FORT WAYNE, Ind. — University of Georgia women's golf coach Josh Brewer is not trying to make a fashion statement with his freshly shaved head and his soccer socks. Instead, he is making a statement of support for Kim Evans, his coaching peer at Auburn University.
On May 7, as Auburn prepared to host the NCAA East Regional, Evans was diagnosed with clear cell ovarian cancer. Though Evans is home in Auburn, Ala., undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments, she remains on the mind of coaches at this week's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
On Monday, Brewer was donning soccer socks along with Vanderbilt University coach Greg Allen, whose socks featured a penguin graphic. Several other female coaches were wearing mid-calf socks.
"The [Women's Golf Coaches Association] has a message board and coaches thought the socks were a good way to honor her," Brewer said. "So we figured we would keep it going.
The soccer socks Brewer wore on Monday were made of wool and by day's end, they were drenched with sweat. Tuesday, his socks were made of a cooler, more breathable fabric, but either way, he said, it was the least he could do.
"If that's the worst of it for me, it's nothing compared to what she is going through," Brewer said.
Brewer, then an assistant coach at the University of Southern California, first met Evans in the fall of 2008 at the Mason Rudolph Women's Championship in Franklin, Tenn. He and Evans became better acquainted after he was named Georgia's coach in June 2012.
"Being a young male coach on the women's side, you don't get befriended by many coaches," Brewer said. "But Kim has always been a sweet, nice lady to me."
Brewer saw that Allen had gone to visit Evans and fulfilled a promise to let Evans shave his head after she lost all of her hair as a result of the chemotherapy.
"I came home and figured I should make the three-hour trip over to see her," Brewer said. "When I did, she was teasing me about getting my hair cut. So I figured if I could brighten her day for a couple of hours, it's a heckuva lot more important for her than me. It's our way of saying we miss her and we're thinking about her and hopefully she will be back out here with us."
Morales Earns Her Wings
Nicole Morales was the last player to sign the competitors’ scroll for this year's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship.
"I take great pride in that," laughs Morales, 17, of South Salem, N.Y., who has committed to the University of Alabama for 2014.
Morales' pride stems from her enduring — and laughing about — a circuitous weekend path to Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
On Saturday, Morales was originally scheduled to take a 10:35 a.m. flight from Westchester (N.Y.) County Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where she would meet her father, Miguel, who was flying from Orlando, Fla. Together, they were to take a direct flight to Fort Wayne International Airport.
Nicole’s flight from Westchester, however, was delayed two hours, causing her to miss the connecting flight from Atlanta with her father, who proceeded as planned. Morales was then booked on a 3:30 p.m. flight to Fort Wayne, , but that flight was delayed and ultimately cancelled.
She was now stranded in Atlanta.
Fortunately, Morales is a player representative on the American Junior Golf Association's Board of Directors and has befriended AJGA executive director Stephen Hamblin, who lives in nearby Alpharetta, Ga.
Morales called Hamblin, who picked her up from the airport around 6:45 p.m. and invited her to spend Saturday night with his family.
Now forward to Sunday.
Because Morales got the last seat on Saturday's flight from Westchester, she had few choices of available flights to Fort Wayne on Sunday. Her only option, therefore, was the 8:55 a.m. one-stop flight through Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. That flight was delayed 30 minutes, but she arrived in Detroit only to have the connecting flight to Fort Wayne delayed an hour.
"So now I'm at four delays and a cancellation," said Morales, managing to keep from getting all the facts confused, "and my clubs were misplaced. They didn't make it on my flight from Detroit, so I had to wait another 45 minutes for the second flight to land [in Fort Wayne] before I could get my clubs."
Finally, roughly 30 hours after she was to have originally left Westchester, Morales arrived at Sycamore Hills. She managed to practice for 90 minutes before the USGA's Player Banquet on Sunday evening.
At the banquet, Morales received a Dianne Lewis Medal — along with Yueer Feng, Casie Cathrea and Megan Khang — for playing in her fifth U.S. Girls' Junior.
"It was an adventure, but I feel like if I could deal with all of that drama and still shoot a 69 [in Monday's opening round] without having seen the course the way it is set up for this week, then I'm thrilled," she said.
And relieved she does not have to fly home just yet.
Local Knowledge For Some at Sycamore
Samantha Wagner reached into her golf bag and pulled out a tattered yardage book from the 2011 Junior PGA Championship. In it were notes she had made during the 2011 and 2012 championships that were played here at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
Wagner, 16, of Windermere, Fla., and a 2014 University of Florida commitment, is one of about two dozen players in this week's U.S. Girls' Junior Championship who have prior course knowledge.
"I love this course. I have played it about 10 times before this year," said Wagner, who missed the Junior PGA cut in 2011 but was runner-up last year.
On Tuesday, Wagner shot a 1-over-par 73 and finished at 2-under 142, tied for fifth in the championship’s medal play. Wagner easily qualified for the 64-player match-play format, which begins on Wednesday.
Wagner said there has not been much difference in the course setups over the three years that she has played here.
"The yardages are different obviously because it's a USGA tournament, but not much," she said. "My shots into the green and my drives are into pretty similar areas. And the greens always tend to be fast.
Kelsey Ulep, 17, of Rocklin, Calif., who has committed to the University of Oregon in 2014, also benefited from playing here previously. Her only appearance was at the 2010 Junior PGA Championship, when she missed the cut.
"I remember some holes and how I played them, and when I played the PGA I didn't play well, so I remembered shots that would get me into trouble and how to avoid them," said Ulep, who, like Wagner, shot 69-73.
Ulep said the biggest difference from 2010 has been in her own game. She has added length off the tee, which has reduced the number of long irons being hit into the greens, and her putting has improved.
Wagner said her experience on this course allowed her to play the practice rounds a little differently. Instead of focusing so much on yardages and reading the greens, she was able to concentrate on the mechanics of her game.
Nicole Morales arrived too late on Sunday to even play a practice round on the 6,312-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus design. No worries, though, as she shot an opening-round 69 on Monday.
"I had an idea of what I was getting myself into," said Morales, who tied for 12th last year in her only Junior PGA appearance at Sycamore Hills.
Morales said the teeing grounds at the ninth and 16th holes are most noticeably different because they have been moved forward, changing the angles into the greens. Also, she believes the greens are running much faster than a year ago.
Ariya Jutanugarn won consecutive Junior PGA titles here in 2011 and 2012, and Cassy Isagawa won in 2010.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.