DUPONT, Wash. – Cindy Ha and Alice Chen both came all the way from New Jersey to face each other Thursday morning in the second round of match play at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
Ha won the match, 2 and 1, to advance into an afternoon round-of-16 matchup with Jennifer Yang, while sending her good friend Alice packing.
“Other than one putt today, she made everything within 10 feet,” said Chen of her friend and opponent. “It was a very solid day for her and overall, it was a good and fun match.”
But while the Jersey girls hated the fact that one of them was going home, they also have traded wins and losses for at least the last half-dozen years in their home state. Sure, the stakes were higher at The Home Course on Thursday, but to each player, a win is a win.
“It was a good match and birdies won the holes,” said Ha, 17, of Demarest. “It was tough playing against someone I respect and have grown up with, and it’s always tough playing a friend, but that’s golf, and we just happened to be in the same bracket this week.”
Chen said facing her friend wasn’t that difficult because they have done it so many times.
“To me, we’re friends above competitors,” said Chen, 18, of Princeton. “My mentality is, we’re both going to try to play our best because it’s really not that much fun if you win because somebody else loses.”
Of course, there are days when one player is playing with a hot hand and the other player’s mojo has gone stone cold. For example, at the 2013 New Jersey High School State Championship, Chen shot 7 under while Ha, playing in the same pairing with Chen, finished 2 over par.
“It was fun watching her because she dominated that field,” said Ha. “Alice is an amazing player because she’s so straight and consistent, and her short game is spot on. It’s awesome to watch her score so well.”
But the two players, consistently among the top female golfers in New Jersey, go back and forth when it comes to winning.
“She’s a very well-rounded player and even when she gets some unlucky breaks, she has a good mental game,” said Chen of her rival. “Cindy is a really tough player, a hard worker and she never gives up.”
“When it comes to the two of us and who wins, it just depends on the day,” added Ha.
Still in their teens, both players have already notched some milestones in their respective amateur careers.
Ha was a quarterfinalist at the 2013 WAPL. Heading to Vanderbilt University this fall, she also was the 2011 New Jersey State Golf Association’s Junior Girls champion.
Besides winning the 2013 state high school title, Chen, headed for Furman University this fall, was the state’s player of the year, while also claiming the 2013 New Jersey State Golf Association Women’s Amateur and Junior Girls’ titles.
But last fall, the players got to team up and represent New Jersey at the USGA Women’s State Team Championship at NCR Country Club in Dayton, Ohio. Playing alongside mid-amateur Tara Fleming, the three New Jersey players brought home the Judy Bell Trophy for the state’s first title in the biennial competition.
“That championship was an amazing experience,” said Ha. “Alice played really well and that’s why we won.”
“There are a lot of good players coming up through junior golf in our state,” added Chen. “Compared to some of the other states, there may not be as many of us, but we have some good talent. The Jersey girls are getting better.”
The trophy is actually still in the living room of Ha’s house in northern New Jersey. Generally, each member of the winning team shares having the trophy over the two-year period..
“But right now, it’s in my parents’ living room, just chilling,” said Ha with a laugh.
Without the benefit of year-round golf weather, players like Ha and Chen don’t have the same advantage of some of their fellow competitors from warmer climates.
Typically from November into early March, players in the Northeast disappear indoors and practice so they can be ready for the pending golf season. Chen says she has a chipping net and putting mat in her basement. Ha also has a putting mat.
During winter months, the two also sometimes use a double-decker indoor/outdoor range, where the tees are heated and balls can be smacked out into the snow. Each player also putts at home on the living room carpet.
But while they might not have sunshine and green grass throughout the year, these two players are still serious about putting their small state on the map.
They also want to change public perception of girls in their state, based on a pop-culture TV show called “Jersey Shore.”
“Yeah, we get teased about being Jersey girls, but I don’t really like to associate myself with the ‘Jersey Shore’ cast,” laughed Ha. “That’s totally not me. But Jersey golf, yes, and it’s getting better every year.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.