Maude-Aimee Leblanc – A Successful Return to Golf
Imagine what it would be like to have chosen a career that you excelled at during your youth. Imagine deciding to make that your career where you would earn your living. Imagine living your dream as you started that career. Then try to imagine walking away from that career because you had stopped enjoying it and felt you were not living up to your own expectations.
That is what has happened to golfer Maude-Aimee Leblanc. The 33-year-old native of Sherbrooke, Quebec turned professional in June, 2012 and joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour in 2013. But in 2019, she felt her love of the game had left her and so she “retired” from the game, for the most part, in 2019 and 2020.
Before we get into why, let’s first point out that Leblanc has returned to the LPGA tour full time in 2022 and is having her best season yet. More on that a bit later. But first, let’s talk about how she got to where she was in 2019.
Leblanc started playing golf at the age of 5. Her father was the biggest influence in her life and was the one who got her started in the game. As she reached her teen years, she started watching the game on television and started thinking about making golf her career and turning professional someday. The player she looked up to back then was Michelle Wie. Wie had a game that was similar to the one that Leblanc was building, which was power off the tee. And with Wie being six feet tall, she was similar in build to Leblanc, who stands 6 foot, 1 inch.
“When I was about 12, 13, I started watching golf on TV,” said Leblanc before the start of the CP Canadian Women’s Open at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. “That’s when Michelle Wie started playing a little bit of professional tournaments. We’re the same age, so that’s when I really wanted to be a professional golfer as a career, was because of Michelle.”
Leblanc made her debut at what was then known as the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2008 also at the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. She was a 19-year-old amateur and was paired with Wie in the first two rounds.
“It was the first time I played in front of like hundreds of people. I was so new. I was like shaking on the first tee and I didn’t play good at all,” remembered Leblanc, who would shoot 76 and 81 to miss the cut that week. “But it was such a good experience because now I feel a lot more comfortable playing in front of crowds.”
Leblanc had a pretty good junior career, winning the 2006 International Junior Orange Bowl tournament and then later that same year she won the Canadian Junior Championship. She also won the 2007 Quebec Amateur Championship. That led her to attend Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana on a golf scholarship. In her junior year, 2010, she helped lead the 7th ranked Boilermaker women’s golf team to the NCAA title, the first in school history. Leblanc was one of the key players on that team, being in the final twosome on the final day of the championship tournament. She ended up shooting the second lowest 72-hole total in school history. She was also named a first team all-American by Golf Week magazine that year.
“I remember winning a few college tournaments that year, and our team was just so good,” said Leblanc as she reminisced about that season. “I think all of the players on our team at the time played professional at some point after that. We all came together at the perfect time and it was a really cool experience.”
After finishing up her degree in Psychology, she turned pro in June, 2011. She finished 7th at the gruelling LPGA qualifying final tournament which was good enough to earn her partial status on the LPGA tour for 2012. In her first year on the tour, Leblanc played in 8 events, making the cut in 5 of them and earning $43,165. She also averaged a tour best 282.6 yards in driving distance off the tee.
After that promising start to her career, things went a bit south for her. In 2013 she only made the weekend in 5 of her 14 starts, finishing 111th on the money list. The next year was even poorer. Only 7 events played, with only 2 cuts made. She finished well back on the money list (155th) and lost her LPGA tour card. That meant she had to play on the Epson tour in 2015 to try and get back to the LPGA tour. And she did just that with six top 5 finishes to qualify for the LPGA tour for 2016.
In 2016 she had her best year to date. She played 23 events, making the weekend in 15 of them. She won over $173,000 and finished 81st on the money list. She even had her best finish ever at the time, with a tie for 11th at the Marathon Classic.
But then her game started to slowly fall apart. In 2017 she made only 4 cuts out of 17 events, finishing 134th on the money list. In 2018, things were a bit better, with 8 cuts made out of 19 tournaments. But her confidence was starting to wane and she started to be harder on herself when she did not play well. And even though she led the tour in driving distance in 2017 (with an average of 279.3 yards), she was starting to lose the love she once had for the game. Finally, in 2019 after making just one appearance on the tour (missing the cut as the CP Canadian Women’s Open in Aurora, Ontario), she made the difficult decision to step away from the game.
“It was not in a good place,” explained Leblanc when I asked her what her mindset was like in 2019 and 2020. “I was very frustrated with the game. I didn’t enjoy being out there anymore, so definitely made the decision to not come back until I enjoyed it again and felt happy out there. It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made but also the best.”
Leblanc spent about one and half years away from the game. Now she is back. What was it that led her to pick up a club again and try one more time to make things work on the LPGA tour? Well, first there was Covid, which pretty much stopped everything.
“So golf stopped for a while because of Covid and then it started playing again on TV. I started watching it and I started missing it a lot. I really thought, you know, deep down I know I had more to accomplish out here. But I wasn’t going to do it until I figured out what I needed to improve or change.”
For Leblanc, it started with putting and with the mental part of her game. She changed coaches and started working on improving her putting stroke. She also worked on being more consistent with her ball striking. And it has worked.
“I feel like taking that year off was huge, was very important for me. It gave me time to think and put things in perspective and really think about what wasn’t working in my previous nine years (on tour).”
She spent the 2021 season on the Epson tour, which is kind of like the minor leagues for women’s golf. She played very well that year, making the cut in 14 of her 17 tournaments. She had nine top 10 finishes and ended up 6th on the year end money list. That gave her automatic membership on the LPGA tour for 2022. And she has made the most of that second chance.
So far in 2022, Leblanc has made the weekend in 10 of her 16 events. She had her best finish ever in March when she finished tied for 4th at the JTBC classic in Carlsbad, California. She also had a top 10 finish in January at the Gainbridge LPGA in Boca Raton, Florida, the very first tournament of the season. And at the Scottish Open in late July, she was in the final group on the last day of the tournament, the first time that has ever happened in her LPGA career. Although she would shoot a disappointing even par 72 in that final round to finish tied for 8th, the experience of being in the final group on a Sunday was something that will help her mentally going forward.
“That was a great experience. Even if the last round, like you said wasn’t (what I had wanted). Didn’t make that many putts that day. It was a great experience mentally. I felt a lot calmer than I thought I would, so that was a huge boost of confidence for the next time I’m in that situation. I think I’ll be able to handle it mentally.”
The payday that day in Scotland was $44,612, bringing her season total winnings to $233,099 which is good for 70th place on the money list. It is also the most money she has ever won in a season since she turned professional. But more importantly, Leblanc feels that her game is in a much better place this year than it was in 2019 and the same goes for her mindset. And she hopes it will continue to be like that for years to come.
As for this year’s CP Canadian Women’s Open, Leblanc was paired with 12-year old Lucy Lin in the first round. Things did not go all that well for Leblanc as she bogeyed 3 of the first 5 holes and then double bogeyed the 8th hole, with one birdie sandwiched in between. A much needed birdie on the 18th hole left her at 2 over par for the day, tied for 121st place (out of 156 golfers).