FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Minutes after signing for her first-round
73 at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Monday, Angella Then knew
exactly where her score stacked up.
“She beat me by one,” said Then, not referencing Andrea Lee’s
first-round-leading 5-under-par 67, but her older sister Gabriella’s even-par
72. “I almost got her, but she’s a senior [in high school], so I will just get
Angella Then, 14, and Gabriella Then, 17, of Upland, Calif.,
about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, are playing in their first USGA
championship together. However, their situation is not unique – they are also
one of three sister duos in this week’s field at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Also
playing are Emily and Kristen Gillman, of Austin, Texas, and Anina and Hana Ku,
of Basking Ridge, N.J.
While this is Angella’s USGA debut, Gabriella is playing in
her 11th USGA championship, which includes last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at
Sebonack Golf Club, where she missed the cut by five strokes.
At the 2010 Girls’ Junior, Gabriella lost to Victoria Tanco
in the first round. A year later, she lost to eventual champion Ariya
Jutanugarn in the quarterfinals. Last year, she lost to Yueer Feng in the first
Spend a few minutes with the Then sisters and it is evident
they are bound by a mutual love, but are also different on and off the course.
Despite the three-year age gap, the sisters spend a lot of time together.
“Yes-ish, that’s my answer,” said Gabriella when asked if
Angella was a good sister. “We have our moments, but when we’re together we
usually have our little inside jokes. We can’t stop laughing. It is back and
As for who is the better player of the two, Gabriella offers
the more objective review.
“Driving? Her. Chipping, putting? Me. Second shots? I might
have to go iffy on that one, though sometimes when she gets nervous she gets a
little chunky,” she said. “Personality wise, I am more calm and she is more up
and down. She will go ‘Yes!’ on one hole and then ‘Ohhhh’ on the next. I’m even-keeled.”
Angella agrees with the assessment, adding that she hits a
more natural fade and Gabriella hits more of a draw. Angella does question her
sister’s assertion that she is more like their father, Andre, emotionally.
“Really?” she asked.
Encouraged by her father, Gabriella began playing golf with
plastic clubs at age 5 out of Industry Hills Golf Club. By age 9, she was
playing PGA of Southern California events and graduated to USGA and American
Junior Golf Association events a few years later. Gabriella, ranked No. 279 in
the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and 32nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin Girls’
Junior Ranking, will play for the University of Southern California beginning
Angella took to the course because of her sister.
“I was thinking I want to do this, too,” she said.
Gabriella was thrilled to have Angella around.
“I was like, ‘Just go get me some golf balls,’ and she did,”
Gabriella joked. “That was nice.”
As both improved, competitive spirit took hold. In practice
sessions, for example, they square off in putting accuracy contests. Gabriella
also looks after her sister, serving as a de facto coach by dispensing advice
on an as-needed basis.
“I let her do her own thing, but when the same mistakes keep
coming up again and again and again, then I will say something,” Gabriella
said. “Earlier this year, she was missing a lot of 6-footers for par saves, so
I made a point of saying her pre-shot routine was a little too fast.”
Angella is appreciative, but apprehensive.
“She gives me her perspective, and then I try it,” she said.
“If I like it, I’ll keep doing it; if not, I just don’t tell her.”
Considering this is Angella’s first foray into a
championship with match play, the sisters played their own matches in
preparation for this week. Again, Gabriella was the wise sage.
“I was teaching her all the rules, like with gimmes and
farthest from the hole always plays first or the other player could call the
shot back,” said Gabriella, who lost, 3 and 2, to eventual champion Ashlan
Ramsey in the semifinals of last month’s Western Women’s Golf Association’s
National Amateur Championship in Dayton, Ohio.
But should the Thens finish in the top 64 in stroke play and
meet at some point in the championship’s match-play bracket, sisterly love will
go only so far.
“Don’t say that, don’t say that,” said Gabriella, admitting
she had not considered that possibility. And since the Rules of Golf would prohibit
Gabriella from giving any advice to Angella in competition, she may just take
it a step further. “I might not give anything, even tap-ins.”
Said Angella: “I gotta do what I gotta do. I love my sister,
but at the end of the day it’s still golf.”
And they will still be sisters.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance
writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.