It was a tight schedule to get from Toronto to Tulsa, but Andrea Lee and Kristen Gillman made the mad dash just in time to arrive for the first round of stroke play at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
The two represented the United States last week at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. It was an international competition the two amateurs wanted to experience, even though they knew they would have to hustle to get to Oklahoma.
It helps that they arrived with some hardware.
Lee, 16, won the silver medal in women’s golf and, along with Gillman, 17, helped the USA win silver in the mixed team event (two males and two females). The teammates originally had an 8:30 p.m. flight Sunday night out of Toronto, but their departure plans were forced to change.
“After everyone finished their events, plus the closing ceremony and the traffic in Toronto, we figured we probably wouldn’t make our flight,” said Lee, of Hermosa Beach, Calif.
“So we drove down to Buffalo, N.Y., stayed the night there, had a wake-up call at 4:45 this morning with a 7 a.m. flight to Chicago and then flew straight to Tulsa,” explained Lee.
“We got a little bit stressed out on the plane when they announced in Chicago there was going to be a mechanical delay,” added Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion from Austin, Texas. “I was definitely nervous while they were trying to fix the plane, but once we were in the air, I was all right.”
Gillman had a 1:40 p.m. Monday tee time and Lee’s start was at 1:50 p.m. Both players reached the course about two hours ahead of time, but without practice rounds.
“A practice round is always going to help, but the yardage books are really helpful and will also help you get around this course,” said Gillman.
By the end of Monday’s opening day of play, Lee was tied for the lead at 4 under through 17 holes and Gillman finished the day at 3 over through 17 holes when play was suspended for darkness at 8:38 p.m. CDT. Both will return to Tulsa Country Club Tuesday at 7 a.m., to complete the first round.
Gillman and Lee were the only two American women competing in golf in the Pan Am Games, which featured a 72-hole, stroke-play event with 64 players from 16 countries divided into male and female competitions.
Lee won the silver two shots behind LPGA player Mariajo Uribe of Colombia, who won the gold medal, and ahead of LPGA player Julieta Granada of Paraguay, who won bronze.
Golf was a new event in the Pan Am Games this year and will return to the Olympic Games next year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I think the Pan Am Games was definitely a preview to having golf as a part of the Olympics next year, and to earn a medal there competing against LPGA players was very special,” said Lee.
Gillman traveled to the Pan Am Games directly from the U.S. Women’s Open in Lancaster, Pa. She struggled with her putting for the first two rounds but was able to smooth out her stroke for the final 36 holes, managing a sixth-place finish.
While it was important for both teens to travel north of the border to compete, both added that it was also important to get back home for their national championship.
“Even if it was cutting it close, I wanted to play in both events,” said Lee. “They’re both special and they’re both big championships. And someday, I really want to win one of these U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships.”
Hanging around the lead in spite of her mad dash to get here, Lee is off to a good start.
Torres’s Career Crosses Spieth’s
As Kasey Torres prepared for her 1:30 first-round starting time at the Girls’ Junior, her one-time playing partner Jordan Spieth was an ocean away, chasing his third consecutive major title in St. Andrews, Scotland.
“I was definitely following [the British Open] up until my tee time,” Torres, 16, admitted with a grin. “I really wanted Jordan to win, of course. It’s exciting. I was hoping he would get the Grand Slam. That would be amazing for him.”
In 2014, Torres was invited to play alongside Spieth in the Congressional Pro-Am, as one of 18 junior golfers from The First Tee to participate in the event ahead of the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National.
One year later, Torres is playing in her first USGA championship, and Spieth is at the top of the golf world. He won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open and was in the mix in Monday’s final round of the weather-delayed British Open right until his 72nd hole.
It’s doubtful Spieth’s success will change his friendly, genuine demeanor, if Torres’s experience with the three-time USGA champ is any indication.
“He’s young, so he was really down to earth and he was really open to talk to us about school, golf, all kinds of things,” Torres said of her time with Spieth. “I remember I hit a couple of bad shots and he was like, ‘Oh, no, it’s OK!’ He was definitely cheering us on and making sure we stayed positive the whole time. He was really just a great person to be around.”
Torres, who lists Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson as her other favorite golfers, has participated in The First Tee of South Los Angeles since she first picked up the game. While her round with Spieth was surely a highlight, Torres has benefitted in many other ways from her involvement with the youth development program.
“I’ve learned a lot from them,” Torres said. “I’ve met a lot of people from them, I’ve played a lot of tournaments because of them and I also mentor the smaller kids now.
“It’s really big for me. It always helps me stay humble and just try to be the best person I can be,” she added.
Now, Torres looks forward to the biggest championship in her 2015 campaign, perhaps hoping to have shades of Spieth’s success on her side.
Back on Course After Suspension
All 78 golfers playing in the afternoon wave were affected by the suspension of play at 4:05 p.m. CDT due to dangerous weather in the area. Play resumed at 6:45, but 12 players were unable to complete their rounds before dark and will finish Tuesday morning.
As players waited out the delay, gathered in and around the clubhouse and the locker rooms, some spoke about how they would deal with resuming an interrupted round without much time to warm up.
“A lot of practice swings,” Gillian Vance recommended. “And through this whole thing, you want to stay relaxed and not think too much about what happened in the past. You kind of want to stay positive, and that’s the only thing you can do. Just kind of remember what kind of rhythm you were in and try to stay there when you get back to your routine.”
Muni He shot a 3-under 67 on Monday that included five birdies, but found it tough to restart.
“Before they blew the horn, I had a three-footer to make on a par 3 for a birdie, and I came back and the wait kind of killed my streak because I didn’t make it,” He said. “Mentally, it wasn’t too bad. I think it was more physically because we took a long time off and your body becomes more stiff.”
Morgan Sahm only had four holes left to play when the air horn blew. “Especially if you have barely any holes left, if you accidentally mess up [when you return] because you’re cold or something, you can’t really fix it,” Sahm said.
Others were more welcoming of the delay as a remedy for a rough start. After starting 4-over through seven holes, Madeline Chou said it was “actually not a bad time for a delay” for her round. Given time to refocus, she played Nos. 8-16 at even par before darkness set in.