Like many other junior golfers heading to the college ranks, Maleyna Gregorio dreams of a future on the LPGA Tour. But she also has plans should a playing career not happen.
“Of course the goal is to go to the LPGA Tour and try out for Q-school, but there is always a Plan B,” said Gregorio, the 18-year-old from Indio who will play golf at Division 1 UC Riverside this fall. “Regardless if I get LPGA status or not, I want to be 100 percent in the game of golf. I’m very passionate about equality when it comes to female pay. I think that is something I want to work toward, getting females more opportunities and for an equal amount of pay.”
It’s that kind of commitment to golf that in part helped Gregorio earn a $20,000 scholarship from the First Tee College Scholarship Program. Gregorio, who turned 18 last Saturday and has been a member of the First Tee of the Coachella Valley since she was just 4, is one of 25 First Tee scholars across the country to earn the scholarship.
“She’s amazing. She has on her golf bag ‘Maleyna Gregorio, Beastmode,” said Teal Guion, the executive director of the First Tee of the Coachella Valley in Palm Desert. “That’s like the best way to explain her. She is the most focused. If she wants to get something done, it’s going to get done. I think with her scholarship application, it was submitted on day one.”
The scholarship from the national First Tee was in part because of Gregorio’s long history with the local chapter of the First Tee, and her own story of staying with the game despite obstacles. Gregorio had to explain those challenges in her applications, which she said took her 10 hours to complete.
“It’s kind of like my life journey with the game, a lot of it was obstacles that I have endured, and I have endured quite a few of them as a golfer and just as a regular human being,” Gregorio said. “I think that is something that kind of set me apart from other people applying. Volunteering a lot and really prioritizing my academics and things like that set up to get the scholarship now.”
Part of that journey was having to leave the game for a while because of an apparent allergy to the sun, Guion said.
“Really during the pandemic, she said you know what, I’m going to figure this out,” Guion said of Gregorio. “So she would sit outside for like 10 minutes and then she would go back in. Then she would sit outside for 15 minutes and go back in. So she built her stamina up and with medicines and things like that, she was able to go out and start practicing and playing again.”
More time to practice, play
The COVID-19 pandemic presented another challenge, since Gregorio and her parents decided she would leave Shadow Hills High School after her sophomore year to be home schooled. While not playing high school golf, Gregorio did play tournaments like the SCPGA Junior Tour and the Valley Junior Golf Tour. Home schooling gave her more time to practice and travel to tournaments, she said, and that led to UC Riverside and head coach Mary Ritchie.
“Tournament results got me conversation starters with the coach, and she signed me back in March,” Gregorio said.
Applying for the First Tee scholarship was at the urging of Guion, Gregorio said.
“Coach Teal has kind of given me amazing opportunities and she said that I should apply for it,” Guion said. “She’s kind of like a second mom to me, so I did what she told me to do and now here we are.”
Gregorio says her experiences at the First Tee from the time she first hit a tennis ball with an oversized plastic club have been important in her path to college golf and beyond.
“So many things. It’s truly one of the main factors that has contributed to who I am today,” she said. “It taught me values and skills and communication that will travel to my personal, my educational and my professional life journey and I think that a lot of kids can learn that.”
The First Tee scholarship is one of about 12 scholarships that Gregorio has earned, with a plan that she may be able to graduate from UC Riverside debt free. After years of volunteering at the First Tee of the Coachella Valley, Gregorio started as a paid employee this week – “my first real job,” she laughed – as a coach for summer camps. She can work throughout the summer before going to UC Riverside in September as a sophomore. She has already completed a year of college credits at College of the Desert while putting together a 4.56 grade-point average in high school.
When college starts in September, Gregorio is planning on a double major of business and communications.
“She is going to try to go to Q-school after school, but then she wants to go see if that works out. She wants to do marketing for the PGA and the LPGA tour and try to grow women’s golf,” Guion said.
Gregorio is already keenly aware of where women’s golf is and where she would like it to go.
“Just (Sunday), the biggest paycheck that the females got, $1.8 million (for first place at the U.S. Women’s Open),” Gregorio said. “I think we are headed in the right direction, but I think there is a little more work we can do.”
Palm Springs Desert Sun