For These Girls, Women's Amateur Just Latest On Whirlwind Competition Calendar
By Stuart Hall
St. Louis — Let’s see, Aug. 3-9, that’s the week of the U.S. Girls' Junior, right?
No, wait. That was last week … wait, scratch that, two weeks ago. Last week, was the Junior PGA Championship.
OK, St. Louis means the U.S. Women’s Amateur … yeah, that’s right.
Forgive any number of players in this week’s field at Old Warson Country Club if their summer calendars look like a run-on sentence, if the cities are confused with the competition. The carney circuit has nothing on these girls.
Consider the schedule of 14-year-old Alexis Thompson and her caddie/father Scott Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla. July Fourth was spent down the road in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, then it was on to eastern Pennsylvania for the U.S. Women’s Open. Following a week at home to wash clothes and repack, Thompson flew to New Jersey for the U.S. Girls’ Junior, then traveled to the PGA Junior Championship outside of Cincinnati, and then here in successive weeks.
Victoria Tanco’s schedule goes Thompson one better. While Thompson took her week off at home with her feet up — yeah, right! — the 15-year-old Argentinean was playing the AJGA’s McDonald's Betsy Rawls Girls Championship in Malvern, Pa.
“I’m happy because after this week I’m going home for a while, but I’m good to play,” said Tanco, sounding a bit beleaguered. “It’s not difficult because I’ve been traveling since I was 10. I’m used to it, plus I really like it. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be out here.”
In addition to Thompson and Tanco, Sarah Brown, Kimberly Kim, Erynne Lee, Jenny Shin, Amy Anderson, Grace Na and Kyle Roig are playing for at least the third successive week. So is Ani Gulugian, who is playing seven consecutive weeks before returning home to Irvine, Calif.
“It feels like more than three straight weeks,” joked Kim, 17, of Hilo, Hawaii.
This crowd, which ranges in age between 14 and 17 years old, actually knows nothing different than to travel.
“We’ve done it for three or four years now, so you get used to it, but yeah, it can be a grind,” said the elder Thompson, whose 16-year-old son Curtis also plays a national junior schedule and oldest son Nicholas competes on the PGA Tour.
“It gets tiring, for sure, but my kids love doing it. They love playing. Most of their friends are out here, so it comes naturally.”
Actually, Alexis Thompson prefers being on the road rather than home. Not that the home cooking isn’t better and the bed more comfortable, but being home means practice, hours and hours of beating balls on a range. On the road, practice may only entail an hour on the range or putting green.
“I’m a little bit worn out, but I really like playing tournaments,” she said after shooting a second-round 74 in qualifying on Tuesday. “I don’t like practicing because you get to thinking about your swing too much.”
One might argue that fatigue sets in with such a long summer schedule, but the results show otherwise.
Thompson arrived at Old Warson after posting a 12-stroke win at last week’s PGA Junior Championship. Two weeks ago, Anderson won the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Kim has been a runner-up at both the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and the Girls’ Junior this summer while also posting a win at the Rolex Girls Junior Championship. Tanco won the Rolex Tournament of Champions during her six-week road trip.
Kim, who at the age of 14 in 2006 became the youngest champion in U.S. Women’s Amateur history, says the grind may be more mental than physical. The low of losing or the high of winning needs to be temporarily left behind in the previous city.
“At the [Girls’] Junior, I was really upset,” said Kim, who lost 6 and 5 to Anderson in the 36-hole championship match. “But the next day reality sets in because you’re stepping on a plane to the next tournament. So there really isn’t much time to think about what you just did. Your focus is on the next big tournament.”
Tanco, who shot a 1-under-par 70 in Tuesday’s second round of qualifying, adds that key to getting through the grind is common sense — eating well, drinking plenty of water, sleeping properly and conserving energy wherever and whenever possible, even on the course.
Another obstacle to overcome is the expectation to succeed at such a high level. Playing a U.S. Women’s Open as Thompson has already done three times despite being only 14 can cause a head rush, but proper perspective can sometimes run counter to what fans expect.
“We had someone come up to me and say ‘I think she’s going to win,’” said Scott Thompson of his daughter’s playing in this year’s Open. “I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I thought if she played her A game that she could be pretty competitive, but that kind of expectation is pretty high to live up to for her age.
“Last week [at the Junior PGA] I thought she was able to free-wheel it a bit more than she does in some of these national championships. I sense she gets a little tight, like the pressure is greater. But it’s really not.”
The same could be said of Kim, a contender in a number of USGA championships and a 2008 USA Curtis Cup team member. But after her stellar summer of 2006 – which also included a runner-up WAPL finish – Kim sort of dropped from the national limelight.
“Three years ago, golf was my life and everything revolved around golf,” said Kim at the WAPL. “More people that I didn’t even know would try to be my friends. My old friends treated me the same way. No difference really, but I think it was that people’s expectations really got to me.”
And while continually being on the road may appear nomadic, it’s quite the contrary. After years of competing against many in her age group, friendships have developed. Thompson, for instance, keeps company on and off the course with Brown and Jessica Korda, going out to eat and to movies, sharing gossip, doing what teenage girls do — just on the road.
When they will see each other again is just a matter of what day and city it is.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose stories have previous appeared on USGA championship Web sites.