Bandon, Ore. – While they might not have the divine secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the women on the UCLA golf team have nurtured their own unique bond.
Tiffany Lua and Brianna Do are a yin-and-yang duo who want to compete on The Amazing Race. Lee Lopez once found her car completely enveloped in Saran Wrap thanks to her teammates, and Latin dancing and a Harry Potter movie marathon are items on a team bucket list that was compiled late in the collegiate season.
We’re really close, said Stephanie Kono, 21, the oldest of five Bruins who qualified for the 35th U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. I trust them more than anyone. We share a lot of things with each other and I’m sure they know a lot of things about me that they don’t want to know. But I feel like I can be myself around them and that makes me feel comfortable on and off the course.
Not only did the quintet of Kono, Do, Lopez, Lua and Ani Gulugian qualify for the championship — all finished inside the top 36 in stroke play — all five also advanced to the first round of match play on Tuesday. They went a combined 3-2.
Do started the Bruins’ day with a 4-and-3 win over Kristen Park, the 2007 U.S. Girls Junior champion. Lopez lost in 20 holes to Kelsey Chugg; Kono defeated Gianna Misenhelter 1 up; Lua won 2-up over Ciera Min; and Gulugian lost 3 and 1 to Lauren Cate.
In late May, UCLA won its third NCAA Women’s National Championship with four of the Bandon Five in the lineup. Senior Glory Yang started in place of Do. That title and this week’s presence is an indication of the Bruins’ strength that is expected to continue in the fall with the arrival of touted freshmen Erynne Lee and Kyle Roig.
During a 2010-11 season in which the Bruins won six of 11 tournaments, four of this week’s five finished as the low Bruin in tournament play. Also, Lua won twice, and Kono and Lopez won once each. Do was the sixth player in the lineup, but Kono is quick to point out that she lost to Do in the second round of last year’s WAPL.
When I look at every one of my teammates, you know they have worked just as hard as you, Lopez said. So to win [the national championship], knowing how hard each and every one of those girls worked. I can’t describe it. It was surreal.
After some down time following the title, the women quickly continued their success by qualifying for the year’s first USGA women’s tournament.
Winning was a huge confidence boost for all of us, said Do, adding that it was the group’s hope after making match play not to play each other early in the bracket. With victories, Do and Lopez would have met in Wednesday’s second round, while Lua and Gulugian could have met in the third round.
We’re all newsContenting for each, said Lua, who was a 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup Team member along with Kono. Each has appeared in 21 USGA championships, and Kono will add to her total by playing in next week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Lua’s and Kono’s extensive USGA experience does not put them on a pedestal.
Lua suggests that may be due to the team’s parity.
We’re all really competitive, we all make fun of each other and we’re not afraid to admit things to each other, Lua said. When we’re all working hard and we’re all able to push each other in a competitive and light-hearted atmosphere, I think that’s huge.
I think that’s due a lot to our coaches, Alicia [Um-Holmes], our assistant, and [12th-year head coach] Carrie Forsyth. They know how to be tough on us and still be practical. I tell people that Carrie is like our mom and Alicia is like our big sister.
While the fivesome will be scattered about this summer, playing in a wide range of tournaments, Lopez says they are never far apart in their friendship.
We’re all like sisters, it’s like a sorority at school, so it’s pretty cool, she said.
And it is back at UCLA where the women will reunite and maybe check a few more things off the bucket list, even though Kono admits coach Forsyth might frown on a few of the items.
Sisters, though, have a way of keeping secrets.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.