U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR FOUR-BALL
Balcazar, Fassi Proudly Carry Banner for Mexico May 12, 2015 | Bandon, Ore. By Tom Mackin

Countrywomen Maria Balcazar (left) and Maria Fassi represented Mexico well, advancing to the Round of 16. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Not only are Maria Balcazar and Maria Fassi Mexico’s top two female amateur golfers, they’re best friends. But they had never played as a side in match play until the 2015 U.S. Women’s Four-Ball Championship on the Pacific Dunes course at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

After advancing through stroke play with rounds of 73-67, the pair defeated Olivia Herrick and Samantha Sommers, 3 and 2, on Monday in the Round of 32. They were eliminated on Tuesday morning in the Round of 16, 1 up, to stroke-play medalists Athena Yang and Kendall Griffin.

“I was pretty excited about how we played in the second stroke-play round  after struggling a little in the first round,” said Fassi, the top-ranked female amateur in Mexico, according to the Mexican Golf Federation. “We played well in our first match yesterday. Even today we played really good, but we missed some really important putts. They (Yang/Griffin) played really solid. It was a good match.”

The side stuck to a familiar match-play strategy. “One plays safe and the other one goes for it hard,” said Fassi, 17. “Some holes we both went for it and it worked out pretty well. We wanted to keep doing that in match play but it wasn’t enough today.”

“I’m the safer one,” said Balcazar, 17. “She’s the more aggressive player. So we’re a good match.”

Fassi and Balcazar have known each other since they were 8 years old and they have played plenty of golf together in Mexico, as well as some tournaments in the U.S.

Fassi is the more experienced of the two when it comes to USGA championships, having played in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior, and the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I’m used to playing in these championships now, but this is way different when you have to play with a partner,” said Fassi. “It’s actually way better.”

“I asked her questions out there because she has a lot of experience,” said Balcazar. “Playing this course (Pacific Dunes) was so different for me. She gave me a lot of tips to play with the wind, because I’ve never had to deal with wind like you find here. She helped me a lot.”

Balcazar also relied on her caddie, Rogelio de los Santos, who has known her since she was 5. They met at Club Campestre de Tuxtla, a course in Chiapas, near the Mexico-Guatemala border, where Balcazar took her first golf lessons.

“He’s like a second set of eyes for my coach, who is in Mexico City (and also coaches Fassi),” said Balcazar. “From 1 to 100, he says my game is around an 80 now, so I still have that 20 more to go. He is excited to still be with me after all this time. I told him, don’t think that I’m going to college and you’re going away. I’ll be coming back.”

Fassi, who has committed to enroll at the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2016, may make a return of her own to Pacific Dunes someday.

“I’m in love with this course,” declared Fassi, who hails from Pachuca, a small city 90 minutes north of Mexico City. “It’s just an amazing course. I’m really thankful that the USGA and Pacific Dunes allowed us to play.”

Although they are the top two female amateurs in their country, Balcazar says she and Fassi don’t allow the rankings to affect their relationship.

“That’s what a friendship is about, just knowing where you are,” said Balcazar, who is undecided about where she will attend college. “If I see her crying on the course, for sure I will go and pick her up. When you are playing against each other, you know you’re friends but you want to win.”

“We give our best every time we play,” said Fassi. “That’s what I take from this championship. We left nothing out there.”

The pair also leave Pacific Dunes with one lasting memory: in the Round-of-32 match on Monday, they both drove the green on the par 4 16th, with Balcazar making an eagle putt to seal their victory.

“I think that will be what I remember the most,” said Balcazar. “That and the experience of playing with my best friend.”

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based golf writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.