GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods once put up a timeline on his headboard detailing the major moments in Jack Nicklaus’ career. It was a constant reminder of his lifelong goal to surpass all the records of his idol.
When Hannah O’Sullivan began her junior golf career in Northern California, she didn’t construct such a shrine, but as a 9-year-old the then-Cupertino resident fondly looked up to a golfer five years her senior.
Back then, a 13-year-old superstar named Grace Na was dominating the Junior Golf Association of Northern California. She had been the rookie of the year and player of the year, winning more tournaments than she could count.
O’Sullivan wanted to follow in those same footsteps, so she reached out to the elder golfer from Oakland.
Could she practice with her? Could she take a photo with her? Could she gleam advice?
“It was clear and obvious that she did see me that way,” said Na, “and it was kind of cool.”
Added: O’Sullivan: “She was kind of a big sister to me.”
Little did O’Sullivan know that seven years later, the two would be strolling the fairways of Nassau Country Club battling it out for a spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals.
“It’s a small world, really,” said O’Sullivan, now 16.
Even at 9 years of age, Na saw the burgeoning talent, and on Friday afternoon, O’Sullivan notched a 5-and-4 victory. It was the first time the two had ever faced each other in match play.
“She was athletic,” said Na of her early meetings with O’Sullivan. “She’s tall. She’s built. She had a good work ethic. You could tell she was very disciplined at a young age.”
O’Sullivan followed in Na’s footsteps, winning 17 Junior Golf Association of Northern California events as a 10-year-old and then 18 the next year before graduating to the American Junior Golf Association. Due to her dad’s change in jobs, O’Sullivan moved from the Bay Area to the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley, Ariz., where she is a rising junior at Xavier Prep. She has already committed to attend the University of Southern California in 2016.
Na, meanwhile, progressed from junior golf to Pepperdine University, winning six college tournaments and being earning All-America honors all four years. Having exhausted her eligibility, the 21-year-old will graduate in December with a degree in broadcast journalism after completing one art and one communications class. The Women’s Amateur was her swan song in amateur golf – she has played 13 USGA championships, including five Women’s Amateurs – and will enter the first stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School at the end of the month at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the top junior golfer in the country, and is two wins away from the biggest title of her blossoming career.
And a certain part of that success can be traced to the mentoring she received as an up-and-coming junior golfer in Northern California.
“We talked about it on the first tee today,” said O’Sullivan. “It was an interesting experience. One of us had to win, one of us had to lose.
“She is such a nice person and a very solid player, and I really admired her.”
Na no doubt feels the same way.
Lee Displays Grace In Potential Amateur Swan Song
With LPGA Tour Qualifying School looming in a few weeks, it’s possible that Alison Lee’s amateur golf career ended with Friday’s 1-down loss to Brooke Mackenzie Henderson in the quarterfinals.
A veteran of 13 USGA amateur championships and three U.S. Women’s Opens (she made the cut in 2009 and 2012), Lee, who plans to enter Q-School as an amateur, took Henderson to the wire in a championship-caliber match that felt like it could have been played on Sunday. Lee and Henderson are ranked Nos. 3 and 2 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, respectively.
Lee, 19, of Valencia, Calif., tried to rally from a two-hole deficit, but an errant approach at 18 ended her championship run.
Lee’s quest for her first USGA amateur title might have ended on Nassau’s 18th green, but one couldn’t tell from her post-match reaction. The UCLA sophomore immediately signed autographs for kids, thanked well-wishers and spoke to the media with a smile on her face the whole time.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, since I’m still an amateur,” said Lee, who has said if she fails to obtain her LPGA Tour card in December that she’ll finish her sophomore year with the Bruins. “But it’s really sad. These events are a lot of fun. Match play is a lot of fun, it’s a different game. Amateur golf in general, having all the girls out here, even though we’re great friends and have to play against each other and battle it out on the course, it’s a lot of fun.”
Lee played in her first USGA championship at age 12 in the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she advanced to the first round of match play at Tacoma Country & Golf Club in Lakewood, Wash. Her close calls include a runner-up finish in the 2012 Girls’ Junior to current world No. 1 Minjee Lee, of Australia, and last year’s semifinal loss to eventual champion Emma Talley in the Women’s Amateur. But if she does advance through Q-School, she won’t be saying goodbye to her USGA amateur career empty-handed. In June, she helped the USA regain the Curtis Cup with a 13-7 win over Great Britain and Ireland at St. Louis (Mo.) Country Club.
While certainly disappointed she couldn’t make it to the finish line, Lee understands there is no shame in losing by one hole to a player as talented as Henderson.
“Obviously, coming into this event, I set high goals for myself, and I’m really disappointed I can’t play tomorrow” said Lee. “But I’m really happy for Brooke and I’m glad she was the one that was able to take me down. Hopefully, she can make it all the way.”
Golf can be a humbling, frustrating endeavor and maintaining a positive attitude can be just as crucial as a deft short game. With that in mind, Lee’s future at the next level seems promising – whenever that day comes.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.