Maude-Aimée Leblanc is built for professional golf.
The 6-foot-1 LPGA rookie from Sherbrooke smashes the ball further than almost any other woman on the tour. She has the beauty and blonde hair that make sponsors swoon. At 23, she’s won a U.S. NCAA team championship, a Canadian junior championship, the Junior Orange Bowl International and individual honours by the fistful.
LPGA Tour veterans are saying: look out.
“I’m going to tell you somebody who’s going to win: a Canadian … Maude-Aimée Leblanc,” Lorie Kane of Charlottetown said this week, prior to the start of inaugural Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Kitchener, Ont. “If she gets it all together and can manage herself and can learn to live out here, she’s going to be a talent to be reckoned with.”
To excel as a pro, however, Leblanc must overcome a natural instinct that could derail her promising career.
“I definitely want to try to enjoy myself a lot more on the golf course,” Leblanc said Wednesday. “That’s what people keep telling me. I know they’re right. I think I spend too much energy on bad shots and being frustrated about those shots.”
On Thursday, Leblanc shot a two-over-par 73 to sit well back of the lead during a weather-slowed first round in Kitchener.
A terrible shot can make a toddler out of the most stoic golfer (read: Tiger Woods), but Leblanc has had her share of tantrums.
At a tournament two months before Leblanc led the Purdue Boilermakers to the 2010 U.S. college women’s golf championship, she was having a terrible round and lost her cool. Her antics got so out of hand she was disqualified – by her own coach.
“She’s very strong-willed. I would not hesitate to use the word stubborn,” Purdue head golf coach Devon Brouse said.
He isn’t the only one who’s struggled to reign in the fiery Quebecker.
“We’ve had to tell her many times about her attitude and how it looks,” said former head coach of the women’s national amateur team, Dean Spriddle, who coached Leblanc over a seven-year span.
“There was one classic [example]. It was at the  Canadian Women’s Open when she chunked a chip into the water on the very last hole, and made a double, and a bogey would have made the cut. She just stormed off, never told anybody where she was going.”
Leblanc remembers the moment well.
“I didn’t sleep for months after that,” she said of the flub which cost her the thrill of making the cut of a professional tournament as an amateur. “I thought about the shot every night. That was the worst feeling.”
Leblanc comes by her perfectionism honestly. She and her father, Gaston, a retired lawyer and a world-class professional billiards player, both say they share a hot temper and extreme competitive drive.
It’s helped them excel in their respective sports, but caused them to butt heads when Leblanc was growing up.
“I love Maude, and she loves me too, but sometimes I am the bad guy,” her father said.
Leblanc’s parents split when she was a baby, and she and her older brother, Gaston Jr., lived with their father during the summers. By 5, Leblanc was following him to the golf course.
Once, when she was about 7, she yelled at her father during a round, and he forbid her from competing in a tournament the next day. He kept the letter she wrote to him, hoping he’d change his mind.
“Dad, I love you. I promise I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I want to play in the LPGA,” she wrote.
He didn’t relent.
If the conformity of U.S. college and national team play didn’t always suit her independent spirit, Leblanc says the life of a pro is everything she’s dreamed of. She switched coaches last month, and is now working with Jim McLean, who runs an elite golf school in Florida, where Leblanc now lives.
They’ve tweaked her swing, and after missing the cut in three out of her first four tournaments, she’s made the last two, putting her sixth among the LPGA Tour’s 35 rookies in earnings thus far in 2012.
As for her temper, she’s working on that.
Currently, she’s reading a book that talks about strategies other players use to stay focused: singing between shots, counting to 10 … even smiling.
“It says when you smile, it releases a hormone that makes you more relaxed and makes you think more clearly. It can do a lot of positive things for you, just to smile,” Leblanc said.
And then she does.
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