Steve Molinelli has already won one USGA championship and played a minor role in another, so after Casie Cathrea posted a 6-and-4 victory in the Round of 16y Thursday afternoon at the 64th U.S. Girls’ Junior, the San Francisco resident was halfway to yet another title.
Molinelli, who is serving as Cathrea’s caddie this week at Lake Merced Golf Club, has become sort of a local legend.
The longtime member at The Olympic Club caddied for Colt Knost when he claimed the 2007 U.S. Amateur at Olympic. In 1981 as a 15-year-old, he caddied in a U.S. Amateur qualifier for Nathaniel Crosby, who later won the championship at The Olympic Club with Joe B. Ross on his bag.
"I don’t think he trusted my Coke-bottle glasses," said Molinelli, who runs his own business. "It was still a thrill to have a little teeny spoke in the wheel."
Molinelli, 46, didn’t work the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic, but caddied for Ryo Ishikawa last month. He hooked up with the Japanese star, who missed the cut, a day before Knost officially landed a spot in the field as an alternate. "It would have been nice to do back to back with Colt," said Molinelli, who kept his promise to Ishikawa. "It just didn’t work out that way."
Knost, for the record, also failed to play the weekend.
A few weeks ago, Molinelli was contacted by Lake Merced member and former USGA Executive Committee member Merton Goode. Cathrea needed a caddie for the Girls’ Junior and he knew just the man. A three-time match-play club champion at The Olympic Club – he’s also won two stroke-play titles – Molinelli certainly understands the game and a caddie’s responsibility. As a side note, it was Goode who hooked Molinelli up with his wife, Suzanne, a medical sales rep who deals with anesthesiologists. Goode purchased one of Suzanne’s products and later set Steve up on a date.
"He’s one of the nicest guys on the planet," said Molinelli. "I couldn’t say no and one thing led to another."
He couldn’t say no to Cathrea, either. The two instantly hit it off on the golf course during practice rounds. Outside of Monday’s 82, the 16-year-old from nearby Livermore has been dialed in at Lake Merced, shooting a championship-best 66 in Tuesday’s final stroke-play qualifying round.
She cruised to a 5-and-3 first-round win over Samantha Wagner and defeated 2008 runner-up Karen Chung, 2 and 1, Thursday morning.
"He’s good. I like him," said Cathrea. }I am confident with my irons when he’s on the bag. I’m happy."
Added Molinelli: "She’s playing with a lot of authority right now. Somebody is going to have to shoot under par to beat her. She hasn’t really gotten hot with the putter yet so I like her chances."
Kelli Murphy might be the least known of the eight quarterfinalists, and so is her hometown. Elgin, S.C., is 18 miles northeast of the state capitol of Columbia, and Murphy described it as a one-stoplight town.
There are no fast-food chains or major department stores.
One has to travel to nearby Lugoff for a McDonald’s or Taco Bell, she said. In fact, her high school combines Elgin and Lugoff.
But the 16-year-old junior-to-be is certainly becoming a big name at Lake Merced. She qualified in the 45th position for match play, shooting 13-over 157, but has managed to survive three matches. She beat Canada’s Jisoo Keel, a 2012 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier, 2 and 1 on Thursday morning and then ousted Shawn Rennegarbe, of Addieville, Ill., in the round of 16.
"I was just happy to make the cut," said Murphy.
Murphy does have positive experiences from match play. She won the Carolinas Golf Association Junior Match Play last year and lost in the finals this year to Girls’ Junior participant Lucia Polo.
"I really enjoy the match-play format," said Murphy. "There’s no score to hold you back. You can just go for everything, and if you have a bad hole, you just let it go."
Ashlan Ramsey, 16, of Milledgeville, Ga., won’t be playing in a second USGA final this week after being eliminated by defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn, 8 and 6, in the third round. But Ramsey, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up, took away some positives, despite the lopsided result.
"A lot of positives," she said. "I still have work to do. It was a good week overall. I just [need] to get my ball-striking more consistent."
Ramsey will be in next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Country Club in Cleveland.
"Whenever I walk past the scoreboard, I bet she has six or seven birdies … I’m like, what? Is she playing the same game as me? That kind of shows that she is a really good player." – World No. 1 Lydia Ko on medalist, defending champion and World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.