DUPONT, Wash. – Annie Park just wanted to pass out.
Exhausted from a long final day of stroke-play qualifying at the 38th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship on Tuesday, the 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitor’s mind was focused on one thing: her bed.
By mid-Wednesday morning, the University of Southern California rising junior stood on the first tee at The Home Course beside a familiar name, a golfer she knew was going to be a handful. Never mind that there wasn’t any past history between her and Katie Lee, Park fully understood the challenge ahead.
At last month’s Curtis Cup Match, Park successfully paired with Katie’s older sister, Erynne, in Friday foursomes (alternate-shot) and in Saturday’s four-ball session of the USA’s 13-7 victory over Great Britain and Ireland at St. Louis Country Club. One of those wins was a 4-and-2 decision over Stephanie Meadow and Georgia Hall, the former finishing third at the recent U.S. Women’s Open in her professional debut and the latter making the cut at last week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Erynne and Park have been longtime friends and rivals, both in junior, amateur and collegiate golf, with the former an All-American at UCLA.
And it didn’t take Park long on Wednesday to see she was facing a mirror image.
“She’s a really good player,” said a gracious Park following Lee’s 1-up victory. “Just playing Erynne’s little sister … was like playing Erynne.”
On Tuesday night, Katie, a 2014 Central Kitsap High graduate from nearby Silverdale, received a congratulatory phone call from her 21-year-old sister. Erynne, who is in summer school at UCLA, was proud that Katie made match play with birdies on two of her final three holes. A motivational text followed on Wednesday.
“She said, may the odds be ever in your favor,” said Katie, quoting a line from The Hunger Games. “I was laughing a bit. She gave me some [match-play] pointers. I haven’t played match play that much. She said Annie is a really good player, so it’s all right if you don’t make it. Just try your best, hit some good shots and have fun.”
When it was over – Park missed a 4-foot par putt on No. 18 to extend the match – Katie was met by several local supporters, including Shari Jacobson, the manager of membership and club relations for the Washington State Golf Association. Jacobson’s son, Spencer, a fellow 2014 Central Kitsap High graduate, is serving as Katie’s caddie. Another woman asked her to autograph the match-play draw sheet. That was followed by more hugs and cheers.
Katie is no stranger to The Home Course. She can’t count the number of times she has played the course, whether for fun or in WSGA or Pacific Northwest Golf Association competitions. She once held the course record of 67 from the red tees.
But having met her initial goal of qualifying for match play, Katie felt at ease against Park. On paper, it didn’t seem like a fair fight. Park came in ranked No. 12 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, while Lee was No. 2,718. Then again, a precedent was set a year ago when co-medalist Park, then No. 8 in the WAGR, was defeated in the first round to incoming Gonzaga University freshman Ciera Min, the 2,883rd-ranked player.
Over 18 holes, anything can happen.
“I had a feeling it could go either way, but more her favor,” said Katie, who watched Park and her sister at the Curtis Cup. “I definitely knew Annie’s game. Honestly, it was really good to be able to watch her swing and learn from her. That’s all I did today is learn from her.”
This fall, Katie, 18, will join Erynne at UCLA, but won’t be competing. She has chosen to focus on academics, although she will serve as the manager for the women’s golf team. Unlike many of today’s elite players, Katie doesn’t have professional aspirations.
Katie did say she might change her mind down the road, but the UCLA coaches are honoring her decision.
“I want to keep studying and keep putting my time toward that,” she said. “They [UCLA coaches] wish the best for me. They’ll support me either way.”
Right now, Lee can put the academics on hold. She still has more golf to play. On Thursday morning, she takes on Stani Schiavone, of Bangor, Pa., in the round of 32.
Another win and Katie might be the one passing out.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.