Well known in the Triad during her college career by her maiden name, Laura Philo, the Wake Forest hall-of-famer was a two-time first team All-American and the 1996-97 Marge Crisp Award winner as the school’s top female athlete.
Laura Diaz has gone on to become the most successful Demon Deacon in LPGA Tour history. At 38 and heading into her 16th season on tour, the two-time LPGA champion has recorded 57 top-10 finishes and earned more than $5 million in career prize money.
It was a little more than three years ago that Diaz and her husband Kevin – a former college baseball player, golf instructor and at the time his wife’s caddie on tour – attended a WFU pro-am fundraiser where longtime Demon Deacons coach Dianne Dailey told Diaz that her assistant was planning to leave. The news sparked an idea Diaz later mentioned to her husband.
“Kevin has been caddying for me since I had our son, Cooper [in 2006],” Diaz said. “After my conversation with Dianne, Kevin and I discussed the idea that he would pursue another line of work so that when I was done playing he had something he was doing and we could figure it out from there.”
Given his resume as not only an experienced caddy on the LPGA Tour, but also an accomplished instructor with Diaz’s father and brother – Ron Philo Sr. and Jr., at their Amelia Island, Fla.-based golf academy – Diaz turned out to be a perfect fit in terms of personality and characteristics Dailey wanted in her new assistant coach. He landed the Wake Forest job and the entire family, including her mother and father, relocated from Amelia Island to Winston-Salem in the summer of 2012.
“Kevin brings so much expertise to the job,” said Dailey, now in her 26th season as Wake Forest’s head women’s golf coach. “The contacts that he has made along the way have been invaluable to our team. Along with his expertise of the new technology in golf today, I think he’s the most qualified assistant coach in the country. His easy-going manner and his way of communicating with the students have been great.”
“[Kevin] has just the right personality to be able to do that job,” Diaz said. “As my caddie he was amazing. After I had my daughter, I began to struggle a little and that did not put me in a very good frame of mind. That was very tough for Kevin because he is a very happy, positive, fun-loving guy and he was having a hard time watching me struggle.
“He is been a tremendous asset to Dianne. He loves being able to recruit. It is exciting for him. It is exciting for me to be able to watch. I am very proud of the job he is doing and his desire to constantly improve the program, to do whatever he can to help the girls out.”
For Diaz, it marks the second time in her life that moving to Winston-Salem has provided an inspirational spark. Growing up in the cold of upstate New York near Albany where her father ran the family’s mini-golf course and driving range, Diaz did not take up the game until she was 9 years old, and even then only practiced during the warmer months of the year.
It was not until she was recruited by Dailey and made the decision to attend Wake Forest for her collegiate career that Diaz truly began making the short-game strides that turned her into a world-class competitor. “When I got [to Wake Forest] and I could actually spend 10 months a year working on my game I got better really fast, which surprised everybody,” said Diaz. “I know it surprised me.”
“When Laura was a player here, she worked so hard on her game,” said Dailey, who has led the Deacons to 21 NCAA Regionals since taking the reins in 1988. “She was one of the most dedicated players I have ever coached and so competitive.”
Diaz’s sophomore campaign at Wake Forest proved to be her coming-out year when she captured the ACC Tournament individual title and finished sixth at the NCAA Championship, then went on to win the prestigious North and South Amateur Championship at Pinehurst Resort after earning stroke-play qualifier medalist honors as well.
As a senior, Diaz placed outside of the top-seven just once in 10 events – 20th at the NCAAs – finishing with the seventh-best all time Demon Deacon career scoring average. After graduation in 1997, Diaz joined what is now called the Symetra Tour and won three times during the 1997 and 1998 seasons. She also played on the Women Professional Golfers’ European Tour and was named the 1998 Rookie of the Year.
In the winter of 1998, Diaz successfully made her way through LPGA Q-School and has never looked back. As a rookie in 1999 she finished tied for sixth at the Michelob Light Classic, then notched a third-place finish the following year at the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic. In 2001, Diaz was runner-up at the Welch’s/Circle K Championship, recorded the first hole-in-one of her LPGA career during the third round of the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open and crossed the $1 million mark in career earnings.
Diaz enjoyed her best professional season in 2002 when she won both the Welch’s/Circle K Championship and the LPGA Corning Classic, and recorded a total of 10 top-10 finishes. She was also a member of the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup Team, where she posted a 3-1 record, and later returned as a Solheim Cup participant in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Despite the tremendous playing success and the enormous respect she has garnered from her peers – combined now with the demands of motherhood she so relishes – Diaz still hungers for more victories.
“Since becoming a mom, my main goal has been to win as a mom,” she said. “That is something I really want to do for myself and for my kids. I enjoy being home. I enjoy being here when my kids do their sporting events. I really want to be active in their lives.
“But,” she adds confidently. “I’d like for them to be there when I win another tournament.”
Dailey says working out with the Wake Forest team and training at the university’s world-class, on-campus Arnold Palmer Golf Complex has appeared to have had a rejuvenative effect on her former star – one of 12 players Dailey has coached who have been named All-America 23 times and seven players who have been named Academic All-American 13 times – and it has benefited the current Demon Deacons as well.
“I think she has brought some of that [work ethic] to the students,” said Dailey, whose Demon Deacons have finished in the top 20 of the national rankings in 19 of the last 21 years. “They see her out practicing and how much she works on her short game and what type of practice routine she has.”
The Diaz family has also dived head first into Wake Forest athletics since their return to Winston-Salem – the LPGA star, her well-known husband and their cute children quickly becoming popular fan favorites at numerous Demon Deacon contests in almost every sport. They most famously celebrated with the men’s basketball team last year when it enjoyed its biggest win of the season – an 86-84 win over N.C. State on Jan. 22 at Joel Coliseum – when the family spilled onto the floor with the students.
“One of the great things about being back [in Winston-Salem] is that when I was here [at WFU] I worked really hard to get my degree and to be one of the top NCAA golfers and that was a really difficult challenge,” Diaz said. “I didn’t have time for the fun part because I was determined to be a straight-A student and be No. 1 on the golf team.
“Now, being back, I’ve really been able to embrace the athletics of Wake Forest. We try to go to as many events as we can. It’s always a great feeling to have your kids tell you they want to go to Wake Forest. It is an amazing university, an amazing place. It would be an honor if either of them chose to go there.”