Ana Belac received more than a polite golf clap when she stepped away from the microphone after addressing the audience at Thursday evening's opening ceremony for the Arnold Palmer Cup at the Alotian Club in Roland.
Belac, a 22-year-old Duke golfer from Portoroz, Slovenia, received the loudest applause of any of the speakers that night, a procession that included Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Alotian Club Chairman Warren Stephens.
"She deserved it," International Coach Mark Immelman said Friday. "It takes a lot for a young person to stand up there like that.
"It's not her first language, and she's representing the team. A big deal. And she nailed it."
Belac's growing golf resume makes her story all the more relevant.
Two weeks ago, Belac went 3-0 in match play during Duke's run to the national championship at Blessings Golf Course in Fayetteville, and Friday she teamed with former LSU golfer Luis Gagne to win one point for the International team -- a 4-and-3 victory over Quade Cummins and Ann Parmerter.
Belac's story -- the one she told Thursday, and the one she continues to tell through her exploits on the golf course and in the classroom -- is one Immelman wanted to use as a theme for the International team.
"The message we as coaches wanted to put forth was how diverse a group of individuals we are, representing 18 countries," Immelman said.
Plus, Immelman said, "Her story is just enchanting to me."
Belac started off by talking about her country, Slovenia, with 2 million citizens, 6,000 golfers and maybe 10 golf courses.
She talked about how the closest golf course, a nine-hole layout next to a potato field, was 45 minutes from her hometown.
Belac described the practice balls she hit on the driving range as defaced of dimples, some even torn.
But she took to the game, switching her emphasis from alpine skiing. She attracted attention from Duke University, and she made the trek to America three years ago.
"Back then," she said, "I would never have believed I would be the one delivering the speech right now. Any speech really.
"I was a very shy 19-year-old, an awkward foreign kid who could speak seven languages, but wasn't very comfortable with any of them. I could barely pass the minimum requirement for the participation grade in my classes. All of in fear of making a grammar mistake, and people making fun of my accent."
Nobody is making fun of Belac anymore, and certainly not those who face her on the golf course.
On Friday, she contributed four birdies on the front nine to help give her team a 1-up advantage at the turn. Although Gagne got hot on the back nine, Belac didn't give an inch.
"She's one of those people you look at, and she seems to have it all," Immelman said. "Intelligent as a whip. God blessed her."
Belac said she hopes her golf success will popularize the game in her home country.
She plans to turn pro at the end of the 2020 season after finishing her degree in statistics.
"I really want to get my degree, especially for a woman," she said, pointing out the difficulty of making a living as a golf pro. "This is important."
And what does Belac want to do with her degree in statistics?
"I would like to do some sports statistics, maybe predictions," she said. "I just think sport is something physical, but you can always predict it with numbers."
Belac's rise from beating golf balls next to a potato field may not have been so easy to predict, but she hopes she can serve as an inspiration to others.
"Hopefully, this shows that even coming from a small country -- and not the greatest conditions -- with determination and hard work, you can still come out at the top," she said.
That is the message Immelman wanted her to spread when he asked her to speak for the International team.
"It was so indicative of how so many of these young golfers come up," Immelman said. "It hasn't been in country clubs. It hasn't been in fancy golf courses. And to represent the world at a place like this is a dream come true."
Think about it, Immelman said.
"Slovenia. Beating golf balls on a nine-hole course on the side of a potato farm. It doesn't get any better than that to me."
On Thursday, Belac intertwined her story while honoring the man who created this tournament.
"Mr. Palmer's legacy," she said, "is the one reason I'm here, 5,000 miles from home. Therefore, I stand here proudly representing my nine-hole golf course ... my little country, and last, but not least, the International team. Thus, the world."
Sports on 06/08/2019
Print Headline: Belac's tale of golf course by potato field resonates