By Mark Herring
At the Kathy Whitworth Paris Championship, June 15-18, 2021, Gabby Then had a six-birdie, no-bogey final round to surge past Jessica Porvasnik and win the championship at -15. For the week, Gabby shot 67-67-64-63. She ended the WAPT regular season #4 on the money list and #3 in the Race to Stage II.
One of Gabby Then’s favorite recent movies is the live-action version of “Mulan.” She says, “It was great to see someone on the big screen that kind of looks like me… I was inspired by her courage, her bravery and seeing how she overcomes adversity.” Gabby’s heritage, by the way, is a fascinating mix of Chinese, Indonesian and Dutch.
Gabby started golf young and had success early. “I started playing golf at age five. I started tournament golf at nine. I was playing international tournaments by the time I was twelve.” In 2013, Gabby won the US Junior Girls. She played golf at the University of Southern California, where her teammates included current LPGA members Sophia Popov and Annie Park.
After making it out of Q-School in 2017 and 2018, Gabby played regularly on the Symetra Tour for two years. But at Q-School in 2019, she didn’t make it back to Stage II. “So from the Fall of 2019 to the Spring of 2021, I didn’t play a single tournament.” She filled her time by working and traveling, “but I basically quit golf. I wasn’t playing competitively anywhere anymore. I was thinking maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this.”
But her time away made Gabby realize how much she loves the game. So she started playing on the Cactus Tour in March, 2021, and won the second event she entered in Beaumont, California. It was her first professional victory. After that, she “started hearing more and more about the WAPT. People were saying how good the tour is, how well it’s run. When I got to WAPT, I discovered the people are great. The traveling is very cohesive [since it’s in one region of the country]. So I was convinced to go to Conway, so that was my first WAPT event.”
When asked about what caused the big improvements in her game, she credits three major changes. First, “I got mental clarity on why I was doing it.” Gabby says, “I used to think that playing golf was an obligation to my parents. I wanted to make them proud. But that just compounded my stress… Then my mindset turned around. Now, I remember why I love the game of golf, that I’m strictly doing this for my passion for the game.”
Second, Gabby changed the way she practices. She credits her boyfriend, Eric Sugimoto (they met at USC) who plays on the Japan Tour. After conversations with Eric, she’s trying to make her practice much more focused and intentional. “I learned that practice isn’t that helpful if I’m just going through the motions.”
Third, Gabby says she’s regained her competitive edge. “Before, I was not as mentally there… Now, I’m playing to win… It helps that when I’m home I’m playing against good people, playing little money games, focusing on winning every time I tee it up.”
Away from the game, her life has changed, too. When she was younger, Gabby played the piano, the violin and the flute. “These days, I don’t have time for any of that,” she says. “I’m much more golf-focused.” But she does have some other interests. During her time away from golf, she worked with aestheticians and deepened her passion for skin care and make-up. Although it’s a career path that might interest her after golf, for now, she’s “a strong advocate for sun protection. Everybody should wear sun screen whenever they’re out on the course.”
We suspect that, like Mulan, Gabby Then’s perseverance and her competitive spirit will keep her moving in the right direction.