U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Texas-to-Alabama Pipeline on Display at Rolling Green
August 4, 2016 | Springfield, Pa.
By Lisa D. Mickey
The University of Alabama women’s golf program has recently found a successful pipeline into the state of Texas.
One of those Lone Star State standouts is sophomore Cheyenne Knight, whose sparking don’t-mess-with-Texas attitude and sparkling play last season earned her Women’s Golf Coaches Association Freshman of the Year honors.
But a few weeks before she returns to Tuscaloosa to start that campaign, Knight, 19, of Aledo, has a little work to do in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Rolling Green Golf Club.
Knight advanced into Thursday’s Round of 32 against Nasa Hataoka after outlasting Ashley Holder, 2 up, in the Round of 64 on Wednesday.
Should she advance, a potential Round-of-16 match looms on Thursday afternoon against Texas junior golf pal Kristen Gillman, of Austin, who will join Knight on the Crimson Tide’s team this fall.
And with Alabama junior and 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Lakareber Abe, of Angelton, Texas, returning to the lineup, the potential exists for three of the starting five to hail from the Lone Star State.
“Kristen and I started playing against each other in the seventh or eighth grade and we went through the college recruiting process together,” said Knight, who advanced to the Round of 16 at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “I was thrilled when she made the decision to come to Alabama so we could be teammates.”
That feeling is mutual for Gillman, winner of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I’ve known Cheyenne for a while and I know she’ll help me out during my freshman year,” said Gillman. “I’m excited to go to Alabama and it’s going to be fun having a lot of Texans there.”
Knight knows what it feels like to rely on upperclassmen for guidance. Last year, she had the steady influence of Alabama teammate Emma Talley, who won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur, played on the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team and was the 2015 NCAA individual champion.
Talley not only showed the freshman the ropes at college, but she also helped her adjust from junior to college golf. Talley’s leadership made a lasting impression on the then-Texas freshman.
“She helped me grow as a person and as a player and she taught me that playing bad in golf isn’t the end of the world,” said Knight. “Emma always said that golf is just something that you do, but it’s not what defines you. She told me to take it easy on myself.”
In addition to playing with players such as Talley, Knight said she also transitioned to college golf by stepping up her game against the likes of Duke’s Leona Maguire, now No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
“That great competition on our team and at tournaments all season long helped me going into the NCAA Championship and prepared me coming into this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur,” added Knight, who was the 2014 Texas 4A individual state champion and the 2015 Texas 5A individual state champion.
In April, Knight was invited to compete in the LPGA Tour’s Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in Irving, Texas. The amateur made the 36-hole cut and tied for 29th at 1-under 283 alongside China’s Simin Feng, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda and Tour veteran Catriona Matthew, of Scotland.
Playing and practicing beside the best female players in the world was an eye-opening experience. Some of the things her college coach, Mic Potter, had told her suddenly became a lot more meaningful.
“Mic always tells us to practice with a purpose and to take quality over quantity,” said Knight. “When I watched those LPGA players, l could see that when they’re out there, everything they do is for a purpose. Every swing counts.”
And she also learned a thing or two about demeanor both on the course and in the practice areas from the LPGA pros.
“They’re so calm and they manage their games really well, not trying to be like anybody else when they play,” added Knight. “I’m not one of the longest hitters out there, but I hit it straight, so sometimes you just have to do what you need to do.”
Both Knight and Gillman get excited when asked how strong they think their team can be this year and how one more Texas addition could be just what the Crimson Tide needs.
“We have a U.S. Women’s Am champion [Gillman], and a U.S. Girls’ Junior [runner-up, Abe] on our team, so this year could be the year for us,” said Knight, who hopes she can join Alabama’s list of national champions this week in her fourth USGA championship.
Gillman added that she thinks the entire Alabama team will push each other throughout the year, especially the Texans, who seem to thrive when bragging rights are at stake.
“It’s going to be pretty cool to have half of our college team from Texas,” added Gillman. “I think it won’t be much different than playing golf at home with each other.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.