(CNN) — In September 2017, Maria Torres was hunkered down in one room of her grandmother’s house with 10 other family members.
Hurricane Maria had hammered her native Puerto Rico. The strongest storm to hit the island in 85 years, it left a trail of death and destruction.
“It was really bad,” Torres explains to CNN. “We didn’t have power, everything was down.”
Fast forward 12 months and her circumstances could scarcely be more different.
She’s become the first Puerto Rican golfer to earn full-time status on the LPGA Tour and, on Friday, shot a two-under-par round of 69 to share the halfway lead in the Evian Championship — the final major of the golf season.
Torres is eight under heading into the weekend, but the career of this bubbly, likeable 23-year-old almost didn’t get off the ground.
With Puerto Rico ravaged, Torres was struggling to practice ahead the LPGA Tour qualifying series — known as Q-School.
Fortunately, Torres was able to travel to the US for the second stage of the process, narrowly progressing before eventually earning her card.
Back home, the country endured months of power outages because of damage to the electrical grid.
“Like, 10 people and we’re staying in a room because we had a generator,” Torres recalls.
“It was kind of the experience of washing your clothes with your hands, I have to give credit to my aunts, they really helped a lot.”
Even after joining the LPGA Tour, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Ahead of the Evian Championship, Torres had missed the cut at nine of the previous 12 tournaments, and she’s registered just two top-10 finishes during her debut year.
But, on the shores of Lake Geneva, it’s all fallen into place. An eagle was the highlight of a blockbuster day one, while four birdies Friday took her to the top of the leaderboard.
Not that Torres is allowing herself to think of the winner’s check of $577,500 just yet.
“I don’t want to go ahead, I just want to keep playing,” she says, although she cracks a huge smile before admitting, “it would be awesome.”
“I’m just looking for opportunities and just playing golf, that’s the only thing I can control.”
A victory for Torres could also raise morale for a country that is still rebuilding.
And she is playing her part in those recovery efforts, hosting a pro-am alongside fellow pro Rafael Campos which raised $600,000 for local charities.
“It was awesome, just seeing a couple of golfers getting together to help us rebuild out country,” she added. “It’s amazing. We’re fortunate to have friends who want to help us.”
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