When it comes to professional athletes who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, David Robinson, Roger Staubach, and Joe Bellino might come to mind. More recently, Keenan Reynolds, Joe Cardona, and Billy Hurley have made it in the NFL and PGA too.
Read more about Joe Cardona: For love of country, for love of the game
Add Laurel Gill to that list. The 2011 USNA grad served six years active duty, continues to serve in the Navy Reserve, and now competes as a professional golfer.
Gill developed a passion for golf at an early age.
“I started golfing when I was about eight. My parents signed me up for lessons and sent me to golf camps,” she said.
After all, when you grow up in San Diego, you’ve got ideal golfing weather nearly every day of the year.
“I love golf for the camaraderie, its competitive nature and the fact that it’s a lifelong sport. You can play golf no matter your age or ability, thanks to the handicap system,” Gill added.
San Diego is also where Gill developed her interest in attending the Naval Academy.
“Being from a big Navy town, that’s what got me interested. When you grow up in an environment like that, surrounded by ships and aircraft, it instills a sense of patriotism. I wanted to serve my country,” Gill said.
So in 2007, she headed off to Annapolis.
At that time, the USNA didn’t have a women’s golf team, Division I, or club, for that matter.
“No matter the field you work in, having a background in golf is important as a working professional. Etiquette is an important aspect of golf, it’s a sport that requires discipline, it’s a sport that provides networking opportunities. Those are skills and lessons that are just as important to women as they are to men,” Gill said.
She and a few of her company-mates took the initiative to start women’s golf at the Naval Academy.
Their first year, they practiced after dinner and on weekends as an approved extracurricular activity but didn’t benefit from any school funding. Thanks to the group’s persistence, women’s golf became a club sport the following year, and the Mids began playing matches against other teams.
The year after Gill graduated, the Naval Academy announced women’s golf was being elevated to a Division I sport. The team began play in the Patriot League the following spring.
“They hired a coach and really started investing in these female athletes.”
And while she would have loved golfing as a D-I athlete representing the academy during her time in Annapolis, Gill says, “It’s amazing to see that what we started on our own time has had such a positive impact on these ladies futures.”
Gill served six years on active duty, primarily as a meteorology and oceanography officer, making sure to keep up her golf game no matter where she was stationed.
When she left active duty, she shifted her focus to golfing full-time and as a professional, but the military moves kept coming. Her husband, who she met at the Naval Academy, is an aviator, flying F-18 Growlers.
“I’m lucky because the military moves haven’t impacted my career as a professional golfer. I can do what I love from anywhere. Everywhere we go, there are golf courses, so I’m hoping to continue down this path wherever the Navy takes us,” Gill said.
While she practices her drives, chips, and putts from Oceana in Virginia Beach for the time being, tournaments take her all over the country and even the world.
Gill was able to represent the United States in the Military World Games in China. She helped the U.S. team to a second-place finish in the event.
In addition to tournaments, she has endorsement deals with golf equipment and apparel brands.
“I work with Mizuno Golf as well as Bolder Athletic Wear, an American-made apparel company owned by a Navy veteran.”
Like most things, 2020 did throw a wrench in some of Gill’s golf plans.
“I was hoping to go to the LPGA qualifying school, but it was canceled due to COVID-19. Fingers crossed for next year. My goal is to make it on the LPGA.”
She also hopes to see more women, especially women within the military community, take up golf, even if it’s just socially.
“I’ve hosted some clinics for military spouses hoping to spark that interest. I’d love to see more ladies golfing. I think for spouses who move so frequently, golf can be a great way to connect and socialize while being physically active and getting outside.”