Brittany Marchand has spent the better part of the last 18 months trying to look on the positive side of what’s in front of her.
It’s not easy, of course, as the Orangeville, Ont., native made only one cut on the LPGA Tour in 2019, dropped to the second-tier Symetra Tour, nearly quit the game entirely, and is now trying to navigate a global pandemic – including applying, unsuccessfully, for unemployment.
While social media is awash with professional athletes at home waiting for COVID-19 to pass by so they can return to the field, rink, court or course, not everyone is able to enjoy a $200 bottle of wine with dinner after riding their Peloton.
"If I could work at the local grocery store, I mean, if I could have done that I probably would have thought about it for sure," says Marchand.
The 27-year-old is lucky, she says, as her boyfriend is still employed full-time. The couple just celebrated their seven-year anniversary and bought a home together last year – a home that her boyfriend can mostly pay for on his own salary as an engineer.
Marchand, who is of a brilliant mind herself, holds a chemical engineering degree from North Carolina State University. The pair still lives in North Carolina, where golf courses have been open during the duration of the coronavirus quarantine.
But since Marchand holds a visa from the U.S. government that allows her to only work as a professional golfer, she couldn’t apply for an engineering job – or at the grocery store.
Marchand finished T8 in the first (and to this point, only) Symetra Tour event of the season and earned just over $3,000 for her efforts. The tour is set to return to action July 8-10 with an event in Florida, part of a 16-event schedule.
But with months to go still, she’s left to work on her game – as much as she can.
"For me, I’m just in a weird place since I’ve already been there, done that, with an off-season. Like, I’m over it," she says with a laugh. "I’m kind of like, ‘This is a never-ending off-season.’"
"This" in Marchand’s case sees her play golf about five times a week, sometimes with her friends who live in North Carolina who are professionals. She usually takes the weekends off from the course. This is the longest she’s ever been able to spend with her boyfriend in the near-decade they’ve been together, especially at this time of the year, so they work on house projects together when he’s off work on weekends.
The games Marchand gets with her friends during the week sometimes turn into matches so she can enjoy some level of competition.
"I felt like I worked on a lot of stuff in the off-season and felt like my game was in a good place and now I’m like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll just do maintenance,’ but that kind of practice can get monotonous for anyone at our level," says Marchand. "You are so used to competing so much that not having any sort of competition can be very tough to keep your head in the game."
Even with a burning desire to compete, Marchand says she never thought seriously about making the cross-country trek to Arizona, where there is a mini-tour for women called the Cactus Tour still hosting events.
In the U.S., which has the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases in the world, she says she feels like there is a lot of misinformation about what’s the right thing to do and what’s not.
Marchand says she wasn’t sure how she would have gotten to Arizona to compete even if she wanted to. It would have been awkward, she says, to ask someone to stay in their house. She didn’t feel comfortable flying. And how was she going to pay for the trip?
"Am I going to pay for a hotel? I don’t have the money because I’m making no money to stay in a hotel," she says.
"It didn’t make any sense for me but good on the girls who went out there and played and are staying competitive, but I’m just lucky that I can even play golf. I know there are a lot of girls right now that are in a situation where they can’t even play at all. They’re stuck inside."
On the money front, Marchand says she has been unable to apply for unemployment benefits in North Carolina because the system isn’t built for someone like her. The American government is providing stimulus cheques to many who have lost their jobs due do COVID-19, but Marchand is on the bottom of the list, she says.
Her application for unemployment has been "pending forever," she says.
At first she had issues because she originally put her employer as the LPGA Tour, but that’s not technically accurate as she’s not a staff member – her income comes from a portion of prize money the LPGA distributes. The system is so overwhelmed that Marchand says she can’t get on the phone with someone to explain her situation (as a Canadian who is self-employed as a professional athlete), so she presses on.
The LPGA began offering a $2,000 loan program to Symetra Tour players (and $5,000 to LPGA members) in mid-April where the money would come out of players’ future cheques, 25 per cent each time, until it is paid back in 2021.
Marchand says she has taken advantage of that $2,000 loan, despite being hesitant at first. She says she spoke to her parents who suggested she just do it as a rainy-day fund. It’s been sitting in her savings account just in case her boyfriend gets laid off or there’s an emergency and they are fully out of luck.
It’s money, she explains, she knows she’ll make back eventually – as it comes from money she’ll ‘win’ in the future.
"I’m sure there are girls that really need it. If I owned a house on my own I wouldn’t know what I was doing right now," she says. "I’m sure a lot of girls, with just $2,000… that helps a lot. They have rent to pay and they barely have money to play the season let alone pay the bills."
But with the formal announcement coming Friday that there does appear to be a season ahead – with new events, at that – Marchand can start to focus on what’s to come.
There are two tournaments on the Symetra Tour schedule taking place in North Carolina, much to Marchand’s delight. One is happening during the weekend of one her best friends’ weddings, so she plans to pop in in time for the champagne toast after her round is done for the day.
Her brother, too, is getting married in October in Toronto and his wedding just so happens to be on the one weekend where there is no tournament on the schedule.
So the silver linings keep appearing.
The lights are on in her house. She’s spending more time with her boyfriend than ever. She’s had a rejuvenated outlook on golf, and life. And she’s ready to get back to work.
"I’m trying to look at the positives from this," she says, "rather than thinking about how it really sucks to not play and not make money and not know the future of the year."