OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Shortly after Casie Cathrea dropped a 10-foot birdie putt Tuesday at the 18th hole – completing a difficult up-and-down save from trees right of the green – elation turned to fear.
Cathrea nearly got Villegased.
A spectator who had watched Cathrea’s first round of stroke-play qualifying Monday at Olympia Fields Country Club’s South Course mistakenly thought Cathrea had taken a 6 on the par-4 sixth hole instead of the 5 that was written down. When the spectator informed U.S. Golf Association officials, Cathrea and the other two players in her group were shuttled out to No. 6, where all agreed Cathrea had indeed scored a 5.
The crisis averted, Cathrea, 15, remains tied for second on the leaderboard halfway through the second round of stroke-play qualifying. She made up ground Tuesday with a 2-under 70, and is at even-par 144, four shots behind leader Ariya Jutanugarn.
The USGA bit is not a new scene for Cathrea, it’s just a little unfamiliar. This is her third U.S. Girls’ Junior, and her fifth USGA event. She also played the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, reaching the quarterfinals, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2009. She sat out of last year’s Girls’ Junior to play the Evian Masters Juniors Cup, where she finished fourth individually.
Cathrea, of Livermore, Calif., hits the Northern California circuit hard, and has won the Sacramento County and Sacramento City Women’s Amateurs already this year. She acknowledges a bit of trouble getting into USGA fields of late.
“I’ve just been having a hard time with qualifiers, I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
Cathrea is a long and strong player with plenty of energy. At times on the course, it appears she could run circles around fellow competitors. Attribute that to the roughly 16 hours a week she spends in the gym. She completes two workouts a day, five days a week. Morning strength sessions often consist of lifting and squats, while afternoons generally are devoted to cardio and abs.
Weekend “rest days” are reserved for tournaments. This kid doesn’t mess around.
One of the many upsides of that attitude is that it’s not lost on an older generation. Cathrea was hand-picked by Ben Crenshaw, who she has known for seven years, to play in last weekend’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Crenshaw wrote a letter asking for special permission to partner with Cathrea, and the pair went on to win the event.
“When I played at Pebble Beach, Ben read all my putts,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Don’t mess with your stroke.’ My putting was pretty good there coming into this week.”
And so a week after mingling with World Golf Hall of Famers, Cathrea finds herself in the Midwest, mingling with Olympia Fields locals. She’s staying with a host family this week while her dad Harry stays in a nearby hotel. The plan is to get Cathrea acclimated to traveling alone, something she hopes to do next year.
“It’s different than what I thought,” Cathrea said of staying alone. “… It’s kind of scary because I’ve always had my mom or my dad with me. It’s going to be a little different.”
All this preparation figures into grander plans of making the 2012 Curtis Cup team, her next goal. Soon after that, the college decision looms. Cathrea already has made an unofficial visit to Texas, and is planning another to UCLA soon and one to Oklahoma State when she plays the AJGA Ping Invitational at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla.
These kids grow up so fast.