Four-time USC All-American Belen Mozo hopes to make an impact this weekend… (Jonathan Ferrey / Getty…)
Belen Mozo came from Cadiz, Spain, to USC because she liked to play golf but especially liked the USC sweatshirt she saw on some forgettable character in the teen-angst television series "The O.C." Mozo was then a teen, after all.
Drawn to Los Angeles because of a cool sweatshirt, Mozo, 22, left USC last summer as a four-time golf All-American, with a degree in international relations, a boyfriend from the tennis team and a plan for the next part of her life. That might involve her being on television but, as far as she's concerned, not for anything except her golf game.
Mozo isn't the tallest and strongest-looking golfer in the field for the Kia Classic, which begins Thursday at Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms, but she is the only one who qualified as a rookie for both the LPGA and Ladies European tours this year.
As an amateur, Mozo won both the ladies' and girls' British amateur championships (in 2006) — the first time that was accomplished since 1972.
At the first U.S. event of the LPGA season last week, the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix, Mozo missed the cut but played in the pro-am with Donnelley executive John Paloian, a fellow USC grad.
Paloian described Mozo's game as "very accurate, long off the tees, always in the middle of the fairways." But he also asked to play with her Wednesday in the pro-am here because he appreciated her personality.
"She's wise beyond her years," Paloian said. "Often when you play in these pro-ams, the pro is worrying about his or her game, always talking to the caddie, never making eye contact. Belen is not like that. It was very easy, very enjoyable. And with her game, I'd be shocked if she doesn't show up as someone who can contend on this tour very quickly. She has a strong, strong game."
Mozo describes herself as a natural athlete. She dabbled in many sports when she was a child, including basketball and track, but it was the golf lessons she enjoyed most. By the time she was 13, Mozo said, she was invited to a golf academy in Madrid, a seven-hour drive from her home.
"When I was 13, my golf coach told me I had a shot to be good in the golf world," Mozo said. "I knew it was a good idea to leave home. It was hard, but it was my idea. If I stayed at home, I'd want to hang out on the beach."
Andrea Gaston, the women's golf coach at USC, saw Mozo come from behind to win a major international junior tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2004 and that cinched it.
"Belen will definitely have a good pro career," said Gaston, who describes Mozo's swing as effortless and her management of golf rounds as "both intuitive and tidy."
Mozo needed the most work on the short game, Gaston said. Her understanding of U.S. college complexities — things like the NCAA tournament and certain rivalries — was also muddy.
"My freshman year," Mozo said, "my coach said the Daily Trojan wanted to do a video interview with me and that I didn't have to wear my uniform. I could just come to the office. So I had on yellow pants and a blue shirt. The coach shrieked and told me I had to go change. I didn't get it about UCLA and USC."
After her junior year, Mozo needed surgery to fix a torn labrum in her right shoulder but made a big push to be ready for her senior season. "That showed how competitive she is," Gaston said.
As for turning pro, Mozo said, "I think I took that for granted from when I was 13. Some people thought I should turn when I was 17, but I didn't want to. I wanted to go to college. I was really still a kid, really, I was very immature. I just didn't think I was ready and I'm so glad because I would not change those years at USC."
Her golfing skills and outgoing personality attracted several sponsors, including one who knows a little something about winning at golf.
Jennifer Hawkins, director of marketing for the Greg Norman Collection, said the veteran golfer, two-time winner of the British Open and holder of 20 PGA Tour victories, saw Mozo play in a tournament in China last fall.
"Her talent," Hawkins said, "and her passion. He was really impressed with how she went directly from college to the final stages of qualifying for the LPGA and the LET, back and forth from the U.S. to Europe."
Mozo also has deals with Ecco footwear, TaylorMade equipment and Titleist golf balls and gloves.
Now it's time to concentrate on playing well.