Simmermacher Makes Splash for her Homeland
NORFOLK, Va. -- For most collegiate golfers, the Thanksgiving holiday break is a time for vacation and relaxation. The winter months serve as downtime for college golf programs in between their fall and spring seasons.
Old Dominion’s Maggie Simmermacher spent her time away from the classroom last week cannonballing into a crystal-clear pool at a Bolivian country club.
However, the reason behind it was not an exotic vacation.
Instead, the senior from Buenos Aires had just helped guide her home country of Argentina to a team title at the prestigious Copa Los Andes Championship, one of the biggest amateur golf tournaments in South America.
After four consecutive days of match play and over 140 holes of golf, the players celebrated by jumping in the Las Palmas Golf Club pool in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
“It’s the biggest tournament you can have representing your country,” said Simmermacher. “If you win, it’s a big thing, because it’s not just you winning. It’s the whole team.”
Simmermacher and Argentina did win, bringing the nation its first Copa Los Andes title since 2012, and did so in dominating fashion. The Argentinians went undefeated in match play, earning a perfect score of 16 points.
Five of the best amateur players for each of the 10 nations competing are hand-picked by a team captain. For Simmermacher, it was her fourth straight year competing, but the first year she was able to claim a championship.
“Fist pumps, I don’t usually do them. That’s not me,” said Simmermacher. “But, in this tournament, I do. I shout and fist pump. There’s just so much rivalry.”
What makes the Copa Los Andes such a spirited event amongst its competitors is the tournament’s unique format.
The four-day event includes 36 holes of match play each day. The morning 18 features two players from one country competing against a pair of players from another country in an alternate shot format. The afternoon 18 is a singles match with one player from one nation facing off against a player from a different nation.
Understanding the format is perhaps just as challenging as winning the event.
“Even if you are asked to play for your country,” said Simmermacher. “You still have to learn how to play it.”
With so much golf to be played, tee times are scheduled for 6:30 a.m., meaning alarm clocks are set for four or five in the morning, far before the sun rises. Thirty-six holes later, the players typically finish their day around 5 p.m.
“It’s really tough to put into words how big of an event this is,” said ODU women’s golf head coach Mallory Hetzel. “As an American, it’s a little bit hard to understand. Getting 10 South American countries together and competing over four days, it’s just a huge event.”
When asked if the Copa is one of Simmermacher’s favorite events to play in, she was quick to answer.
“Oh yeah,” said Simmermacher. “Win or lose, it’s so much fun.”
Winning was the something this year’s Argentina squad was primed to do. Simmermacher, a three-time All-Conference USA selection at ODU, was a key piece for the team.
“Everyone wants to be beat Argentina so bad,” she said.
But, under the tutelage of coach Agostina Parmigiani and captain Maria Olivero, who were both members of the 2007 championship team that won on the same Bolivian course, Simmermacher and her teammates helped restore the proud tradition of Argentina at the event.
“I know that it just means so much to Maggie,” said Hetzel. “To win for Argentina is so special for her.”
The Copa is strategically placed during the Thanksgiving holiday every year, as most competitors come from college teams in the United States. This year’s competitors featured representation from ODU, Miami, Florida, Campbell, Delaware and San Diego State, among others.
“On the course, you are enemies,” said Simmermacher. “But, at the closing ceremony, we are all friends.”
Friends and also some family for Simmermacher, who had the privilege to spend the nine-hour days on the course with her family. Her parents, along with her brother and sister, made the trip from Argentina to have some quality family time with Simmermacher, who spends 10 months of the year 5,000 miles away from home.
But, Simmermacher’s return to the continent she grew up on was short-lived. This week, she is back on campus and returning to the everyday grind of a student-athlete.
“Time to write that 12-page paper,” joked Hetzel to her star senior in the ODU golf offices.
One-hundred-and-forty holes of non-stop golf in the grueling South American heat paired with 4 a.m. wake-up calls may not be a vacation to most. But, for Maggie Simmermacher, it was paradise.
“To have your own flag and represent your country,” said Simmermacher. “It’s the greatest thing you could have.”