DUPONT, Wash. – Cassy Isagawa has had her share of close calls this summer. One stroke here, two strokes there – everything but the desired result.
Isagawa, 20, of Wailuku, Hawaii, on the island of Maui, missed qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open by one stroke and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur by two. She was first alternate for this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at The Home Course, missing qualifying by one stroke.
But a mulligan of sorts came on Sunday morning with a phone call from the USGA at 7:30 a.m. Isagawa’s father answered and immediately woke his daughter. When she heard it was the USGA on the other end, the University of Oregon rising senior knew it was good news. A player had withdrawn late Saturday night and Isagawa was next on the allotment list.
Isagawa hastily made airline reservations, while her mom packed a suitcase and her dad packed her golf clubs.
“I had no idea what clothes I had in my suitcase,” said Isagawa.
Approximately three hours later, she was bound for Honolulu, where she made a quick connecting flight to Seattle. An hour after landing, she was at the residence of her host family.
Former USGA Executive Committee member Mary Bea Porter-King, who runs the Hawaii Junior Golf Association and was the guest speaker at Saturday night’s WAPL Players’ Dinner, helped arrange for Isagawa to have a local caddie (Sam Hodge).
With an afternoon starting time for Monday’s first round of stroke play, Isagawa had time to sleep in and gather some course information. Fellow competitors and her host family offered advice.
As it turned out, she didn’t need much assistance. Showing no signs of jetlag, Isagawa carded a 2-under 70 to put herself in solid position to qualify for match play. Maybe she should just avoid future practice rounds.
“I had a great caddie,” said Isagawa, who birdied her final two holes. “He told me what to do, basically. It was target golf. Line it up here, hit it there. I just had to trust it.
“Sometimes you play better when you don’t expect anything. You just go out there and play what you see. What was great is I could never get ahead of myself here because I didn’t know what was ahead. I just took every shot as it is and played one shot at a time.”
A National Champion
Las Vegas teen Hunter Pate is competing in her second WAPL, but this time she brings a unique experience that she did not have when she played two years ago at age 12.
Pate got to experience the thrill hitting shots in front of thousands of fans and some of the world’s top players at Augusta National Golf Club when she competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals this spring.
Even better, she won the Girls 14-15 Division.
“I was just in shock and looked at my dad,” said Pate. “We just won this competition at Augusta National!”
The whole journey started in 2013 when Pate and her family were watching The Masters on television and saw the commercial for the competition.
“My mom told my dad, ‘Put her in that,’” said Pate, one of two DCP champions in the WAPL field (Lucy Li, Girls 10-11 Division). “My mom loves Augusta and when we got there, it was beautiful.”
Pate had completely forgotten about DCP when her parents reminded her she needed to start practicing.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Pate.
First, she had to advance through two qualifiers. She barely advanced from the local qualifier because she hit both of her drives out of bounds, but scrambled with her chipping and putting.
She and her family traveled to Arizona for the regionals, where her inconsistent driving continued.
“I couldn’t hit a driver to save my life, so I pulled out my 3-wood and it went straight,” said Pate, who won the regional. “You get three shots and you get no points if you hit it out of the grid and I ended up getting all of them in the grid.”
That advanced her into the finals this spring in Augusta, Ga.
It was a busy Sunday morning with players on the course practicing before the Masters. During the driving competition, Bubba Watson came over and shook the hands of the competitors.
“That was so cool,” said Pate. “And then he went on to win the whole thing.”
Pate wasn’t sure she had won the event after the final putt on the 18th green, the same position from which defending Masters champion Adam Scott had birdied the hole in regulation play.
“But all of a sudden, we heard, ‘And now from Las Vegas,’ and we screamed,” said Pate’s father, Jack.
As a bonus to her experience, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne and Augusta National member Condoleezza Rice took Hunter and Jack to lunch.
While Li attracted most of the attention at the DCP finals, Pate said she didn’t feel overshadowed by the younger player.
“She’s a great girl with a great game,” said Pate, a high school freshman. “She deserves it. No jealousy about it.”
And how does that help Pate this week at the WAPL?
“I learned how to play better under pressure,” said Pate, who opened with an 81. “I just want to keep playing and see where it takes me.”
Dana Finkelstein had never traveled outside the United States, so when the January call came to her coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas about her playing in the 15th World University Golf Championship in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, it didn’t take the Chandler, Ariz., native long to make the decision.
“I actually had to get a passport for it,” said Finkelstein, who will be a senior at UNLV in the fall.
Finkelstein made sure the four-day competition didn’t conflict with any other tournament before agreeing to join 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitors Kyung Kim and Annie Park from the University of Southern California, and Vanderbilt’s Jenny Hahn. All but Hahn are competing in this week’s WAPL. Finkelstein shot a 2-over 74 on Monday, while Park had a 68 and Kim also shot 74.
Selections were based on players’ position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
“I knew all the girls we went over with,” said Finkelstein, “so it was a good trip.”
Kim, Finkelstein and Park competed in the team competition, where the two best 18-hole scores counted toward the team’s total. The USA took the silver medal, shooting 12-under 564, four strokes behind Spain. Finkelstein shot 1-under 287 to finish in a tie for 13th.
The mountain course was the same layout used for the PGA European Tour’s annual Omega Masters.
“I struggled a bit with the distances,” said Finkelstein of the thinner air due to the high elevation. “I air-mailed a couple of greens. It also was really narrow.”
Added Park: “Every hole had a really nice view. It’s actually kind of like [The Home Course]. It was nice.”
While there wasn’t much time for sightseeing, the team did get a picturesque three-hour bus ride from Geneva, the country’s second-largest city, to the tournament site in the Alps. Then at the closing ceremonies, Crans-Montana resident and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott made a surprising cameo.
“That was worth it,” said Finkelstein.
The team did, however, find some time for shopping, and Finkelstein purchased some Swiss chocolate.
“It’s already gone,” she said.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.