BARRINGTON, R.I. – It happened on No. 7 tee, No. 13 tee, and had Demi Runas not been so nervous when she teed off on the first extra hole in her third-round match against Lisa McCloskey, it would have happened there, too.
Runas has an odd superstition when she plays a round of golf that makes much more sense after her explanation. To the UC-Davis junior, if there are three golf balls in a sleeve and 18 holes in a round, it just makes sense that all of those balls should be used. Thus, Runas switches her golf ball every six holes in each competitive round she plays.
Until Thursday afternoon.
“I forgot,” she said of playing the 19th hole with the same ball with which she had holed out at 18. “In that moment I was like, ‘Just keep going.'”
After McCloskey put her drive out of bounds in a parking lot right of the fairway, Runas knew all she had to do was play it safe – get on the green at the 379-yard par 4 and two putt to end the match in 19 holes. She did, earning her return ticket to Rhode Island Country Club for Friday’s quarterfinals. She’ll meet defending Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang.
Runas has played the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links twice, and has a handful of other match play starts from the U.S. Girls’ Junior and last month’s Women’s Trans National Amateur. This is the farthest she has ever advanced, and for that she extends major gratitude to her roommate this week, longtime friend Lee Lopez, a redshirt junior at UCLA. It’s the first time Runas and Lopez – who grew up together in Southern California and competed against each other in high school golf – have ever traveled to a tournament together alone.
“She’s been in these high-pressure situations,” Runas explained. “(UCLA) won the national championship so she’s kind of talking me through it, talking me through my nerves.”
So far this week, Runas has masked them well. She beat Argentina’s Manuela Cabajo Re, 6 and 4, in the first round then knocked off Ket Preamchuen, 3 and 2, in the second round. In her match against McCloskey, a senior at USC, Runas held a 1-up lead for the majority of the match, but once it was over revealed shaking hands.
Aside from superstition, the other quirk in Runas’ game is her left-hand-low putting technique. A right-handed player, Runas changed her putting grip during her senior year of high school at the suggestion of Jane Rah, who now plays on the LPGA Futures tour. Both Runas and Rah hail from Torrance, Calif.
Runas’ praise doesn’t end there. She tells the story of meeting UC Davis head coach Anne Walker, swelling with pride when she explains that she was one of Walker’s first recruits when she left Cal to coach at UC Davis. They both became Aggies in the fall of 2009.
“She’s been a really big supporter of me and she’s so excited,” Runas said.
Runas will have big shoes to fill when she returns to college this fall as an upperclassmen and team leader. With seniors Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller gone – players Runas describes as the “heart and soul” of the Aggie program – Runas knows it’s her time to step up.
“They did teach me very well and they’ve helped my game a lot over the last two years,” she said. “They’ve given me a lot more confidence in myself and just helping me believe in myself a little bit more.”
Runas, it seems, is just soaking it all in at Rhode Island Country Club, in preparation to give a little bit back.