DUPONT, Wash. – Four years ago, Alana Uriell’s father removed the hinges on the bedroom door to get his daughter to reconnect with her family. It was a bold, but necessary action that led directly to Alana’s run to the semifinals in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
Barbara Uriel, Alana’s mother, was a former collegiate gymnast and introduced her daughter to sports. By the time she was 10, Alana was an elite cross-country runner in the 3½-mile distance.
While not a golfer herself, Barbara also got her daughter started in golf. Through instruction and local competitions, Alana was becoming a proficient junior player.
But in 2010, when Alana was 14, Barbara Uriell lost a two-year battle with breast cancer at age 54. .
“At her age, it was especially difficult, and with the closeness she shared with her mother through sports, it was even more difficult,” said Alana’s father, Patrick, a retired San Diego firefighter.
Following her mother’s death, it took Uriell nearly two years to come out of her bedroom.. She would play golf, but then come home, close the door and hibernate.
“I finally took the door hinges off and said, You’re going to be part of our family, whether you like it or not,” said her father.
By her own admission, Uriell lost her “motivation for a while” as she struggled with her mother’s death.
“My mom was the main drive behind me,” said Uriell, 17, of Carlsbad, Calif., who suffered a 1-down defeat to medalist Eun Jeong Seong in the semifinals. “She set up my life for me and showed me what the standards were to get good at whatever I was doing. To not have her there with me anymore, I was kind of lost.”
But recognizing his daughter’s progress and early successes in golf, Patrick Uriell – now a single father of two – continued to build an essential team of friends who could offer Alana rides to tournaments, golf lessons and encouragement in her darkest hours.
“She’s had a few hard knocks in life,” said her dad. “She needed to get her traction back.”
Uriell started finding that traction when she began posting top-10 finishes on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and Southern California junior golf circuits. She also lettered four years on the girls’ golf team at Carlsbad High School.
Her solid play eventually attracted the attention of college programs, including the University of Arkansas, where she will be a freshman this fall.
Uriell entered this week’s 2014 WAPL unranked in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, but surprised many when she earned the No. 4 seed and advanced to the semifinals, including a hard-fought, 20-hole win over reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Gabriella Then on Friday morning in the quarterfinals. In stroke-play qualifying, she carded a career-low 66.
But Uriell claims none of that would have been possible had her “team” of supporters not included one key individual this week – caddie Austin Bordeaux. Bordeaux, a student at Washington State University and avid golfer, raised his hand to tote Uriell’s bag.
Bordeaux was recommended to Uriell by her housing host. The two met briefly last Friday for the first time, played a practice round together last Saturday and instantly clicked. Their serendipitous connection turned into success as Uriell marched through her matches.
“Compared to all of my other tournaments, my mental game has been amazing this week, thanks to my caddie,” said Uriell. “I can’t believe how well I’ve been pairing up against these college girls.”
All week the two have been seen laughing, high-fiving and talking up and down fairways. When Uriell talked to a reporter between her two matches on Friday, Bordeaux sat with her, pushing her bottled water and chips while she talked and ate a hamburger.
“We hit our shots the same length, which makes it really easy for us,” said Bordeaux, 20, who works at Fircrest Golf Course outside Tacoma. “I just zoom the distance with the rangefinder and tell her which club to hit. She’s a really good player and that’s why she has made it this far.”
Bordeaux has also been in the ear of his player all week, reminding her to have fun and to be confident in her shots. In the moments when she has become overwhelmed or, as Bordeaux says, “super-serious,” her caddie has told her that match-play events like the WAPL translate into long days. The two were at the course for 11 hours on Thursday, with the caddie working hard to keep a smile on his player’s face.
“Honestly, she had one of the worst mental games I’ve ever seen at the start of this tournament,” said Bordeaux. “All I’ve been doing is telling her she can hit the shots and that she’s good enough to hit them where she wants to hit them.”
That has been one of the biggest challenges Uriell has faced since losing her top cheerleader. Rather than seeing herself as one of the nation’s top junior players, sometimes she only sees what is missing. Confidence has been as much of an issue for the teen as club selection on crucial holes.
“I’ve learned that the mental game has a bigger effect on your physical game than you think it does and that golf is about controlling what you do and what you think,” said Uriell, who had a 3.8 grade-point average in high school.
“My caddie has helped me take a moment to put myself in a better mindset this week and when I do that, I can do so much. I’ve learned to believe in myself rather than thinking, I don’t belong here.”
Her father says watching his daughter’s progress at this week’s WAPL has been “like watching a Disney movie.” Things have fallen into place. His daughter is smiling again.
“This is a real important summer to her because she’s leaving home to go to college soon,” he said. “This week has put the icing on the cake for her.”
Patrick Uriell wiped his eyes as he watched his daughter and her caddie scurry off to the range to prepare for her Friday afternoon semifinal match. He recalled seeing her mother sit Alana down at the dining room table years ago to deliver some lasting advice – a life lesson about more than just sports.
Her mother told Alana she wanted her to play golf and Alana asked why golf?
“Her mother said, ‘All sports require natural ability and discipline, and if you have them both, you’ll be good,’” Patrick recalled. “Then her mother turned around, smiled at her and said, ‘And if all you have is discipline, you’ll still be good.’”
Patrick Uriell added that the expansion of his daughter’s team this week with a caddie who has helped her enjoy the rounds has been fun to watch. She has smiled and for once, she has believed she was good enough to play with the best players in the field.
Most of all, his daughter has regained some of the joy she lost four years ago.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.