When I covered my first U.S. Women's Amateur 11 years ago, it was highly unlikely you would run into a college coach, unless, a) they were playing in the championship, or b) they were supporting one of their current players.
Fast forward to 2011 and the grounds at Rhode Island Country Club were littered with college coaches or assistants.
Perhaps it had something to do with the number of under-18 golfers in the field. A total of 49 started the competition on Monday and 23 advanced to match play. A 13-year-old Mackenzie Brooke Henderson of Canada, advanced to the second round, as did 14-year-olds Lydia Ko and Cindy Ha. Nicole Morales, a 15-year-old from South Salem, N.Y., beat 23-year-old Emma De Groot, a recent University of Tennessee-Chattanooga graduate, in 19 holes. Annie Park, a 16-year-old from Levittown, N.Y., went 24 holes to win her first-round match.
Such is the nature of today's Women's Amateur. College coaches certainly have more of a presence at the U.S. Girls' Junior, but with so many of those same players also qualifying for the Women's Amateur, they have to also come to this event.
That's certainly why UCLA had both their head coach (Carrie Forsyth) and assistant coach (Alicia Um) on site. The Bruins, who won this year's NCAA title, had five of their golfers in the field, four of which made match play. All four of those golfers: Erynne Lee, Lee Lopez, Stephanie Kono and Tiffany Lua won their first-round matches on Wednesday.
But Forsyth and Um also were scouting future talent. At least a half-dozen coaches were following Morales, who won't enter college until the fall of 2014.
Margaret Shirley, the assistant coach at Auburn, qualified for the Women's Amateur, but after missing the match-play cut, was out walking the course to scout the talent. "Got to start my regular job," said Shirley as she headed toward the first fairway.
Tennessee-Chattanooga coach Colette Murray served as the caddie for De Groot. So while she was helping the recent graduate, Murray also got an up-close look at the next generation of college players.
Emily Bastel, who played on the victorious 2002 USA Curtis Cup Team, was out scouting for the University of Florida. She was an assistant at Duke last year and now works for former Duke coach Jan Dowling at Florida. She was headed back to Gainesville after the first round.
Coaches from Georgia, Arizona, Denver, Vanderbilt, LSU and South Carolina were also seen on the grounds Wednesday.
After all, the next All-American or NCAA champion could be in this year's Women's Amateur field.