FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – One day it was her best friend, the next day it was her neighbor.
Such is the bizarre twist of fate Courtney Dow was dealt at this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Forest Highlands Golf Club.
Dow, 16, of Frisco, Texas, drew best-friend Cheyenne Knight, of Aledo, Texas, for Wednesday’s round-of-64 match and less than 18 hours after the 5-and-4 victory she was joined on the first tee of the Meadow Course by fellow Frisco resident Binny Lee.
“It was strange to face a Texan in the first and second round,” said Dow near the 16th green following a 4-and-2 defeat to Lee. “Both were tough, but at the same time it was fun to play with friends.”
Well, Lee is certainly an acquaintance. The two girls might live 10 minutes from each other in suburban Dallas, but outside of golf competitions rarely cross paths.
You certainly won’t find Lee or Dow, a 2016 commit to Texas A&M, taking in a movie or shopping at the local mall. Lee, whose mother Nan Yool won a gold medal in Taekwondo at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is a rising sophomore who is home-schooled, while Dow will be a junior at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison.
They both practice and play at different golf courses: Lee at Frisco Lakes and Dow at Stonebriar Country Club.
Lee even wrote on her media bio that because she’s home-schooled, she doesn’t have any non-golfing friends.
“I felt really bad competing against her,” said the soft-spoken Lee, who closed out the match with a 35-foot birdie on No. 16 that drew a loud scream from her father, Sangjin, who was watching from the fairway. “She’s a good friend.
“I think it’s good to have friends [off the course], but I am trying to focus on golf and working hard to improve.”
After Tuesday’s final stroke-play qualifying round, Dow was having dinner at Chipotle with Knight and her family when the first-round pairings popped up in her smart phone. Dow resisted saying anything, but later sent her best friend a text.
“You should check the tee times,” she wrote.
The two didn’t end an eight-year kinship over the match. In fact, Dow and Knight, who lives 90 minutes away in a Fort Worth suburb, chatted and enjoyed a post-match ice cream before she left for home.
Dow, meanwhile, prepared for the Texas two-step. Her balky putter didn’t cooperate as she missed a 5-foot birdie on the par-3 second hole, a sign of how the day would go.
Before hopping in a transportation cart for the clubhouse, a gracious Dow high-fived Lee and wished her luck in the round of 16 against 13-year-old Sofia Chabron, of the Philippines.
Lee went off to have lunch and prepare for a match she would win, 2 up. Dow left to visit one of the world’s natural wonders: the Grand Canyon.
Now that’s something she won’t see in Texas.
Getting The Job Dunne
Two things changed in the last year, propelling Brigitte Dunne to another level in her development. The first was she gave up competitive soccer and tennis. The second occurred about a month ago when she switched to a claw grip for putting.
“I couldn’t get good at it if I was only doing it part-time, and it’s worked,” said Dunne, who advanced to the quarterfinals on Thursday with a 4-and-3 win over Mary Janiga.
But even before the 17-year-old from Camarillo, Calif., arrived at Forest Highlands, a new wave of confidence had been gained in early July when Dunne claimed the North and South Girls Junior at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club’s No. 6 Course. Dunne won the 54-hole event in a two-hole playoff over Sarah Spicer, despite a final-round 76 that included a triple bogey on hole 17. Dunne, in fact, thought she had lost the tournament.
Then she got up and down for par on the first playoff hole and won it with a birdie on the next hole.
“It was weird because I didn’t make any putts all day,” said Dunne, a rising senior at Oaks Christian High School who has committed to attend Southern Methodist University in 2015. “That [win] really changed my whole perspective. It showed I can make clutch putts. Putting has always been my weakness, but it’s becoming a lot better.”
Dunne admitted to being fidgety and feeling tension in her forearms over putts. Switching to the claw grip has released the tension.
Practicing every day at Spanish Hills Country Club, Dunne could see the results taking shape.
This week, Dunne arrived at her second U.S. Girls’ Junior – she missed the match-play cut in 2013 – relatively unknown. Despite a couple of close calls in American Junior Golf Association events, her lone major victory was her North & South triumph two weeks ago. That week, she strolled the halls of the clubhouse looking at all the historic memorabilia, including photos of the late U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart, while knowing her name would be going up on a plaque as a North & South Junior champion.
At Forest Highlands, Dunne, who bears some facial resemblance to 2012 USA Curtis Cup member Austin Ernst, shot 148 in qualifying to sneak into the match-play draw, then defeated Lauren Waidner, 3 and 2, in the first round, before needing 19 holes to oust Hailee Cooper in Thursday’s round of 32.
Now she’s a couple of wins away from the championship match.
Getting her name on a USGA trophy to match one inscribed on a plaque at Pinehurst in the same year?
That could be cooler than a Southern California sunset.
Mexico was guaranteed at least one golfer in the round of 16 with second-seeded Marijosse Navarro, 17, of Mexico City, facing countrywoman Monica Dibildox, 16, of Saltillo.
Navarro, competing in her fourth and final U.S. Girls’ Junior, prevailed, 3 and 1. But it didn’t come without some melancholy.
“It was tough playing with her,” said Navarro, a three-time Mexican Amateur champion who advanced to the quarterfinals later on Thursday with a 1-up win over Shannon Brooks. “You don’t want to kick out a friend from Mexico.”
And Dibildox didn’t surrender without a fight. At the par-4 ninth, she chipped in from 30 yards out for a par, eventually winning the hole when Navarro lipped out a 6-foot putt. Dibildox also rallied from a two-hole deficit to square the match after 13 holes.
Navarro delivered the knockout punch with three consecutive birdies from No. 15.
She credited her local caddie, Northern Arizona University junior Jacque LeMarr, for keeping her calm on a tough day.
“She’s very good with the distance and the greens,” said Navarro.
Navarro graduated 1½ years early from Blessed Hope Academy in San Antonio in order to enroll at Texas A&M University in January. While the academic adjustment was challenging, the transition to college golf was smooth.
She helped the Aggies tie for 10th at the NCAA Division I Championship at Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club, site of next year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, and she finished sixth individually, carding a final-round 66. In September, she’ll join compatriot Gabby Lopez and a third player still to be named, to represent Mexico at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Japan. It will be Navarro’s third appearance in the event.
But this week, she’s hoping to become the second Mexican-born golfer to win a USGA championship.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “I just enjoy and play my game.”
Odds and Ends
A total of five eagles were made at the par-4 sixth hole on Thursday, thanks to the tee markers being moved up to make the hole play 265 yards. Medalist Angel Yin had a 2 in the round of 32, while Kristen Gillman, Bethany Wu, Shannon Brooks and Shelly Shin produced eagles in the round of 16…After being eliminated in the round of 32 by Rose Huang, Courtney Zeng donned a bib to caddie for good friend Mary Janiga…Binny Lee is the only quarterfinalist who qualified for match play via the 11-for-8 playoff that concluded Wednesday morning.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.