FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Lakareber Abe believes now is her time.
At 17, Abe, of Angleton, Texas, is playing in her seventh USGA championship, though prior to this week's U.S. Girls' Junior at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, the furthest she had advanced was the quarterfinals of last year's U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links.
On Friday morning, Abe went one step past that milestone by advancing to the afternoon's semifinals with a 4-and-3 victory over Kathleen Scavo, of Benicia, Calif. And Abe has no intention of stopping.
"Last year's public links taught me a lot about match play and how to play golf, Abe said. I've also been going to the Jim McLean Junior Golf Academy for three years now, and this year they brought in former LPGA player Stephanie Louden and that's really helped me."
Justin Poynter, director of instruction at the Academy, says Abe is on a confident and comfortable run right now.
"She's gotten better every day," said Poynter, who has caddied for Abe this week. "She wasn't too sharp the first couple rounds, got a little bit sharper yesterday and then played really well today."
Against Scavo, whom Abe had played against before, the game plan was quite simple, if not boring.
"[Scavo] hits a lot of fairways and a lot of greens, so I knew she was going to be steady," Abe said. "And as you go along in match play, players tend to get better and you know it’s going to be a tougher match. So I told myself at the beginning, 'If anything, make her birdie a hole to beat you. And just make pars, pars, pars.'"
Abe made 10 in her morning match, five of which won her holes. But it was an 89-yard sand wedge approach for eagle on the 349-yard, par-4 ninth that gave her a 4-up lead heading to the inward nine and added to her comfort level.
Scavo could never get closer than 3 down as Abe continued to make pars and few mistakes. Poynter says Abe's mental toughness and driving distance are making the difference this week.
None of Abe's four matches has reached the 18th hole and, given the usual match-play concessions, she has played 64 holes in 5 under par. Poynter says Abe has benefitted from the daily matches with her peers and instructors at the Academy, which had eight of its students in the field this week.
Abe, who has committed to the University of Alabama for 2014, danced for eight years before taking up golf. While she continues to dance, she was drawn to the changing competitive nature of golf.
"Every round is different," she said. "With dance it's the same movements every time, over and over. Maybe you change it every now and then."
As long as she keeps winning, Abe has no intention of changing anything this week.Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.