Every contestant in the 67th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship hopes she’s still around for the second day of match play, but with that comes the knowledge that it’s going to be a long day.
And that long day, comprised of the Round of 32 and Round of 16, leads to another double-match day on Friday. And a 36-hole final on Sunday. Even for youthful players who are used to spending all day on a golf course in the heat of summer, these days require high levels of stamina.
And everybody knows the better they play, the more they play.
“Fatigue does become a factor,” said Andrea Lee, 16, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., who came to this week’s Girls’ Junior Championship directly from last week’s Pan American Games in Toronto. “I’m about to play my ninth straight round of golf. It’s pretty exhausting, so I try to get some rest after all my rounds.”
Muni He said she tries to get more sleep the night before a potential 36-hole day, and she fuels herself with “a lot of carbs, protein and fruit.” By Thursday morning, her focus is to conserve energy for the rest of the day.
“Including two to three days of practice rounds and two days of stroke play before we even start the match play, it’s a lot of golf – especially when you’re walking in the heat,” said He, 16, playing in her second Girls’ Junior. “You can definitely feel the difference between day one and Thursday’s second round of match play.”
Gina Kim thought about the long week and decided to get a caddie to carry her bag for the championship. Players have the option to obtain a caddie or to carry or push their own bags.
“I didn’t think I could handle that much golf by myself,” said Kim, 15, of Chapel Hill, N.C. “I do get tired, so this week, I’ve just tried to keep my focus and do the same routine every time.”
Kim said tries to drink a lot of water and eat bananas while she plays.
“And If I win my morning round, I’ll get something to eat for an energy boost before I go back out,” she added.
Playing in her second Girls’ Junior Championship, Karah Sanford knew what to expect when she reached Thursday’s schedule for two rounds of match play. When morning weather delays kept players in the clubhouse until skies cleared, the teen visited with friends in the dining area and tried to stay relaxed.
“Honestly, I just try to go out and do the same thing I’d do if I were playing 18 holes,” said Sanford, 13, of Escondido, Calif. “I try to stay hydrated, get breakfast and keep the nerves away.”
In an effort to maintain her energy level throughout Thursday’s long day, Yujeong Son of the Republic of South Korea does not practice between the two rounds if she continues advancing in match play.
“For sure, I get tired, but it’s really exciting to be here,” said Son, 14, who lives in nearby Norman, Okla., and is playing in her first Girls’ Junior Championship.
Son admits she has learned more this week about the strategy of match-play competition and how it factors into the way she plays in the championship.
“I try to tell myself it’s not that different, but it is different,” she said. “The putts get pretty aggressive, but I prepared for this week the same as I would for any other tournament.”
Megan Khang arrived in Oklahoma brimming with confidence after finishing as the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago. But making her seventh U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship appearance this week, the 17-year-old from Rockland, Mass., had the experience of knowing how to pace herself for the long week ahead.
“I don’t hit as many balls today knowing that, hopefully, I will play the next 18 holes,” said Khang, who was the Girls’ Junior stroke-play medalist two days ago. “You just go out there and see how many holes you have to play, and then during the break, maybe putt a little bit, eat lunch and go right back out there.”
Khang said she knows better than to get impatient when storm delays occur, even when it takes her out of her normal pre-match routine.
“When I’m sitting in the clubhouse waiting for the bad weather to clear, it’s all about relaxing, saving my energy and trying not to do anything that’s going to hurt myself,” she said as she sat and laughed with friends in the clubhouse dining area. “Then when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”
Oklahoma’s summer heat has prompted players to guzzle water and electrolyte drinks. Khang said she has worked hard to stay hydrated and she has carefully consumed proteins and carbohydrates to keep her energy level high.
“You definitely do get tired, especially with the hot weather out here,” she added. “But you never want to lose a match because you’re fatigued or just out of it.”
Lee added that accepting summer weather delays and the long days of match-play competition is part of playing in a national championship. And while the competition format is different than most stroke-play events she plays, her focus remains the same as any other tournament.
“The strategy doesn’t change in the sense that it’s still about taking it one shot at a time,” Lee said. “You’re playing against one other person and you try not to think about what other players are doing out there. The key is to keep your focus all week.”
And according to He, a long week of match play is also about staying patient and just letting the week unfold.
“All you can do is try to stay calm,” she said. “There’s a lot of golf ahead and the worst thing you can do is wear yourself out now.”
With three consecutive 36-hole days from Thursday to Saturday, the player whoever becomes the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion will be the one who best manages her game and her energy.