More than 20 years later, Berwyn’s Nicole Jeray is still beating the bushes of the professional tours, but that’s not all that keeps her going
By Len Ziehm
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Chicago District Golfer.
Nicole Jeray experienced her rookie season on the LPGA Tour in 1994 after growing up in Berwyn and playing college golf at Northern Illinois University.
Twenty-three years later, she’s still at it. In fact, last year she competed on all three U.S.-based women’s professional tours — the LPGA, Symetra and Legends. In November 2015, after just turning 45, she earned the biggest paycheck of her career in the Walgreens Charity Championship, a Legends event then played in Delray Beach, Fla.
Now that event has moved. With its name changed to the Red Nose Day Walgreens Charity Championship, the tournament will bring the LPGA’s official senior circuit to the outskirts of the Chicago area. The $300,000 event will be played on the Gary Player Course at Geneva National Resort in Lake Geneva, Wis., from May 20–21. Jeray plans to be there, competing against the best women players who have passed their 45th birthday. Last month she finished T-6 at a Legends event in Arizona.
In addition to staying competitive on the course, Jeray has led an awareness campaign against narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder that has impacted her life since college.
QUESTION: After 20 years in professional golf, your biggest check ($18,000) came in the same tournament that is coming to Geneva National. When the tournament was played in Florida, you finished second to Liselotte Neumann after shooting the low round of the tournament — a 66 in the second round. Does that experience give you a boost for the visit to Geneva National?
JERAY: I have great vibes. I have good vibes in all the Legends tournaments. I love playing out there.
Q: Last year you had five tournaments on the LPGA Tour and nine on the Symetra Tour in addition to playing on the Legends circuit. Wasn’t that unusual?
JERAY: I might be the only one to play on all three tours. It was a lot of fun and each tour was different. On the Symetra, I was one of the oldest players and the young girls were all so good. They were still learning, so they looked up to me as a role model since I was so much older. On the Legends, I was one of the youngest and that made me feel young. On the LPGA, I fit in the best, but obviously that tour was the most competitive. That’s where the most money is, so it’s where you want to play.
Q: How did you get started in golf?
JERAY: I started as a caddie at Riverside Country Club when I was 13 and worked at Fresh Meadow (Hillside) when I was 15. After about three years there, I moved to Cog Hill, and that was the greatest thing ever, getting to practice and play there. In high school at Nazareth, I played on the boys team all four years before getting a scholarship to NIU.
Q: When did you decide to turn professional?
JERAY: George Lucas (a well-known caddie on the PGA Tour) was watching me on the range at Cog Hill before my junior year at NIU and he told me I should try to qualify for an LPGA tournament, the Sun-Times Shootout in Oak Brook. I did, and he caddied for me. I shot 68, the best round of my life at that point, and made it in. After that I starting thinking that maybe I should play professionally.
Q: You’ve been to LPGA qualifying school an astounding 21 times. What’s that been like?
JERAY: About one-third of those times I earned full status on the LPGA Tour, and three-fourths of the time I earned some status somewhere, so I’ve gotten pretty good at that.
Q: Your battle with narcolepsy has been well documented. How is that going?
JERAY: In 1994 and 1995, I was really bad. I’d fall asleep driving, then in 1996, I would fall asleep on the course and in meetings. I couldn’t stay awake anywhere. Five years after I was diagnosed, I tried different medicines and that set me back for a while, but eight years ago I found another new medicine that completely changed my life. It inspired me to keep playing. I’m so much better now than I’ve ever been.
Q: What’s kept you going?
JERAY: I started a narcolepsy fundraising campaign six years ago and I speak at conferences. We’re educating the world about narcolepsy, and that’s been very rewarding. We’ve made tons of progress. I still love playing and competing, and I love to travel. I might not be making a great living, but at least I’ve been making a difference in the world of narcolepsy. By me following my dream, that means a lot to people trying to stay awake. The whole narcolepsy awareness has kept me inspired.
Red Nose Day Walgreens Charity Championship
WHEN: May 20–21
WHERE: Geneva National Resort (Player Course) Geneva, Wis.
TICKETS: Single-day admission is available at any Walgreens location ($10) or at the gate ($15).
THE FIELD: Sixty female professionals 45 years of age or older. The ﬁ eld will be announced in early May; possible entrants include Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Patty Sheehan, Pat Bradley and Beth Daniel.