DALY CITY, Calif. – Jisoo Keel rattles off the name of her hometown easily, but to most, the British Columbian city requires a second glance and a phonetic stumble. Coquitlam
The Vancouver suburb has more golf prestige than you might assume.
“Lots of great players come from that city,” Keel explains.
At a U.S. Girls’ Junior where Canadian flags covered the top of the stroke-play leaderboard, Keel’s name was maybe the most recognizable. The 16-year-old is the only member of the five-woman Canadian National team in the field this week at Lake Merced Golf Club. Her four teammates (Jennifer Kirby, Augusta James, Christine Wong and Brittany Marchand) are in college. Luckily Keel has back-up in Developmental Team members Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, 14, and Brogan McKinnon, 17. All three finished inside the top 11 on Tuesday before the score returned to zero for match play.
Keel was beaming at the success of her compatriots.
“Really happy for them,” she said. “Really happy that the Canadian girls are making a stand here.”
Tristan Mullally, head women’s coach for Golf Canada, was similarly thrilled.
“They’ve come up with a very strong gameplan as to how to play the golf course, and they’ve been pretty disciplined with that,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Canadians have dominated a U.S. Golf Association amateur championship. In 2010, two of the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinalists were from Canada: Jennifer Kirby and Stephanie Sherlock.
Mullally calls Golf Canada’s amateur program a million-dollar effort. “Obviously it shows that things are moving in the right direction,” he said of this week.
As for Keel, the Girls’ Junior – only her fourth USGA championship – comes on the heels of her first start in the U.S. Women’s Open. She missed the cut at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., because of some silly mistakes. It was her first experience in a major championship, but perhaps the biggest event of her young career occurred two months earlier, when she won the CN Canadian Women’s Tour season opener. She was the only player in the 89-woman field to break par at Richmond Country Club in Richmond, B.C.
Keel is bound for Stanford, south of San Francisco, in the fall of 2013. She spent a beautiful Tuesday afternoon at Lake Merced (which came on the heels of a cold, drizzly Monday) reflecting on her recent decision. It’s more than the prestige, as Stanford just felt right.
“The facilities are unbelievable, and I really do think that some of the girls who are coming in next year and my year are going to really improve the ranking,” she said of a team that finished the season at No. 35 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “But the ranking is just a number. I know what the team is capable of.”
Until then, Keel has to finish her senior year of high school. You could say it’s a task made both better and worse by Golf Canada. The experiences and the practice opportunities have made Keel the player she is. They come at the price of several missed classes – as many as 50 – especially in early winter when she retreats to the southern U.S. for intensive training sessions
“You have to do a lot of all-nighters studying, but it’s worth it. If you want to keep your grades up and still love golf the way I do, I have to make some sacrifices.”