Barrington, R.I. – It was another week in late May at UCLA for Brianna Do.
Sociology classes, workouts at the gym and everything else related to the 21-year-old’s regular life on the Westwood campus.
Except Do didn’t want to be in Los Angeles that particular week.
Not while her five teammates were 1,304 miles to the east in College Station, Texas, competing for a NCAA Division I women’s golf championship. Disappointing spring results had left the junior off the five-person postseason travel roster.
No Pacific-10 Championship. No regionals. No nationals.
So while those five Bruins were busy registering the third national title in the program’s history, Do was left to the unenviable task of hitting refresh on the Golf Stat website and going to class. With school in session, UCLA was only permitted to take its five starters.
There were good luck texts and tweets, but it was a bittersweet four days for the junior from Long Beach, Calif.
[The NCAA title] doesn’t mean as much to me as it means to those five girls and coaches, said Do, who is at Rhode Island Country Club this week competing in the 111th U.S. Women’s Amateur.
But Do didn’t have to wait long to experience her own national championship. A month after UCLA’s triumph, Do claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Ore. She now owns something that none of her current UCLA teammates had: a treasured USGA title.
En route to a 1-up victory over 17-year-old Marissa Dodd in the 36-hole final at Old Macdonald, Do defeated two USGA champions (Kristen Park and defending WAPL champ Emily Tubert) and her more-decorated UCLA teammate Stephanie Kono, an All-American who was a member of the victorious 2010 USA Curtis Cup Team.
It was an improbable run of six wins over a strong field.
Consider that in late March when Do was informed by UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth that her stroke average didn’t merit a spot on the postseason roster, she actually felt like not practicing for a couple of days. No athlete wants to be benched and Do was a bit heartbroken.
But if anyone knew the feeling of being jilted, it was Do’s head coach. Forsyth also was left off the 1991 postseason roster when the Bruins claimed the national title. So when the coach delivered the news, it came with a bit of tough love.
She handled it with so much grace, said Forsyth. It’s not easy. [But] she’s such a great teammate and I’m really proud of her. I told her she needs to set the bar higher for herself because she is a better player than the way she was playing.
The message got through. Do’s first move was making a coaching switch. She sought the services of good friend James Oh, the 1998 U.S. Junior Amateur champion who was now teaching the game at Lakewood (Calif.) Golf Course. The two had been longtime friends and he had helped Do off and on, but she now wanted to work with him full time. She knew one of Oh’s strengths – the short game – was her biggest weakness.
The first thing Oh did was remove Do’s 60-degree pitching wedge. He told her she needed to pitch and chip with her 52-degree wedge. They also tweaked other aspects of her short game and iron play.
The results weren’t immediate. Do struggled at a U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif.
But at the WAPL a few weeks later, the changes started taking shape. She opened with an inauspicious 82 at Old Macdonald under on a chilly, windy and damp day, but rallied for a 73 at Bandon Trails to easily qualify for match play.
What followed were a series of surprising wins over more-decorated players.
I didn’t go into Kristen Park’s [first-round] match thinking I am playing a past Girls’ Junior champion, said Do. I said I am playing well. I am hitting it well. I know what I need to think about. I know these golf courses. I am just going to play.
Two rounds later, she eliminated the long-hitting Tubert. Then, for the second year in a row, Do defeated Kono to reach the semifinals. At the 2010 WAPL at the Warren Course at Notre Dame, she beat Kono in the round of 16 before losing in the quarterfinals.
I felt a little bit [like the underdog] the whole week until I went to the finals, said Do. Marissa Dodd is a good player, but her name was not much out there either. I felt like it was two girls that no one really knows.
The back-and-forth match finally ended in Do’s favor on the 36th hole.
Forsyth was driving home from a junior tournament in Sunriver, Ore., when she got the news. At first she thought Dodd had won 1 up, but the score had been momentarily posted wrong.
Texts and voice mails came pouring in from everywhere. Do didn’t even know Oh had been a USGA champion 13 years earlier until the two talked after the match.
I’m so happy that she has been rewarded for her effort and dedication, said Forsyth. For her to do this, it was just phenomenal. To see something like this happen really so soon after she made some changes. She got rewarded pretty quickly.
Then again, Do has seemingly performed better in match play. One area that Forsyth said Do needs work on is her consistency. At the 2010 NCAA Championship, Do carded rounds of 68 and 70, but they were sandwiched around a 78 and 79.
During the 2010-11 season, Do competed in six consecutive tournaments between the fall and spring and finished no higher than a tie for 26th (Bruin/Wave Invitational at Robinson Ranch in Santa Clarita, Calif.)
Her stroke average went from a 74.0 in 2009-10 to 75.7.
It’s easy to go from averaging 85 to 75, but it’s hard to go from 75 to 73, said Forsyth. She had some phenomenal performances [in 2009-10]. She was just really inconsistent. Her misses were bad. And she couldn’t back it up with her short game.
Which is why she started seeing Oh. Do’s short game needed an overhaul, especially with pitch shots.
I got to a state where I felt comfortable with my game, said Do, who just received the WAPL trophy from the USGA two weeks ago. I’m seeing the changes in my game.
Two weeks ago in Florida, Do advanced out of the first stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School, giving her at least conditional status on the Futures Tour for 2012. She plans to turn professional after her senior season next spring.
Of course, her professional debut could be delayed by a few weeks if she has another good performance at the Women’s Amateur this week. Winning the WAPL certainly put Do on the radar for USA Curtis Cup Team consideration. The Match will be played June 8-10 at Nairn in Scotland.
While her parents put Vietnam on her entry form, Do was born and raised in Long Beach. Her parents emigrated from Vietnam in the 1980s and her father, Max, attracted the golf bug after arriving in the U.S. Do has made several visits back to her parents’ native land, and has even played golf in Vietnam, but she considers herself an American.
But she is trying hard not to think about such possibilities. Do knows what happened in Oregon two months ago has no bearing on this week’s competition.
The reality of her WAPL accomplishment, in fact, didn’t hit home until the trophy arrived two weeks ago. Do looked at all the inscribed champions and marveled at the names, many of whom have enjoyed success on the professional level. Despite being part of USGA history, she isn’t bringing it up much at Rhode Island C.C. this week.
Nobody is putting the spotlight on me, she said, and I kind of like it that way. I am trying to keep it simple. I need to do what I did at the WAPL. I was happy-go-luck that week.
And things won’t get any easier when Do returns to collegiate golf this September. UCLA lost just one player from its starting five at NCAAs and two All-American signees – 2010 Women’s Amateur quarterfinalist Erynne Lee and Kyle Roig – are entering the program. The competition just to play appears to be extremely stiff.
It definitely will be a tournament before a tournament, said Do, who plans to put the WAPL trophy in UCLA’s Hall of Fame. It’s just motivation to work harder and get better.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. For comments and questions, e-mail him at email@example.com.