Thursday’s second-round match between Ciera Min and Raychelle Santos could have been an awkward encounter, considering the two players will be teammates this fall at Gonzaga University.
Instead, they walked away from their round-of-32 match at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship with a new respect for each other and a sense of excitement for what they each can bring to the Bulldogs’ women’s golf team this season.
"I see a lot of consistency in Ciera and our team needs that," said Santos, 19, of La Quinta, Calif., who defeated her future teammate, 4 and 3. "Plus, we need players who can shoot in the low- to mid-70s, and she can also do that."
Min created a stir on Wednesday by defeating co-medalist Annie Park in the first round of match play. Min was No. 2,883rd in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking while Park was ranked eighth. Park came here this week fresh off capturing individual honors at the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship and helping her University of Southern California squad win the team title by a record 21 shots. Last month, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, which will be held next week at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
Santos knew that Min, 17, a Waiakea High School graduate, was not going to roll over. Min won the first two holes, but Santos fought back with a birdie on the third hole, won the fourth hole, and never lost a hole after that.
"She has a great short game," said Min of Santos. "I was ready to give her putts that were 6 feet long."
The two players met last October when Min, of Hilo, Hawaii, made her official recruiting visit to Gonzaga, where she was housed by Santos.
When they saw their second-round pairing, they were both disappointed.
"Our coach texted me and asked how I felt about playing Raychelle," said Min. "I tried to look at it as just another match."
Santos had to face her good friend from California, Demi Frances Runas, in Wednesday’s first round. When she saw that she would have to play her future college teammate, she just shrugged.
"We came all the way to Oklahoma just to beat each other," she said with a laugh.
They also unknowingly came all the way to the WAPL to make a bond that could last throughout their college careers and beyond.
As they walked the course at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club together, Santos told Min what to expect at freshman orientation in August. She advised her to meet a lot of people and to not be scared of the transition from high school to college.
"I told her it’s not that big of a change and that it’s kind of like playing big junior tournaments," said Santos. "You just have to be ready, warmed up and in the competitive mode."
She also told Min how Gonzaga students camp out for better seats to men’s basketball games and described the festivities associated with sports and other events on the Spokane, Wash., campus. Min listened and appreciated Santos’ encouraging words.
"It helps a lot to have some advice before I go there," she said.
Santos also told Min how the Gonzaga women’s golf team has dramatically improved in the last few years, climbing from the top 100 into the top 60. She described how the team’s top three players shaved nearly five strokes within a year and how the Bulldogs qualified for the NCAA Central Regionals for the first time.
That regional tournament was held here last month at Oklahoma’s home course, so Santos admittedly felt comfortable returning to Norman for this week’s WAPL.
"I played well today and my putting saved me," said Santos, who won two college tournaments last year as a freshman and set a Gonzaga three-day scoring record of 215.
Min will join a Gonzaga team that also has rising junior Alice Kim, who posted a season scoring average of 75.6 last season. Kim competed in this week’s WAPL, but did not qualify for match play.
"I can’t wait to have Ciera on our team," said Santos, with a smile. "Go ‘Zags!"
But first things first.
Santos hurried off after her morning win to eat lunch and prepare for her afternoon match against 2012 NCAA individual champion Chirapat Jao-Javanil of Thailand, who plays for Oklahoma and has the comfort of competing on her home course this week.
Min, who is already excited about a planned road trip with Santos to the Los Angeles County Fair to eat fried Twinkies, was ready to become a cheerleader for her future teammate.
"Playing with Raychelle was a good thing," said Min. "It was nice to see what I need in my game before I get to college. I also learned some things yesterday when I played Annie Park, so now I’m going to try to get stronger."
Min will compete in a U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifier next Saturday in Hawaii. Santos will soon begin preparation for U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying next month in California, unless she advances to the WAPL final and earns an automatic exemption.
Although they were competitors this week, the two players parted as college teammates.
"I wish her luck everywhere she plays and I hope she wins," said Min. "I’m cheering for her."
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.