Notre Dame, Ind. -- In the noteworthy sports movie Hoosiers, filmed not too far from the location of this week’s WAPL, a reporter asks Coach Norman Dale what it’s like to take his underdog basketball team from small Hickory High School to the state championship at spacious Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“My boys know about basketball, farming and school – probably in that order,” says Hackman, before comparing the team’s trip to the massive enclave to a trip to the moon.
Well, welcome to another planet as far as WAPL finalists Emily Tubert and Lisa McCloskey are concerned.
As Coach Dale rightly reminds his overachieving team, the 18-year-old finalists are already winners no matter what the scoreboard shows at the conclusion of Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final.
McCloskey seems at ease with her game and the finals’ stage. A rising newcomer at the University of Southern California, McCloskey’s closest match of this year’s WAPL was a 1-up quarterfinal round victory over UCLA’s Brianna Do, where she made her biggest shot of the championship, draining a long putt at the 18th hole to advance.
Owner of a steely nerve, there was no quarterfinal hangover for the ever-focused McCloskey, who disposed of Ellen Mueller in the semifinals, 3 and 2, in a match she led from the fifth hole. McCloskey, who recently transferred to USC after two years at Pepperdine, is making her first appearance in the WAPL, but any rookie mistakes have hardly been discernable.
She’s been tested before on big stages; McCloskey has advanced in match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and was a quarterfinalist in the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she was medalist, firing 63 in the second of two stroke-play rounds. As a freshman at Pepperdine, she set the NCAA 54-scoring mark with a 19-under 199 total at a tournament in Las Vegas.
If ever there were a likely candidate to reach the finals, it’s McCloskey, who knows there’s more to the game than making birdies, there’s the fundamentals always and above all. She routinely outthinks and outworks her opponents, and before anyone knows any better, she’s built an insurmountable advantage. She methodically hits fairways and greens and displays the kind of clam that is rewarded in USGA championships, especially when it’s as filled with the pressure of a match as a silo on an Indiana farm.
“There are a lot of good players in the field,” McCloskey said. “I was lucky to have a good seeding and I didn’t have to play super, super solid. I was lucky to have even-par rounds for the most part and still win matches.”
Of course, no good drama can be without a little human touch. Tubert has strengthened ties with the leader of her fan base in caddie and father Marcelo, who, in a twist of irony, acted with Hackman in Postcards from the Edge.
It’s obvious who’s more nervous headed into the deciding game.
“Oh, he is,” Emily laughs, “and it’s not over yet.”
Marcelo, who like many others in a tough economic environment, has seen some hard times in recent months, was asked by Emily to caddie in WAPL sectional qualifying. He rightfully earned a spot on the bag this week and the experience has been an uplifting one for daughter and dad.
“I had black hair and now I need to take a look in the back and see if I’ve lost any of it,” Marcelo laughs. “It’s such an emotional –emotional– thing to watch Emily do this and to be by her side. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. My heart is bursting like never before. It’s an amazing thing.”
A few years ago, Emily stopped playing competitive basketball and volleyball to focus on golf. Her rapid growth in the game can be attributed to lots of practice and playing an increasingly competitive national schedule. Tubert has honed her skills under the watchful eye of coach Zachary Allan of De Bell Golf Club in her native Burbank, Calif.
“I didn’t really know what was going to become of me in golf when I started. I just kept suiting up, showing up and kept improving,” said Tubert, who is bound for the University of Arkansas in the fall.
With plenty of athletic pedigree already on her side, she found additional inspiration in her sister, Sarah, who is hard of hearing. A member of her high school water polo team, Sarah is completely deaf while in the water, but that hasn’t precluded her from being honored as the team’s most valuable player. Sarah will soon try out for the Deaf Olympics.
“The stuff that she’s accomplished and the adversity she’s overcome is just incredible.” Emily says. “She’s never let anything stop her, and never let anyone tell her, ‘No.’”
As far as this week is concerned, the championship already rivals a tearjerker.
“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” Marcelo says. “The other day, [Emily] put her head on my shoulder on the teeing ground and said, ‘I love you, Dad.’ I had to think, ‘OK, don’t cry. Don’t cry.’ ”
Not even a wisp of early morning Indiana rain can dampen the mood around this showstopper.
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He is contributing articles at this week's WAPL for the USGA.