College Adventures Of Alison Wonderland
Massachusetts Native Walshe Has Played For Three Universities In Four Years
By David Shefter, USGA
Carmel, Ind. – Contrary to popular belief, Alison Walshe does not have a packed suitcase next to her bed. Nor does she have her travel agent on speed dial.
But who could blame the 22-year-old from Westford, Mass., if she did. After all, Walshe is the ultimate Marco Polo of women’s collegiate golf. Actually, this fall Walshe won’t be introduced to an admissions office for the first time since she stepped foot on Boston College’s campus five years ago. That was in 2002.
Since then, Walshe has been to four universities in three separate time zones. One transfer was by choice. Another was due to a harsh act of Mother Nature. Nevertheless, the University of Arizona fifth-year senior is quite happy to be enjoying her second and final year on the Tucson, Ariz., campus without needing a map to find her classrooms.
“I’m done, I’m set,” said Walshe, who is at Crooked Stick Golf Club this week to compete in the 107th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Walshe’s odyssey began when she decided to leave Boston College after her freshman year in the spring of 2003, where she earned first-team All-Big East honors. She loved everything about the campus, but the women’s golf team wasn’t as competitive as she wanted. Plus, the harsh New England winters didn’t help with her practice regiment.
“We talked about her dreams,” B.C. Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo told the Boston Globe in October of 2005. “…but she was determined to leave. So we let her go.”
So Walshe departed for Tulane University in New Orleans, hoping this would be her final college stop. Everything was going swimmingly well – she was Conference USA’s Player of the Year for 2003-04 – until Aug. 29, 2005. That’s when Hurricane Katrina slammed into southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi, destroying virtually everything in its path. A few days earlier, Walshe had heeded the warnings and evacuated back to Massachusetts.
“It was hectic,” she said. “I got a flight home, so it wasn’t too bad. Obviously, it was really stressful.”
For two weeks, Walshe waited it out. At least her car was spared any damage. But before she ever got back to campus, she and her teammates were summoned to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Other Tulane teams were displaced to Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. The Tulane golf teams – both the men’s and women’s squads – were relocated to SMU.
“It was awkward at first,” said Walshe, “because you are in a new place and you were tagged the ‘Tulane students.’ But we were with our team … so it was a comforting aspect that we were with people that we knew. It was just something that we all had to deal with. It was just a semester.”
Weeks later, Walshe returned to the devastation. That’s when she walked into her apartment and smelled the stench, and the mold, which has overtaken most of the dwelling. Her furniture was destroyed. Her clothes were ruined, including a favorite pair of sneakers. But her car was spared.
During winter break, more bad news came down. Tulane announced it was cutting its golf programs. Players had the option of immediately finding another school or finishing the spring semester out at Tulane, which by then had re-opened its doors following Katrina. Walshe, knowing that her scholarship was still good through the spring, decided to continue taking classes at Tulane while at the same time going through the free-agency process all over again. She made a cut in a Futures Tour event in Lafayette, La., to stay competitively sharp, but for the third time in her career, she had to shop her services and go through the tedious process of selecting a school.
The NCAA also allowed the Tulane transfers to get the year of eligibility back from the hurricane, meaning the 2005-06 season would serve as a redshirt year.
She took four official on-campus visits and finally settled on the University of Arizona.
“I was a professional at it by that time,” said Walshe of the recruiting process.
It didn’t hurt that the school was in the desert and was virtually devoid of any poor weather. It also didn’t hurt that the school’s women’s golf program had produced the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa.
And it didn’t hurt that fellow Tulane golfer Mary Jacobs also decided to transfer to Arizona. At least Walshe had a friendly face and someone who had gone through the whole Hurricane Katrina ordeal.
But there were adjustments. While almost all of Walshe’s previous courses from Boston College, Tulane and SMU transferred over, she did have to change her major from business to liberal arts. Yet she is on course to receive her degree next spring.
“I’m not taking anything outrageous,” said Walshe. “It’s pretty standard toward my degree. I haven’t had much of an adjustment academically at all.”
Ditto for her golf. In fact, Walshe and Jacobs proved to be saviors for a golf program that lost two standout recruits to the professional ranks. Julieta Granada, the 2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, had committed to attend in the fall of 2005, but at the last moment decided to turn pro. And this past year, Arizona landed top prospect Esther Choe from Scottsdale, Ariz., only to find out in the spring that she, too, was headed to the play-for-pay ranks before ever stepping foot on campus.
Meanwhile, Walshe won three tournaments, including the Mason Rudolph at Vanderbilt and the Stanford Invitational, en route to earning first-team All-America honors by the National Golf Coaches Association. She also led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division I Championships, where they tied for 14th and she finished a disappointing tied for 69th.
This summer, Walshe’s fine play has continued, going 2-0 in singles competition at the 32nd Annual Fuji Xerox USA vs. Japan Collegiate Golf Championship in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. Then she won six matches to win the prestigious North and South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2, defeating 2006 USA Curtis Cupper and defending champion Jenny Suh of Fairfax, Va., 3 and 2 in the 36-hole final.
En route to the final, she took out Wake Forest players Mandy Goins (third round) and Maggie Simons (semis), along with 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links quarterfinalist Tonya Choate (second round). She also beat incoming University of Virginia freshman Calle Nielson in the quarters and former University of Georgia player Jean Reynolds in the first round.
That entire experience was solid preparation for this week’s Women’s Amateur, which has a similar format of 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, a 64-player match-play draw and a 36-hole championship match.
“It was great to finally win a national tournament,” said Walshe. “Hopefully I’ll have good vibes [this week]. The fact that it’s the same format you know what it takes. You know how long the days are and how much golf it takes.
“I had always done well in college golf and in amateur [events] I would do decent, but I had never come through with a win. It was really big for my confidence.”
Of course, a strong performance at Crooked Stick could put Walshe in line for a possible Curtis Cup spot next year. What’s interesting is that she could play for either the USA or Great Britain and Ireland side. Born in Galway, Ireland, Walshe moved to the United States at a young age and now owns dual citizenship. So theoretically, she could play foursomes for the USA in the morning and singles for GB&I in the afternoon or vice versa. But Walshe clearly has an allegiance to one team.
“I favor the American side,” she said confidently. “I am more of an American.”
Next year’s Match will be played May 30-June 1 on the historic Old Course at St. Andrews.
“That would be awesome,” said Walshe of possibly being selected. “I would not be expecting anything, but that would be icing on the cake.”
What she can expect this fall is a fourth head coach in four years. When Arizona’s Greg Allen bolted for the vacant position at Vanderbilt, assistant Shelly Haywood was promoted. So at least Walshe and her teammates will have a familiar face guiding the program. The other comforting note is she’ll have the same college bag to lug around, so there’s no need for a wardrobe change.
Then again, come the fall of 2008, the now-graduated Walshe might again be looking to attend a new school.
LPGA Qualifying School.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.