After four years on the University of Richmond’s varsity women’s golf team, Christina Gray, ’11, and Jillian Fraccola, ’11, are hoping to next tee off with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
While they’re taking their first steps to the professional green together, Gray and Fraccola have a varied history with the sport.
Gray first picked up a club at age 10 and instantly fell in love. She hoped to one day have a professional career in golf, but knew her success would be determined by her performance at the college level.
Fraccola, however, grew up playing many sports like soccer, ice hockey and basketball. In high school, she had to make a choice between lacrosse and golf because the sports’ seasons overlapped. Ultimately, she felt her best chance to play college-level athletics lay with golf.
Both Gray and Fraccola explored a number of options when it came time to choose a university. Fraccola, who hails from upstate New York, knew she needed to move further south for warmer weather and a longer season to spend more time improving her game. Coming from Tampa, Fla. — a top location for golfers — Gray wanted a good education in case a sports career didn’t work out. The athletes both agreed the academic prestige of the University drew them here.
“My decision to come to the University actually had very little to do with golf,” Gray says. “[Starting a career in] sports is tough. Anything could happen — it could not work out, you could not be successful — so I wanted something I could fall back on, and the University has an outstanding history and alumni network.”
“I really liked the school and the small campus,” Fraccola says. “I came from a small high school, so I was used to the smaller class sizes. And I got along with the team. Even though I was so shy on my visit, I felt like they could be my teammates.”
Once on campus, the golfers soon saw how the support of the University would prepare them for life both on and off the course. Joslyn Bedell, assistant director of the Career Development Center, worked with the golf team to identify ways to work together more cohesively. She also helped Gray and Fraccola choose majors and find alternative career paths.
“[Bedell helped me see] my interests and personality traits and how that worked with a religion major, and what I could do with that,” Gray says. “She opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.”
Gray and Fraccola also feel ready to go pro, thanks to the expertise of their coach, Jill Briles-Hinton. She spent more than a decade competing in the LPGA Tour and was able to share a firsthand perspective with the aspiring pro golfers.
“[Briles-Hinton] knows what it takes to be a pro and to live that kind of life,” Fraccola says. “She said, ‘If you want to do it, you have to do it now. If you try to go to grad school or get a job, life’s going to get in the way.’”
“She did a wonderful job in preparing me for not only for the social side, but also for the golf side,” Gray says. “It’s a lot of traveling and you have to be very independent and very responsible.”
Gray now sees how her academics and athletics can come together post-graduation. Her religion major and minor in women, gender and sexuality studies have taught her to work with people of all backgrounds — a useful skill as she prepares to enroll in the PGA’s professional golf program. Upon completion of the three-year degree, Gray will not only be classified as a playing professional, but also trained as a teaching professional, allowing her to coach, teach or run a golf course.
Meanwhile, Fraccola plans to spend the summer competing in amateur competitions while gearing up for her qualifying tournaments for the LPGA Futures tour. But she also knows she has alternative options, thanks to her major in mathematical economics.
Regardless of where their futures lie, Gray and Fraccola are happy to be facing the next steps together.
“It’s been great because we could push each other and we both have the same goal,” Fraccola says. “We know what we need to be doing and we keep each other accountable. I think it's really cool that I’m not the only one [trying to join the tour], so if we both get out there, we’ll have some support and a connection.”
“It’s a big safety blanket,” Gray says. “Golf is so different from a lot of other sports in that it’s completely individual, but yet you’ve played for four years on a team. In talking to a lot of women who play professionally now, the social side is what ends up making or breaking it, because you’re traveling a lot and your family isn’t always able to accompany you. It’s good to know that there’s someone there that I know, that I trust, that shares a similar passion. We can help each other.”