FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Jacquie LeMarr’s face lit up when a volunteer approached with some chapstick.
Her face parched and her legs numb from walking 39 holes, LeMarr was finally happy to get some relief.
And she never hit a shot all day.
LeMarr has served as Marijosse Navarro’s caddie at this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior being conducted at Forest Highlands Golf Club’s Meadow Course, and it’s been quite a run for the Northern Arizona University rising junior.
LeMarr experienced the Girls’ Junior as a player in 2011, but failed to qualify for match play at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.
As a caddie, she’s in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match. Navarro, who eliminated Shelly Shin in 21 holes in Friday’s semifinals, faces Princess Mary Superal, of the Philippines, in the fourth all-international final in championship history, and the second since that 2011 Girls’ Junior when Ariya Jutanugarn, of Thailand, defeated Dottie Ardina, of the Philippines.
LeMarr wasn’t concerned about stats as she jumped off the cart that transported her from the 16th green, where Navarro, 17, drained a 40-footer for birdie on the third extra playoff hole.
“I’m ready for bed,” she told a group of friends behind the 18th green that also included NAU women’s golf coach Brad Bedortha.
It was Bedortha who hooked LeMarr up with Navarro. He knew Texas A&M coach Trelle McCombs and when Navarro, a rising sophomore for the Aggies, was searching for a caddie, McCombs contacted Bedortha. LeMarr transferred to NAU from UCLA in January after playing 1½ years with the Bruins’ highly-ranked program.
So with her local knowledge and Navarro’s game, the two have forged a formidable tandem. A bond was forged immediately.
“It’s been awesome,” said LeMarr after Navarro’s 1-up quarterfinal win over 15-year-old Andrea Lee. “She is such a sweetheart and is an amazing player. I think I’ve learned a lot from her and I think she’s learned a lot from me. We work really well together.”
Navarro said after her round-of-32 victory on Thursday that LeMarr has played a major role in her success this week. She shot 8-under 136 in qualifying to earn the No. 2 seed for match play, then breezed through her opening-round match on Wednesday. On Friday, though, both matches went extra holes.
Despite fatigue, LeMarr said she will be ready for Saturday’s marathon.
She certainly knows this course well. In 2011, she finished third in the Arizona Women’s Amateur here and the NAU golf team occasionally practices on the Meadow Course.
“I think we’ve been really great about seeing the line and being committed to it,” said LeMarr, an electronic media and film major. “Confidence is the only thing that’s going to win out here.”
LeMarr, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native decided to transfer because she wanted to return to her home state. While playing for the Bruins was great, she missed friends and family.
“It was an amazing team and an amazing program,” said LeMarr of UCLA, where she got into a handful of tournaments. “I loved every minute of it. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to come back to Arizona and get my game back in shape and have some fun with my friends.”
This week, she’s made a new one, perhaps the next U.S. Girls’ Junior champion.
Next Star From Down Under?
Two years ago Minjee Lee was a virtual unknown in the United States. While her Women’s Amateur Golf Ranking™ was high, she had not tested herself against elite competition in America.
Then the Australian claimed the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., and she has since climbed to the No. 1 spot in the WAGR. Shelly Shin, a Korean-born golfer who moved to Sydney, Australia at a young age, observed all this from afar. And after her performance at the Girls’ Junior this week, she might be on a similar path.
Shin, who fell to Navarro in the semifinals on Friday, earned her way on to the Australian National Junior Team in 2014, thanks to a quarterfinal showing at the Australian Amateur – won by Lee for a second consecutive year – and making the cut in three professional events, including the 2014 New Zealand Women’s Open. Those results allowed Shin to rise quickly in the WAGR.
By the June 4 entry deadline for the Girls’ Junior, she was inside the top 75 to get into this year’s field at Forest Highlands Golf Club without enduring sectional qualifying. Her coaches back in Australia, including instructor Ken Trimble at the Concord Golf Club, encouraged Shin to file an entry.
Since the USGA began exempting golfers through the WAGR in 2012, more and more of the top Australians have made the long journey to the U.S. for USGA championships. Lee and Su-Hyun Oh (No. 7) are the most recent examples, but Hannah Green and Breanne Elliott are two others who have come over as part of the Australian National Team.
Next week, Shin will travel to The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston for an annual camp for the Australian National Team.
“This tournament has been really good,” said Shin after her 19-hole quarterfinal win over Binny Lee on Friday. “All the things they do for you. This would be like one of the biggest tournaments in Australia.”
That’s why Shin made her maiden voyage to the U.S. in May to play in the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she finished 10th.
Then on July 7, she returned to the U.S. for a second time to compete in the Callaway Junior World at Torrey Pines’ North Course (T-26 with rounds of 70-74-75-76) and the Girls’ Junior. She also tried to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Hastings, Minn., but failed to earn a spot.
A quiet and soft-spoken player, Shin, currently No. 82 in the WAGR, let her golf do the talking at Forest Highlands. But she also admires what Minjee Lee, who came up three strokes short of earning low-amateur honors at last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, has accomplished the past two years. She nearly faced Lee in the semis of the Australian Amateur, but she suffered a 23-hole loss to Luna Sabon, of Spain.
“She’s like so good,” said Shin of Lee. “I’ve played with her a few times. She hits it a lot farther than me. She basically does everything better.”
Long Distance Coaching
Jason Birnbaum, a teaching professional based at Alpine Country Club in northern New Jersey, had a split screen on his iPad Friday. On one side were TrackMan numbers for his lessons. On the other side was live scoring for the U.S. Girls’ Junior, where one of the quarterfinal matchups involved his student, Cindy Ha.
The two Demarest, N.J., residents have exchanged text messages and phone calls all week.
“I texted him yesterday after my match with Angel Yin (Ha won 2 and 1) and told him I’m about to have heart failure out here,” she said. “He just told me, ‘Cindy, normal beats, normal beats. Stick to your game plan.’ So that’s what I did.”
Ha, who advanced to the semifinals of last week’s Women’s Amateur Public Links at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash., has played a lot of golf in the past 14 days, a run that ended with a 2-down loss to Princess Mary Superal in Friday’s semifinals.
“I’ve been stressing rest to her this week,” said Birnbaum, who has worked with Ha since February. “She’s really an athlete and a worker, so it’s hard for her to do that.”
Birnbaum is not surprised by his student’s success.
“Aside from Alex Rocha (who has played on the PGA Tour), Cindy is probably the most talented student I have ever had,” he said of the incoming Vanderbilt freshman. “The best part is not how good she is now, but how much better she can still get.”
Megan Khang, eliminated in the first round by last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up Eun Jeong Seong, has hung around this week and donned a caddie bib for quarterfinalist Bethany Wu, of Diamond Bar, Calif.
When asked the compensation she is receiving from Wu, a 2013 semifinalist, Khang said, “Friendship. It went from this big (hands slightly apart) to this big (hands widely apart).”
Khang, a six-time Girls’ Junior participant, advanced to the semifinals last year. The 16-year-old from Rockland, Mass., will have a chance to match the championship-record of seven appearances next year. Margot Morton (1954-60) played in seven Girls’ Juniors at a time where there wasn’t any sectional qualifying.
Stat of the Day
For the first time in the history of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, all four quarterfinal and both semifinal matches went the distance. It was the first time since 1979 at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock, Ark., that all the quarterfinal matches went the full 18 holes or beyond.
After not using a caddie all week – she pushed a cart – Shin decided she wanted one for the semifinals. So the club contacted Forest Highlands member Phil Phimmy, who caddied earlier in the week for 13-year-old Ty Akabane, of Danville, Calif. He was on his couch when he got the call. “I had like 10 minutes to get here,” he said.
Ha also made a quick switch at the turn of her semifinal match, replacing Kenneth Ree with his daughter, Robynn, who had lost in the round of 32. Robynn and Ha are close friends. Ha’s father, Matthew, caddied for Robynn this week, as parents are not permitted to caddie for their children at either Junior championship under a Condition of the Competition.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. Arizona-based freelance writer Tom Mackin contributed.