BELLEAIR, Fla. (AP) — Haley Moore will never forget the shot. It was in April 2019 when she stood on the 16th tee at Augusta National, home of the Masters, 156 yards from the flag with a short iron in her hands and watched the ball take flight.
It landed a few yards to the left of the hole on the sharply sloped green and gravity did the rest, the ball eventually rolling to a stop close enough for a tap-in birdie. Moore smiled on her entire walk to the green, the fans who lined all sides of the hole roaring in delight and appreciation.
No bullies were in sight.
“It was pretty iconic,” Moore said.
So is her story.
Moore is a 22-year-old LPGA Tour rookie from Southern California. She made the winning putt in a playoff to clinch the 2018 NCAA championship for Arizona and qualified for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur last year. She also has struggled with weight issues and self-esteem for much of her life. Bullies would call her fat, take her belongings, damage her personal property.
Moore doesn’t hide from those moments or the pain they caused — or still cause. Instead, she talks about her story openly, sharing what she went through and how it didn’t stop her from achieving the goal of playing on the LPGA Tour.
Her reason is simple: She thinks she can help others.
“Today, people are still struggling with being bullied by people,” Moore said. “And some of the people being bullied, they really haven’t been able to turn their life around. I think just telling my story, what I did and how I overcame it, I think I can try to turn that life around. Bullying is something that should never be allowed — and I want to put a stop to it.”
She knows that is probably a futile quest. There’s always going to be someone with a snide remark as she walks past, someone with an insult on social media. But she also knows that she’s helping people just by being strong enough to tell her tale.
Golf became her refuge after tagging along with some family members to a driving range one day. Before long, she was hooked, winning youth tournaments and escaping antagonists at school by practicing long hours.
John Daly, the two-time major winner, has tweeted at Moore and given her words of encouragement. And LPGA veteran Brittany Lincicome said she’s rooting for Moore as well.
“I am so grateful that she told her story,” Lincicome said last week as she watched Moore finish a practice round. “A lot of people go through things and they kind of keep it in sometimes, but I am so grateful that she told her story. She got it out there. It’s definitely going to help a child overcome something and even adults can go through things like kids can.”
Moore isn’t where she wants to be yet in golf; her rookie year has been filled with ups and downs.
She’s played in 11 LPGA events so far this season, breaking par in just six of 30 rounds and earning $20,686 — good for 124th on the season money list and not exactly the type of checks that pros are hoping to cash.
Enter Brian Speciale into her story.
Speciale and his brother, Michael, came up with an idea a few years ago for an oversized sweatshirt made from the same material used to make blankets. With that, their company — The Comfy — was invented. They got a break when their idea got backing on “Shark Tank,” the show that can vault entrepreneurs into the big time. And around the middle of last year, after Moore went public with her bullying story, Speciale just happened to find it online.
“I didn’t know anything about Haley, but just reading her story, seeing the struggle that she’s gone through for so long, and then seeing her out there you know basically putting that stuff behind her or off to the side and trying to succeed at professional golf, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing,’” Speciale said. “So, my brother and I, we just decided that if the opportunity ever presented itself where we can help someone like Haley to live her dream, we were going to do it.”
Once the company started to grow, The Comfy made Moore an offer for both financial backing and clothes to wear on the course. She doesn’t need to worry about how to pay for flights and hotels for now; all she needs to worry about is her game.
The LPGA is helping Moore get her story out there, and it is resonating.
Moore and her mother, Michele, were at a golf course a few months back on a Saturday morning for breakfast and happened to be standing not far from where kids were warming up for a junior tournament. A mother and daughter approached.
“They had recognized Haley and just started talking,” Michele Moore said. “Loved her story. They didn’t ask us a whole lot about bullying. They recognized her and loved her story. They felt she was inspiring.”
And to Moore, those are the moments that feel as good as those roars at Augusta National did. She’s working on her game. She’s working on her fitness. She tries desperately to avoid sweets. It’s all a work in progress, but unlike those days back in school where her backpacks would get stolen and filled with water, she knows people are rooting for her.
“I think it’s really shifted a lot,” Moore said. “Especially through social media, I’ve had messages from people reaching out saying how they are inspired by my story. I want to share my story because I’ve come so far from it and I feel like if I share what I did and how I overcame it, I think it can really motivate anybody.”