NORMAN, Okla. – Two high school players got an up-close view of a national championship this week when they volunteered to caddie in the 37th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
Thomas Johnson, 16, and Hunter Austin, 16, both students at Norman North High School and members of the school’s golf team, found themselves caddieing in Saturday’s final match at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. Johnson caddied for Doris Chen, of Bradenton, Fla., while Austin caddied for the WAPL champion, Lauren Diaz-Yi, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Thomas, son of Johnny Johnson, the head pro at the championship’s host courses, said he volunteered to work the event as a caddie to see how national- caliber players compete. He had no idea who he would work for when the week started, but he drew Chen, No. 33 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and one of the two stroke-play qualifying medalists.
“She doesn’t talk much, but her irons and putting are amazing,” said Johnson, a junior who plays No. 1 on his school team that finished seventh in the 2013 Oklahoma 6A State High School Boys’ Golf Championship and who also recently qualified for the PGA Junior Championship. He will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur at the Jimmie Austin OU G.C. this coming week.
Austin, who is the great-grandson of the course’s namesake, also jumped at the chance to caddie.
“I know the course really well and I know these greens, so I felt like I could help somebody this week,” said Austin, a sophomore.
Austin admitted that he wasn’t sure what the level of golf would be at the championship when he signed up, but after the first day of competition, he knew this was no ordinary event.
“I knew it was a [women’s] event and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the first day, I was like, ‘Wow, these girls can play!’ ” he said. “This has been a great experience and I’m having a blast.”
When asked if they learned anything at the championship that will benefit their respective games, both boys nodded.
“I learned more about the mental part,” said Johnson. “When she had bad holes, Doris just dealt with it and moved on to the next hole. She didn’t slam her clubs or say anything, and you couldn’t tell if she had a birdie or a triple-bogey.”
Austin agreed, adding: “When they get into trouble, they get out of trouble, and when bad things happen, they just regroup and go to the next hole.”
Diaz-Yi actually credited her young caddie in her post-round interview, telling the media: “My caddie helped me keep calm. He was always telling me, ‘You’ve got this, you can do this,’ and so I think having that positive reinforcement really helped me a lot.”
When the week began, Austin had no idea he would end up on the champion’s bag. The teen watched Diaz-Yi drain crucial 4- and 6-foot par putts over the 27 holes.
“Just watching Lauren play was great,” said Austin, whose entire family volunteered at the championship. “And I definitely saw that putting and the short game is how you win championships.”
Cavaliers Get Stronger
Newly crowned WAPL champion Lauren Diaz-Yi wore her school colors for the University of Virginia for the final. Her orange and navy golf clothes were a salute to the college team where the incoming freshman plans to spend the next four years playing golf in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
One of her future teammates, Briana Mao, of Folsom, Calif., was waiting on the final green to watch Diaz-Yi win the national championship. The champion heads to Charlottesville, Va., this August and Folsom said Diaz-Yi will be a welcome addition to the squad.
“We always knew Lauren was a good player, but I’m really excited about her coming to Virginia because she’s going to help our team and she’s going to fit in well,” said Mao, who was eliminated in the round of 16.
Mao said the addition of Diaz-Yi will help fill the vacancy left by four-time All-American Brittany Altomare, who also was a four-time All-ACC player.
“Lauren is going to bring that solid first or second spot into the team’s lineup and she will be the player who can shoot even par or under par,” said Mao, 19, who will be a junior this fall.
Of course, Mao also has given the freshman some friendly upperclassman advice. She reminded Diaz-Yi that she will need to wear a few more layers this autumn in the rolling foothills of Virginia.
“The winters are not that bad in Virginia,” said Mao. “We’re both from California, but at least I’ve already experienced our cold weather, so I can help her out with that part of playing golf on the East Coast.”
Scooters Help Fans See Action
Thanks to battery-powered scooters offered at all 13 of the USGA’s championships, golf fans of all ages and physical ability levels are able to watch shot-by-shot action.
|Margaret Howard, 82, of Oklahoma City, used the USGA-provided scooters to watch the WAPL this week. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)
Pride Mobility, a company that supports the USGA by supplying the carts at all of the national championships, ships the scooters and charging equipment from site to site. Volunteers are also trained at each championship site to help golf fans safely use the scooterson the golf course.
“This is a national tournament and I’ve been a public links player all my life, so I wouldn’t have missed this,” said Margaret Howard, 82, of Oklahoma City, who followed the action at the WAPL by scooter all week. “Some of the players who have won this championship in the past are the ones we now watch on TV.”
Howard has a special interest in the WAPL because, as a player with a former handicap of 6, she tried to qualify for two USGA championships in the 1980s. Howard saw every shot in Saturday’s final, thanks to her loaned scooter.
Dick Marks, 96, who lives in Norman, also showed up each morning to watch. An Oklahoma alumni sporting his school’s logo on his hat, shirt and belt during this week’s championship, he manages nine holes of golf or hits balls each week. The scooter allowed him to watch the competition.
“I wish I could play like that,” said Marks during the final. “And I don’t know how some of these players can play like they do at age 10.”
Even after their granddaughter, Briana Mao, was eliminated in the round of 16, Sarah Fong, 84, and Harry Fong, 76, of Belmont, Calif., continued following the championship action by scooter. They followed every shot in the final between Diaz-Yi and Chen, cheering for the former who will be their granddaughter’s college teammate this fall at Virginia.
The couple began using the scooters in 1989 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in Southern Pines, N.C. They have used the transportation at every USGA championship except for the 2011 WAPL at hilly Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon, where the scooters were not offered for safety reasons.
“If you have them, we use them,” said Sarah, who still plays golf with her husband and granddaughter.
USGA staff members said former USGA President Judy Bell helped make the scooters a staple at all championships. At the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., disabled and older golf fans were able to follow the action by scooter. LPGA Hall of Famers JoAnne Carner reportedly got a scooter for her husband, Don, to watch her rounds, and Nancy Lopez got a cart for her father, Domingo.
With the blessing of Bell, who became the USGA’s president from 1996-1997, the use of free scooters to the public spread to all of the USGA’s championships.
“The scooters provide access to the championships and give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the competition,” said Lew Erickson, a member of the USGA’s Women’s Committee from Tulsa, Okla. “Prior to these scooters, grandparents and those with disabilities were left out.”
But by the looks of the cart paths this week, those scooters were a major hit at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
Lisa Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.