Despite a bogey-bogey finish, Casie Cathrea didn’t exit her first U.S. Women’s Open empty-handed.
A 2-under-par 70 at Sebonack Golf Club in the final round gave Cathrea, a 17-year-old from Livermore, Calif., low-amateur honors by two strokes over reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and world No. 1 female amateur Lydia Ko.
This week’s amateur field of 19 included six golfers ranked among the top 100 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and Cathrea – ranked 134th – bested them all.
Dressed in her future college attire (black golf shirt and an OSU belt buckle for the incoming Oklahoma State University freshman), Cathrea began Sunday’s final round on pace to post a score in the mid- to low-60s. She was five under through eight holes, but a three-putt bogey at the ninth stopped her momentum. Cathrea registered seven consecutive pars from there until she three-putted the last two holes for bogeys.
"I was just trying to stay in my own bubble [and] not get ahead of myself," said Cathrea. "I know I had the tendency to do that earlier this week. I just tried to stay in my own little mindset."
The goal of any amateur at a U.S. Women’s Open is to make the 36-hole cut. Once that is achieved, the next step is being the low amateur. Only one amateur – Catherine Lacoste in 1967 – has ever won the championship.
Cathrea certainly wasn’t intimidated playing with the world’s best golfers. Four years ago she competed in the CVS-Pharmacy LPGA Challenge at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, Calif. She didn’t make the cut, but did have a hole-in-one and found a future caddie in Eric Peschke. Peschke was carrying for another golfer, but he offered his card to Cathrea’s father, Harry.
"After the round I went over to her father and said you should be proud," said Peschke. "He appreciated that."
Now working as a marketing manager for Indianapolis-based Renewal by Andersen, Peschke took the week off to fly to Eastern Long Island. With his experience and Cathrea’s burgeoning talent, the tandem had an enjoyable week, although Saturday’s third round turned into a valuable, but harsh learning day for the player.
"I started out … and my legs were shaking," said Cathrea. "I was like, 'Dude, relax. You are fine.' I definitely learned what I can and can’t do on the golf course this week."
Cathrea carded a 7-over 79 in the third round and started the final round in a three-way tie with Ko and Doris Chen, last week’s runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, in the chase for low amateur.
"I think she learned you can’t fire at every pin that the USGA puts out there," said Peschke. "We caddied and played accordingly today. Sometimes you have to be happy with 20- and 30-footers, and if you make a couple of them, great."
This was Cathrea’s second event in the Northeast. After qualifying for the Women’s Open at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., Cathrea flew across the country to play in the inaugural Women’s Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y. Alan Bratton, the former women’s coach at Oklahoma State – he became the Cowboys’ men’s coach last week when Mike McGraw was fired – urged Cathrea to play.
Cathrea won the weather-shortened event, which provided some confidence entering the Women’s Open. The week began with a practice round with former OSU golfer Caroline Hedwall. She also played with LPGA Tour winners Laura Diaz and Brittany Lang.
Peschke helped map a game plan for the 6,821-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus/Tom Doak design. Cathrea harnessed the nerves to shoot 75-73 to make the cut by two.
First goal accomplished.
An overly aggressive approach to Saturday’s third round humbled Cathrea, but she proved to be a quick learner and was handsomely rewarded for her prudence.
"Par was pretty much my friend," she said. "I lit up the front nine … and then I bogeyed nine. I just tried to stay in my own little zone the last nine holes."
Cathrea’s week ended at the prize ceremony.
"She’s a great golfer," said Peschke. "I think she’s one of the up-and-coming players and has all the tools to compete out here on this level."
This Women’s Open showing should have Cathrea better prepared to compete in the U.S. Girls’ Junior (where she was a quarterfinalist last year) and U.S. Women’s Amateur over the next six weeks. Her performance is also likely to land Cathrea a spot on U.S. Junior Solheim Cup Team, a competition that will take place in August outside of Denver.
"My goal coming into the [Women’s Open sectional] qualifier was to be the low amateur," said Cathrea. "My goal going to this tournament was to be low amateur, so I accomplished those goals."
Some would call that priceless.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.