FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — After tournaments ranging from her native California to Tennessee, San Diego, Massachusetts and Washington over the last five weeks, Robynn Ree should at least be slightly tired. But after walking off the 18th green during Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 66th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Forest Highlands Golf Club, she insisted that’s not the case.
Such a hectic summer travel schedule is no longer surprising for talented junior golfers, especially this year with the back-to-back playing of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship and the Girls’ Junior in Washington and Arizona, respectively.
“The travel is fine and you get used to it,” said Ree, who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., and shot a 2-over 74. “I’ve been doing it for along time. My first out-of-state U.S. Kids championship happened when I was 7, so I started pretty young. It’s actually fun. Not everyone can travel when they want to so I’m pretty fortunate.”
“It’s exhausting but exciting at the same time,” said Cindy Ha of Demarest, N.J. Her current road trip started on July 11 when she flew to Seattle for the Women’s Amateur Public Links. After advancing to the quarterfinals there, she flew to Arizona this past Saturday morning, walked the inward nine and played a practice round on Sunday before shooting a 1-under 71 on Monday.
“I can’t really sleep on planes so when I get to the hotel I just pass out,” says Ha, one of 14 golfers playing the U.S. Girls' Junior who competed last week at the WAPL. “I don’t mind the travel too much.” To pass the time, she listens to a lot of music (a current favorite is “Rude” by Magic) and reads books (she’s headed to Vanderbilt this fall and working through a summer reading list that includes Salvage the Bones – “I don’t enjoy it too much but I have to read it”).
Ha travels with her father, Matthew. “He can get annoying a little bit if we spend too much time together,” she laughed. “But I love having him with me. He’s my biggest fan. He handles all my travel.”
While she Facetimes with her mother often, it’s a four-legged friend — her four-year old Silky Terrier named Tommy — she might be missing the most.
Fortunately she usually encounters another friend at most tournaments —Ree. “She is my best friend,” says Ha. “We stay in the same hotels so we hang out together. We actually do almost everything together. To have a friend on the road is a big help.”
No matter who players travel with, a number of factors can have a dramatic and costly effect on travel plans, including successful results.
At last week’s WAPL, Dominique Galloway, of Rio Rancho, N.M., had a flight booked out of Seattle to Arizona on Thursday, but she advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday, creating a bit of travel-related stress.
“We had to kick our flight back which cost a bit of money and then we were delayed for two hours in Seattle due to crew issues,” her father John recalled. “Instead of leaving there around 7 p.m., getting into Phoenix at 10 and then arriving in Flagstaff around midnight, we didn’t arrive until almost 3 [a.m.] Saturday.”
“I was thinking about it but he said don’t worry, I’ve got it,” added Dominique. “I was like, dang, my younger sister (Jacqueline) needs to go to Arizona too but she wants to stay and watch me. Then what if she is late for the Girls’ Junior and we don’t even get a practice round there? So it was stressful but also a lot of fun because I have never made it to the quarterfinals before.”
Next week she heads to College Station, Texas, to play in the PGA Junior Championship, while Jacqueline — whose 76 on Monday edged her older sibling by a stroke — is going to the Girls’ Junior America’s Cup in Walla Walla, Wash.
“We have calendars all around our house in every single room to keep track of our tournaments,” laughed Dominique, who is passing time on the road by reading three books required for her high school AP (advanced placement)history class. “I try to get involved with the travel plans because I know in college you have to deal with that stuff. So I ask him, ‘Dad, why did you do that?’ And then he tells me.”
He had a lot to tell recently while planning trips to Seattle, Flagstaff and Texas, with just one day at home in New Mexico.
“Trying to coordinate three sets of hotels, arrange for practice rounds and rental cars is difficult,” he admits. “We have the oversized golf bags, luggage and the four of us, which means we always have to upgrade rental cars. Getting the right size vehicle is hard. It’s almost like you need someone else to take care of it and then we can just show up. I’m getting better at it.”
The Galloways just started traveling further afield this summer after largely driving to most tournaments.
John is an elementary-school physical education teacher and his wife, Monica, is a first-grade reading specialist, so the timing works out for their schedules.
While he readily admits how enjoyable it is to see their daughters playing in national championships, a close eye needs to be kept on costs. “We just have to be smarter about it next year,” he said.
While such regular and far-flung travel may once have been a foreign concept for juniors, it’s virtually required now at the highest levels of competition. An ability to handle life on the road may just be a credit to the resiliency of youth, but it’s also due to the early exposure so many juniors have received to extensive travel.
Ree, accompanied by either her mother or father depending upon their work schedules, is blessed with the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. That will come in handy because her summer road trip will have her joining Dominique Galloway in Texas next week.
And if you think she’ll then take a much-needed rest at home, think again. Once that tournament ends, she’s jetting off to New Jersey to visit her best friend Cindy Ha.
She plans on sleeping during the flight.
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.