Oakmont, Pa. – Sitting on the veranda of Oakmont Country Club’s expansive clubhouse during a break between the third and fourth rounds on Sunday of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open, Tiffany Lim goes relatively unnoticed. To the uninitiated, she could easily be a sister, daughter or caddie of one of the competitors.
She fiddles with her cell phone, looking at a text message as a visitor approaches.
“I am still in high school so this is a completely new experience for me,” says the 16-year-old from San Jose, Calif., who is competing in her first Women’s Open.
These days, being a high school competitor at the Women’s Open is hardly a novelty. Heck, this year’s championship featured a 15-year-old professional (Alexis Thompson) who wound up tied for 10th.
But Lim doesn’t consider herself in that class … just yet. A year ago she was desperately trying to make the match-play cut at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Her game, while good enough to qualify for two USGA championships, hadn’t quite progressed to the level required for a deep run.
A year older and armed with better fundamentals, Lim managed to qualify for the Women’s Open. And not only did she compete alongside the world’s best female golfers on one of the country’s most demanding layouts, she played well enough to make the cut. Never mind that she posted weekend rounds of 83-86 to finish 68th out of 68 golfers who completed 72 holes. That’s irrelevant.
For Lim, just the opportunity to play four competitive rounds at Oakmont Country Club was a major bonus.
She is unlikely to play another course as difficult or as challenging the rest of the season, including this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Country Club of North Carolina.
“You can’t get this from junior tournaments,” said Lim. “The course is the toughest I have ever played. It’s nice to get that challenge.
“Making the cut is really going to help my confidence going into the Girls’ Junior.”
One could say Lim is a quick study. When she was younger, she mastered the piano, violin and guitar. While she doesn’t play in the school orchestra, she often will jam on the guitar with friends, and she has little trouble completing songs at the expert level on Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games.
At Leland High School, where she’ll be a senior this fall, she carries a 4.0 grade-point average and scored 2210 out of a possible 2400 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
While many elite junior golfers are skipping college altogether, Lim has narrowed her choices to such esteemed institutions as Harvard, Princeton and Duke. She will likely major in economics or psychology.
Her intelligence isn’t hard to notice. When Lim talks, there’s a level of articulation not found in most teenagers.
On the weekend, when many kids are watching TV or playing video games, Lim can be found volunteering at a center for autistic kids. “We help take care of them and take them to activities,” she said. “It gives the parents a little bit of a break. You try to communicate with them as much as you can. You talk to them the whole time and encourage them to do these activities. We sing and dance [with them].”
Then there’s the golf talent. Lim also made the match-play cut at the Women’s Amateur Public Links in June at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame and lost in the second round to Annie Park (1 down). She attributes much of her success this season to the work she has done with Laird Small, the director of instruction at the Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Academy.
Lim makes the 90-minute trek to Spyglass Hill to work with Small.
“He really helped me develop mentally and with my swing,” said Lim, who plays out of Coyote Creek, a 36-hole public facility south of San Jose. “My swing has gotten a lot simpler. Mentally, I know all you can control on the course is your attitude and your emotions. You can’t really control where the ball goes.”
For Lim, playing in the Women’s Open was also an opportunity to soak up knowledge from the game’s best. She played practice rounds with Helen Alfredsson, Jeong Jang and Yani Tseng. On the weekend, she played with two-time USGA champion Jennifer Song, Anna Rawson, Heekyung Seo and Libby Smith. During the first two rounds, she was grouped with Canadian Lorie Kane, who offered up plenty of worldly advice on college and playing golf professionally.
Lim even snuck in a few autographs, while also handing out a few to fans much older than her.
“That’s the best part about this tournament,” said Lim of the experience. “I wasn’t ashamed [about getting an autograph]. They are great players. Helen and Yani Tseng gave me a [signed] golf ball.
“Yani, she was the one who talked to me the most in the practice round. She wants to be a good role model for the juniors.”
And while Lim is one of a handful of golfers in the Women’s Open field competing at this week’s Girls’ Junior, she doesn’t think that will give her any advantage over the rest of the field.
“There are some really good players there,” she said of the Girls’ Junior field. “I’m still the same person. I still have my same friends. I am just going to be playing my own game the whole time.”
She might just stand out a little more.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.