‘Big Break’ gives Doral’s Taylor Collins big ticket to LPGA debut

Collins eyeing LPGA debut

Taylor Collins was sworn to secrecy, and she obeyed the command.

Collins, a 24-year-old Doral native, had competed in Golf Channel’s competition-based reality show Big Break Mexico in January and February.

Not even her parents knew Collins had won the 16-player competition — one golfer is eliminated each week, with only the champion remaining — until it was televised on July 29.

“By that time, my parents were out of the country on vacation,” said Collins, who starred at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and Nova Southeastern University. “I ended up watching the finale by myself.”

Collins, who plays in the developmental Symetra Tour, won $50,000 in cash plus another $50,000 in prizes.

“For once, I’m not broke,” said Collins, who lives with her parents in Davie. “I don’t have to ask my mom for money for the movies.”

But Collins said the biggest prize she won wasn’t the cash — it was an exemption to the Nov. 14-17 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico, which will be her first LPGA event.

Collins earned that right by beating Tampa’s Matthew Galloway in the Big Break Mexico finale — 18 holes of match play. This was the 19th season of the show, and it was the first time a woman beat a man in an 18-hole finale.

“It was more fun to beat a guy,” said Collins of the competition, which started with eight men and eight women and eliminated contestants each week based on different golf challenges.

“It’s cool to know that I’m the first girl to do it, but I’ve grown up around guys. I’m pretty comfortable competing against them.”

Keeping her secret was in some ways harder than winning.

“It was pretty difficult,” Collins said. “When you hadn’t been playing good golf [on the Symetra Tour] and then you win Big Break, I kind of wanted to tell people.”

Her family, friends and fans all know now. She received roughly 100 text messages on the night the finale aired. One of the messages was from Lorena Ochoa, the former top-ranked women’s player in the world and the namesake of the tournament Collins will compete in this fall.

“It took me hours to respond to everyone,” Collins said. “I don’t want to be rude. I appreciate everyone who supported me.”

High on that list are her mother and father, Mimi and Keyron, who called from Mexico when they found out she had won.

“They called me with a bunch of friends, and they were all screaming and crying,” Collins said. “I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.”

Keyron said he, his wife and their friends had a great party that night and added that he admires his daughter for never giving up the secret.

“She has a great poker face,” he said. “She never even gave us a twinkle in her eyes.”

Keyron, a teaching golf pro, said she got her start in the game by following him around the course.

Wanting to improve his knowledge of the game, Keyron met with different instructors until he came upon Boca Raton resident Bob Toski, a former pro golfer who was the leading money winner on the PGA Tour in 1954 and played on the Senior Tour (now Champions Tour) in the 1980s.

“My dad would bring me out to the course as a kid, and I just stayed quiet and watched, but that’s how I learned,” Collins said. “If you see my swing, you see Bob’s. I’m like a replica of him.”

Keyron said he met Toski eight years before his daughter was born.

“She’s been groomed for [golf],” he said. “We put her in soccer so she could train her feet and baseball so she could train her hands.”

Toski, who has written several golf books, was an analyst for NBC Sports and was inducted into the World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame, said Collins has “unbelievable” competitive instincts.

“She’s only 5-1, 115 pounds, but she won’t back down against anyone,” said Toski, who still teaches golf at age 86. “She hits it long for a little girl [about 250 yards]. She gets more out of her body, pound for pound, than any girl I know of.”

Added Keyron: “If you are good enough, you are big enough. The golf ball doesn’t know how big you are or how old you are.”

Collins said she gets her athleticism from her childhood days as a self-described “tomboy.” She would play all kinds of sports, including street hockey with her older brother Ryan, 25. She also played point guard for St. Thomas Aquinas, hoisting three-pointers with regularity.

But while Ryan only played golf through high school, Collins took it further, winning three Division II national team championships and one individual national title during a stellar career at Nova.

Making a living at golf hasn’t been nearly as easy for Collins, who turned pro in 2011 and estimates she spends 15 hours per day on the sport. That includes working out, practicing, reading about golf and watching it on TV.

“I’m obsessed with golf,” Collins said.

Her love of the game was put to the test on Big Break as contestants got little rest. They got up each day at 4:30 a.m. so they could get filmed having breakfast. From there, it was a full day on the golf course and then recap-type interviews that often lasted until midnight.

Winning made it all worthwhile for Collins, who supplements her Symetra Tour earnings with work as a substitute teacher and a junior golf rules official. She is also entering her third year as Aquinas’ golf coach.

But her main focus is preparing for her LPGA debut in November.

“Playing an LPGA event is a dream,” Collins said. “I wanted that exemption so bad. This is one of the best tournaments to play because they invite the world’s 36 best players. I’m the odd [woman] out.”

Collins said she looks forward to talking to the veteran players and watching how they prepare.

Toski advised Collins to get to the Guadalajara Country Club three or four days early so she can study the layout.

“She will see a golf course she won’t believe,” Toski said. “It’s more like a big obstacle course with changes in elevations and contours. She’s used to playing flat courses. This one is like Mount Vesuvius.”

Toski said Collins’ biggest weakness is her bunker play. Her putting has improved. In fact, she has never putted as well as she did on Big Break.

“The doors are wide open for her now,” Toski said. “She should make the [LPGA] Tour. She’s attractive, and she knows how to use the camera. If she works hard, she is going to make a lot of money.”