After ending Round One of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship in third place, dropping down toward the middle of the pack in Round Two of the three-day event might seem like a letdown for New Mexico. But the third-youngest trio of players in the 52-team field at NCR Country Club are anything but discouraged.
In eight previous Women’s State Team appearances, New Mexico’s best showing is a tie for 29th, in the inaugural edition of the championship in 1995. And despite the fact that their two counting scores on Wednesday were 15 strokes higher than on Tuesday, Darian Zachek, Shania Berger and Dominique Galloway are taking their team into unchartered territory – they are in ninth place through 36 holes.
With an average age of just over 16 (only Hawaii and Puerto Rico are younger), and all having won at least one state high school championship, the youngsters were confident that they had the talent to represent their state well on the national stage.
"We wanted to be competing against these better teams, to be at the top of the leader board, to show people that good golfers do come from New Mexico," said Berger, 17, who made her USGA championship debut in July at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. "It’s pretty fun. Knowing that we’re so young and we got here, we’re just competing with these older girls, and it’s nice to know that we can."
Along with their state successes, they have all previously competed on the national stage. In addition to Berger’s experience this summer, Galloway and Zachek both competed in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in June, the second straight appearance in the championship for Zachek, while Galloway also competed in the 2011 Girls’ Junior.
In addition to competing against each other in events around New Mexico, all three were part of the Sun Country (New Mexico and West Texas) Girls Junior America’s Cup squad in 2012, while Galloway and Zachek also participated in 2013. They credit their early success this week in part to their past experience as teammates.
"I think it’s good that we’ve been teammates, because a couple of years ago we weren’t necessarily friends because we all played against each other," said Galloway, 16, the youngest of the three. "During the Junior America’s Cup last year we became really close. We play in all of the same tournaments, so now we’re really close as a team."
Despite their youth – they are without a non-playing captain, an asset which 18 teams have employed this week. Instead, they have their parents to look to for guidance, in the form of caddies. Berger and Zachek have their fathers on the bag this week, while Galloway’s mother is caddieing for her. Officially, Zachek is serving as the team’s captain, though she admits the title is little more than a formality.
"There isn’t really much for me [to do as captain] since I’m a player," said Zachek, 17, who struggled to a 93 Wednesday after opening with an impressive even-par 73. "I guess just give them advice. We’re all really a team, I’m not really much of a captain. Someone from Sun Country [Golf Association] thought I was the oldest, even though I wasn’t, and so I was named the captain."
Collectively, the players have certainly figured out what they need to do well on Thursday if they want to climb the leaderboard.
"We’re practicing more putting, because these greens are much different than New Mexico’s, much faster," said Berger after her round of 8-over 81 on Wednesday. "In New Mexico there isn’t as much trouble off the fairway; over here you definitely need to stay in the fairway and get on the greens in regulation."
Zachek echoed her teammate’s sentiment.
"The putts weren’t falling for me, and my short game wasn’t good, and that’s what saved me [on Tuesday]."
Regardless of how the championship turns out for this young trio, they have already raised the bar for future teams from their state.
Scott Lipsky is the USGA’s social media specialist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.