Eight years ago, Texas State golf coach Mike Akers arrived in Miami for the Doral-Publix Junior Golf Tournament and found a spot near the first tee.
Employing his usual strategy, Akers observed as golfers came and went, scribbling down notes about each one. But when a girl with white-blond hair stepped up and took her swing, Akers abandoned his plans and followed her for the next 17 holes.
The poised player who caught his attention was Krista Puisite, a 16-year-old from Riga, Latvia, who dreamed of earning a college scholarship to play golf in the United States. After her performance that day, Akers recruited Puisite heavily, and she eventually accepted a full scholarship to play for the Bobcats.
During her four years in San Marcos, Puisite recorded the lowest scoring average in the history of Texas State golf, along with maintaining a nearly perfect GPA. When she graduated in 2013, she had four victories and 12 top-10 finishes under her belt and was named an All-American.
Hailing from a small northern European town with ancient buildings and cobblestone streets, Puisite set foot in Texas for the first time upon enrolling at Texas State. Knowing little about her new home, she was pleasantly surprised by the greenery of Central Texas and the San Marcos River flowing through campus. Still, she missed her family and found it difficult to speak up in class, worried about mispronouncing words in English.
One year later, Puisite’s sister, Mara, also was being recruited to play college golf in the United States. Passing on offers from UT-San Antonio and Florida State, Mara decided to join Krista in San Marcos. The two shared practices, workouts and time unwinding at the pool to get rid of their dreaded golfers’ tans.
“It became more like a home,” Krista says of her sister’s arrival in Texas. “We got to live together, just like it was in Latvia. We could practice together again, go to school together. It definitely helped a lot when my sister came to Texas.”
After Mara’s arrival, Krista began to speak up more at practice. Her scoring average, which was 76.4 after her freshman year, dropped to 75.8 as a sophomore, then 74.2 as a junior. In her senior season, she averaged a school-record 72.4 strokes per round.
“In four years, she never complained,” Akers says. “She’s very even-keeled. When you’re watching her play, you can’t tell if she’s under par or over par. Her personality is very good for golf.”
Puisite became a bit of a public personality recently while competing on the Golf Channel reality show “Big Break Myrtle Beach.” She was scrolling through her newsfeed on Facebook earlier this year when she came across a post about the show, a competition for young players hoping to earn a spot on the PGA or LPGA tour. The show was looking for women to audition, and Puisite quickly filled out an application.
Once she was chosen as a contestant in June, Puisite began vying for a tour card with 11 other competitors and dealing with the added pressure of playing in front of the cameras. Puisite was eliminated at the end of the second episode, but she said the show exposed her to the national exposure that comes with being a pro golfer.
“When you’re in there, you feel like it’s all that matters, and it’s overwhelming,” she said. “Now looking back, I hit some shots that I’m not very proud of. I definitely improved my chipping, which is what got me to the elimination. I think I’ve taken the good from it and improved in the second stage of Q-School.”
Since the end of her time on “Big Break Myrtle Beach,” Puisite has set her sights on joining the LPGA Tour in the more conventional fashion.
After leaving Texas State and turning professional, she won in her first tournament, topping the field at a SunCoast Tour event in April in Orlando. Landing a spot on the LPGA Tour requires navigating through qualifying school, a rigorous process that determines a player’s eligibility for LPGA events. Puisite made it through the second stage of Q-School in 2014 and has now come to the final stage, a five-day tournament starting Wednesday in Daytona, Fla., that will determine if she receives a tour card.
“They say Q-School is the most pressure you’ll ever face as a golfer, because your future rests on it,” Akers said.
Mara will be caddying for her older sister, who received her first set of golf clubs at the age of nine and was unenthused about the gift. It wasn’t until a few years later when the two sisters began playing tournaments around Europe that Krista’s interest in the sport began to take shape.
“I have no doubt that she can make it,” Mara said. “She has that weird ability where even if she plays a really bad round on a first day, for her, it’s like, ‘I had a really bad day, and now I’m going to have three amazing days.’ ”