Rah, Lua Give Women’s Amateur A Fresh(men) Look
By David Shefter, USGA
Roswell, Ga. – Somebody remarked to Martha Lang, a member of the USGA Women’s Committee and the chair of the committee that selects international teams for the Association that the next place to find American talent for the next Curtis Cup might be the local elementary school.
Lang laughed at the sarcastic remark. But given the explosion of teen-aged talent in golf, it’s not all that far-fetched.
Especially with the growing trend of so many young players turning professional before they can legally enjoy an “adult” beverage or, in some cases, vote in elections.
The 2004 USA Curtis Cup squad featured three players who had yet to receive their high school diplomas (Paula Creamer, Jane Park and Michelle Wie). The last three Women’s Amateur Public Links titlists (Wie, Ya-Ni Tseng and Eun Jung Lee) have all been juniors.
And by next July when the 2006 Match takes place at Bandon Dunes Resort, several prominent competitors at the 2005 U.S. Women’s Amateur this week could be in the play-for-pay ranks, including 2005 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur Morgan Pressel and Wie.
Women’s amateur golf is looking more and more like men’s college basketball, where superstar four-year players have become virtually extinct. The game is simply becoming younger and younger. Wie played in her first USGA event, the 2000 WAPL, as a 10-year-old. Pressel qualified for the Women’s Open at 12, and then nearly won that event at the unfathomable age of 17.
Newly appointed USA Curtis Cup captain Carol Semple Thompson, a seven-time USGA champion and the last Women’s Amateur champion (1973) not to turn professional, could find a couple of 14-year-old candidates at this week’s Women’s Amateur at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek Course.
Southern Californians Tiffany Lua of Rowland Heights and Jane Rah of Torrance are just entering high school in the fall.
Lua, the second-youngest competitor among the 156 players this week (Kristina Wong edged her by a couple of months), and Rah, who turns 15 in December, each posted first-round victories on Wednesday, defeating players with not only college experience but international experience as well. Rah knocked out Sophia Sheridan of Mexico in 19 holes and Lua eliminated Spain’s Tania Elosegui. In round two, Rah took out 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and two-time Junior runner-up In-Bee Park, 4 and 3.
“I get my exemption for next year,” said a beaming Rah, knowing what players get for winning two matches. “That was my goal coming in.”
Rah’s championship ended in the afternoon against Pressel, 4 and 2.
Lua, however, was not so fortunate in her second-rund match-up with Lorraine Ballerano of Myrtle Beach, S.C., dropping a 2-and-1 decision. This was Lua’s first Women’s Amateur but fifth USGA championship, having qualified for the WAPL and U.S. Girls’ Junior at 13 and both of those events again this year.
Rah has already had a brush with Wie, facing her as a 12-year-old in the first round of the 2002 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Rah gave the Hawaiian a tough tussle in a 2-and-1 defeat, and Wie went on to win the title.
“I wasn’t really intimidated … even though I didn’t go up to her shoulder,” said the 5-foot-1 Rah of the 6-foot-1 Wie. “I just played my own game. Unfortunately, I didn’t get off to a good start.”
One might think intimidation or anxiety would play a role with these youngsters, especially against golfers with more experience or age. But it’s not the case. It just might be the opposite. These teenagers play a fearless game without any awareness of who or what credentials their opponents or fellow competitors bring to the table.
Rah might be diminutive but she’s built like a fullback with broad shoulders, making it hard to believe she was a figure skater for four years before turning to golf seven years ago. That’s when she began beating young boys in local tournaments around the Chicago area and the family decided that her game would be better suited in a warmer climate. So her parents relocated to sunny California where Rah can play year-round against some of the best competition in the country.
Her father/caddie, Charlie, is a high school math teacher and he was able to land a job in southern California.
Earlier this summer she advanced to the semifinals of the WAPL, losing to eventual champion Eun Jung Lee of Korea, 5 and 4. At the Girls’ Junior two weeks ago, she failed to qualify for match play after being in a playoff.
“The next generation is doing really well,” said Rah of her fellow high-schoolers. “We get a lot of chances to play in these bigger events, which lets us get more experience. It doesn’t make any difference how old you are. You’ve just got to play out there.”
Lua picked up the game six years ago, but it wasn’t until last year when she began to expand her scope beyond local events. Qualifying for the Girls’ Junior and WAPL certainly did wonders for her confidence, even though she didn’t make it out of the first round.
She didn’t even know about the Women’s Amateur until this year when she qualified out in California. But she advanced to the round of 16 at the Girls’ Junior, where she lost to Sydnee Michaels, and the WAPL, where she fell to runner-up Tiffany Chudy, while chalking up an American Junior Golf Association victory in Wisconsin and a T-5 at the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls’ Championship last week in Malvern, Pa. Lua said she has been home a total of three weeks this summer due to tournaments. And she still has several competitions remaining, including one in Alabama the week before high school starts (early September).
“This [experience at the Women’s Amateur] means a lot because I don’t think a lot of other 14-year-olds can do the same,” said Lua. “Right now, I’m basically learning new things. I haven’t experienced and been exposed to as many tournaments as [many of these older players].
“I know I can play with them. I just lack distance a little. The good thing about being in short is you get to hit first every hole. You don’t usually have to ask who is away. That’s the nice part.”
This week, the Women’s Amateur had 15 players who were under the age of 16, eight of whom made match play. Three reached the third round to earn exempt status for the 2006 Women’s Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge.
“We have nothing to lose against the older players,” said Lua. “Actually, I think some of the older players probably feel the pressure.”
Or the talent squeeze.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.
U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship
TICKETS – Admission and parking for all seven days of the championship are free of charge.
WHO CAN PLAY? – The U.S. Women’s Amateur is open to female amateurs who have USGA Handicap Indexes not exceeding 5.4. Entries closed June 15.
DEFENDING CHAMPION – Jane Park, 18, or Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will defend the title she won in 2004.
THE FIELD – The 2005 field will include seven Georgia players. They are Laura Coble of Augusta, Jackie Beers of Bonaire, Alina Lee of Evans, Kyu Ri Ban of Duluth, Dori Carter of Valdosta, Diana Ramage of Fayetteville and Margaret Shirley of Roswell.
TELEVISION COVERAGE – Match-play rounds will be telecast on The Golf Channel Aug. 3-7 from 4-6 p.m., EDT.
OTHER PROMINENT PAST CHAMPIONS – Patty Berg, 1938; Betty Jameson, 1939, 1940; Babe Didrickson Zaharias, 1946; Louise Suggs, 1947; Beth Daniel, 1975, 1977; Juli Simpson (Inkster), 1980, 1981, 1982; Pat Hurst, 1990; Kelli Kuehne, 1995, 1996; Grace Park, 1998; Dorothy Delasin, 1999.
CHAMPIONSHIP COURSE CONDITIONS – The following mowing heights will be used for the championship: fairways 1/2"; tees 7/16"; collars 1/4". Putting greens will be prepared so that they are firm and fast; to measure approximately 11 feet on the USGA Stimpmeter. Intermediate rough: 1", width approximately 72" along fairways, width approximately 30" wide around putting greens. Primary rough: 2 1/4".
FUTURE WOMEN’S AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP SITES – The 2006 U. S. Women’s Amateur will be conducted at Pumpkin Ridge G.C., North Plains, Ore., Aug. 7 – 13.
MEDIA CONTACT – The Media Center for the U.S. Women’s Amateur will be located in the main clubhouse at Ansley Golf Club. Rhonda Glenn and Beth Murrison will be the USGA staff members on site. The Media Center phone numbers are (678)639-7488 and (678)639-7494.