CHARLESTON, S.C. – Ten days ago, Gabriella Then won her first USGA championship, defeating Lakareber Abe, 2 and 1, in the final match of the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind. Then, 17, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has already competed in 11 USGA championships – three this summer alone – including the U.S. Women’s Open in June at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
This week, Then could make USGA history by becoming the first competitor to win the Girls’ Junior and the Women’s Amateur in the same year. That’s no small feat, considering that only two players have ever advanced to the Women’s Amateur final after winning the Girls’ Junior: JoAnne Gunderson Carner (1956) and Nicole Perrot (2001).
But Then isn’t stressing about winning this week, instead putting faith in her strong fundamentals and relaxed mindset. Her family drove directly to Georgetown, S.C., from the Girls’ Junior for a well-deserved day off, allowing her to spend time on the beach with her parents and younger sister, Angella. Angella, 14, who is on the bag for Gabriella this week after earning first-alternate status at her Women’s Amateur qualifier, competed alongside her sister at the Girls’ Junior, where she fell in the first round.
The sisters spent the day tanning and boogie boarding, although the elder Then admits that her athletic prowess on the golf course does not translate to the ocean.
“Water is not my thing," she said with a laugh. "Somehow I always flip over and the board ends up smacking me in the face.”
Despite these minor mishaps, Then arrived at the Country Club of Charleston refreshed and ready to compete against the world’s top amateurs. That’s not to say that she is focused on adding the Robert Cox Trophy to her already impressive golf résumé just yet.
“I’m just thinking about making the cut first,” said Then, who will begin classes as an incoming freshman at the University of Southern California in three weeks. “Then we can talk about winning more championships. I’m just taking it one shot at a time, one round at a time.”
In the record books
Lucy Li, of Redwood City, Calif., teed off at 7:40 a.m. Monday to become the youngest competitor in the history of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at 10 years, 10 months and 4 days of age. Earlier this summer, while competing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, Li became the youngest-ever match play qualifier at 10 years, 8 months and 16 days of age.
While watching Li play, spectators frequently comment on her small stature. One exclamation is heard on the course repeatedly, “That driver is taller than her!”
Despite her small size, Li’s game is impressive and her love of the game is apparent. Even after a long, hot day on the course, Li is all smiles when she steps off the 18th green.
“My back nine was a lot better,” she said when asked about her round of 82. “I’m still just having fun.”
Learning from Lopez
Usually, when an amateur golfer wins a tournament, their reward is the satisfaction that comes from playing their best and knowing that it was good enough.
However, for Kelli Murphy, 17, of Elgin, S.C., winning the SCJGA’s 2013 Caddie Classic meant she would be leaving the tournament with something a bit more tangible than that feeling of accomplishment. Her victory earned her the opportunity to caddie for one of her heroes, World Golf Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, at the 2013 Monday After the Masters Pro-Am in April.
Murphy said she admires Lopez’s poise on the course, noting her aptitude for remaining composed regardless of her performance – an ability Murphy hopes to emulate this week in Charleston. She believes that the time she spent with Lopez had an immeasurable impact on her golf game, and she had trouble finding words to express how much she enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity.
“She is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet,” said Murphy. “Being able to spend so much time with her was one of the coolest experiences of my life.”
Anne D. Pennington is the USGA’s communications intern. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.