DUPONT, Wash. – Often it’s the younger player who can get a little rattled when paired with a more experienced veteran, but in the first round of stroke- qualifying of the 38th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, it was the older player who was battling a case of nerves.
That’s because the 7:41 a.m. PDT starting time featured an unusual juxtaposition of the field’s oldest and youngest contestants: Hui Chong Dofflemyer, 45, of Belvidere, Ill., and Lucy Li, 11, of Redwood Shores, Calif.
And it wasn’t Li who was shaking in her shoes.
Because of her and the gallery, I was really, really nervous, said Dofflemyer, playing in her first USGA championship. It took me nine holes to settle down. All of the cameras were following us.
Dofflemyer saw her pairing on Sunday, but said her nerves didn’t hit until Li arrived to join her on the first tee. Following Li, who last month became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history, was a small gallery of fans and several members of the media.
My son told me to take a picture and I could put it on Facebook, laughed Dofflemyer. I had seen Lucy on TV at the U.S. Women’s Open and now I was seeing her in person and playing golf with her for two rounds. It’s pretty cool.
But that sense of star-struck admiration for the pre-teen prodigy did not help Dofflemyer get off to a solid start. She struggled in her WAPL debut, carding a 17-over 89 at The Home Course.
Her round included five bogeys, three double bogeys, two triple bogeys and eight pars. Worse yet, Dofflemyer, whose strength is driving, recorded her triples on the two par-5 holes on the outward nine – thanks to a pair of twitchy three-putts.
But the native of Korea was able to laugh after her round in spite of the shaky start.
I feel like I’m out of place, she said. There are so many kids here and then there’s me. Everybody says, ‘Where’s your daughter?’ and I say, I have a son.’ It’s me that is playing.
Dofflemyer, who earned her spot in the field by sharing medalist honors at her sectional qualifier in Illinois, took a path to the final WAPL that was quite different than many of her fellow competitors. She was 22 years old when she first picked up a golf club on a driving range one hour west of Seoul. That’s an agewhen most of this week’s contestants have already completed their college eligibility after substantial experience on junior and amateur circuits.
When I went to that range in 1992, I didn’t even know there was a sport named golf, said Dofflemyer, who played team handball in Korea. For me, in sport, you’re supposed to run or throw something.
But she was athletic enough to become proficient quickly at hitting golf balls. Her experience at that time was on the large driving ranges that are often the first stops for aspiring players in Korea.
I was hitting better than most ladies there and that’s where I kind of got hooked, she said. I fell in love with golf on the range.
She also met her future husband, American Robert Dofflemyer Jr., who was stationed on a U.S. Air Force base in Korea. The two were married in 1993 and moved to the United States in 1994. Soon after that, Hui Chong (pronounced Hee Jong) was pregnant with a son.
There was no golf for several years after that, she said. There was no time.
But when her husband was sent to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C., where they lived for almost five years, she began playing golf again. This time, she was playing on a military-base course and taking along her young son.
Her husband became an air-traffic controller in the Chicago area and the family moved to Elgin, Ill. Once her son entered the second grade, Hui Chong hit the links again, playing public courses and entering local tournaments.
She won the Rockford (Ill.) Women’s Amateur Championship several years ago and finished second last year. Dofflemyer plays on four courses in the Rockford Park District and calls Sandy Hollow Golf Course her home track.
Along the way, she set her site on qualifying for a national championship.
I’ve been practicing for this week for a long time, she said. I want to make myself a better tournament player and I want to get experience.
Dofflemyer chuckled. I guess I did that today, didn’t I? she said. I need to slow down when I get nervous. That’s what I learned today.
She also knew this week’s contestants would have solid golf swings, but she had no idea they would be so long off the tee.
I knew Lucy was good, but I was shocked that she hits it that far, said Dofflemyer. Not just because she’s 11, but she’s small.
Dofflemyer hopes to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, for players age 25 and over, on July 24 in Naperville, Ill..
That’s more my age group, she said. I’ll blend in really well at that one.
But give credit to Dofflemyer for showing up this week and competing against players who could be her daughters, all while carrying her own golf bag. and
I realized this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she said. I made a lot of mistakes today, but after this week, I will be a lot less nervous when I play tournaments at home.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.