighty to 90 percent of the time I read the greens on my own, but there are some times I like to hear his input and advice on putts,” Herbin said.
Yardages are typically Herbin’s job, as Ballesteros does things more by feel.
“Most of the time I do the yardage and I make my decision quite often with the club, but he knows my game very well that even if he doesn’t know the yardage he already has a good sense of what club I should hit with his eyes and looking at the flag,” Herbin said.
When the two walk a practice round, they very rarely use a range-finder, instead opting for Herbin to trust her “intuition and feeling of the shot.”
Since 2015, Herbin has played on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tour, and this is her third visit to Q-Series for the LPGA Tour.
“It’s an international career, let’s say,” she laughed.
As if this game isn’t hard enough on its own, Herbin lost two whole months during the meat of the LPGA Tour schedule (June and July) because of stomach issues tracked to food poisoning.
That loss of playing opportunities is the reason she’s here at the Q-Series.
But Herbin is taking a glass half-full approach to her situation.
“You know, it’s done,” Herbin said, “I learned from that, now I’m completely fit and strong and that’s what matters.”
The 37-year-old is focused on her task this week.
“I’m going to try my best every day and we will see what happens at the end,” Herbin said. “Obviously we are all here to try and get the cards and we all know the higher on the board you end up on Saturday night, the more opportunities you’re going to have next year, so that’s the big thing.”
Through five rounds at Pinehurst she is tied for eighth at 5 under, well inside the top 45 with three rounds to go.
An unlikely pro golfer
The Avranches, France native got here to the professional ranks in a very nontraditional way.
She only took up golf at age 15, and actually started a career in biochemical engineering into much of her 20s.
But she loves nature and the outdoors, and the game of golf, so she pursued that for her career.
Looking back now, does she miss her old career?
“Not at all. I quit my job because I was not enjoying that much to be closed in an office all day long,” she said. “I chose the job that I wanted to do and I took a risk and quit my job quite late and I was not at all a favorite to become a professional player and even less probability to end up on the LPGA, so I’m quite proud of how my golf career has gone so far. Already four years on the LPGA and I’m looking forward to the years ahead.”
Why not, and she’s got a trusted coach to help as she continues her journey.
Ballesteros still lives in the town of Pedrena where he and Seve were born and grew up with their other two brothers, Manuel and Baldomero. As a swing coach, his other pupils include young Spanish golfers.
He retired from his trick-shot performances a few years back, but he did teach Herbin a couple shots.
“Yes, I know how to do some of them. I know how to do 1 percent of what he’s able to do,” Herbin laughed. “He taught me little things. But yeah, he’s a master of those trick shots.”
With a birthday yesterday, Herbin had no plans to celebrate, especially with a morning tee time today.
“The truth is I’m going to wait until Sunday to celebrate,” Herbin said. “I don’t think I would do anything special on (the actual day).”