When Elisabeth Bernabe and her Southern California teammates arrived in Maui, Hawaii for the Girls’ Junior America’s Cup at Wailea Golf Club, they came with a chip on their shoulders. The team finished a disappointing fifth at the 2011 event at Genoa Lakes Golf Club & Resort in Genoa, Nev.
“We played last year and didn’t do so well. This year, we really wanted to do well and represent SoCal,” said Bernabe, an Anaheim Hills, Calif., native. “And we did.”
Southern California jumped three spots from 2011 to finish in second place in 2012 at 1-over 649 (one stroke behind the winner, Hawaii). The improvement was due much in part to Bernabe, who finished at 5-under 211 (73-67-71) for the individual title.
Bernabe’s performance proved not only to be a form of redemption for the Southern California team, but also for the 17-year-old’s own game. Down the stretch, Bernabe found herself in a duel with Alexandra Kaui of Las Vegas, Nev., and the Southern Nevada team. Just one week prior, Bernabe and Kaui had gone head-to-head in the Round of 32 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Kaui ousted Bernabe in a 2-and-1 nail-biter.
This time, it was Bernabe’s day. She held off Kaui by two strokes to take the title.
“I love Alex. She’s really nice,” Bernabe said. “But to come in first against Alex, I guess I felt a little bit redeemed. I guess I’m better at stroke play than match play.”
Bernabe’s victory added another positive mark to a successful summer. The rising senior at Canyon High School in Anaheim, Calif., qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open in early July (she missed the cut) and made the Round of 32 at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. She also finished T-10 at the Rolex Girls’ Junior, an AJGA event in June.
Bernabe says much of her success has come not from a change in her swing, but rather a change on the greens.
“My long game has always been my strength. It’s always the short game that needs a little help,” she said. “I switched to the belly putter a few months ago, and when I did that, my putting just got so much better. I’ve been making a lot more putts for birdie and par. It really helps my confidence.”
Along with her putting changes, Bernabe points to her two coaches as catalysts for success. She is coached by Dave Hutchens of Yorba Linda, Calif., and Jim Follingstad, who also coaches PGA Tour player Brendan Steele.
Bernabe believes Follingstad, with whom she began working last December, has helped her game beyond the technical aspects. “I think he’s helped me a lot mentally,” she said. “My mental game is not very strong, but he helps so much. He takes me onto the course and he doesn’t tweak any of the mechanics. It’s just all feel and I really enjoy working with him.”
As for the rest of her summer, Bernabe plans on cramming in a few August tournaments before returning to high school. She will play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and likely two AJGA events to close the summer.
Bernabe, who graduates in 2013, remains undecided on a college destination. She has an uncommon wish for a Southern California girl.
“I really want to go to school on the East Coast,” she said.
What’s more, that search begins with Ivy League schools.
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PLAYOFF POWER: Taylor Totland needed five playoff holes to come away with a win at the Lessing’s AJGA Classic July 24 at Trump National GC in Colts Neck, N.J.
Totland, of Tinton Falls, N.J., finished 54 holes tied for the lead at 10-over 226 with Marissa DeCola, of Butler, Pa. She made par on the fifth hole to secure the victory.
“That was the most stressful play I’ve been through,” Totland said. “I’m so happy I was able to grind it out and win my first AJGA championship.”
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WINNERS: August Kim shot a final-round, 5-under 67 to finish at 4-over 220 and take the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek GC in Augusta, Ga. . . . Alexandra Harkins won the Lockton Kansas City Junior at Mission Hills (Kan.) CC, carding a 1-under 209 to win by five strokes. . . . Elizabeth Doty and Madison Kerley entered the final round of the David Toms Foundation Shreveport Junior at Southern Trace CC in Shreveport, La., tied for the lead, but Doty’s final-round, 2-under 70 gave her a six-stroke victory over Kerley. . . . Kaitlin Park finished at 11-under 205 to win the AJGA Junior Challenge at Oak Valley GC in Beaumont, Calif., by four strokes.
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LOOKING AHEAD: The Junior PGA Championship has the biggest draw this week, with notables Beau Hossler, Jim Liu, Andy Shim, Branson Davis, Scottie Scheffler, Gavin Hall, Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn, Samantha Wagner, Alison Lee and Nicole Morales, among others in the field July 31-Aug. 3 at Sycamore Hills GC in Fort Wayne, Ind. . . . The AJGA has five other events aside from the Steve Marino Championship that will conclude Thursday, including the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior at Rivercut GC in Springfield, Mo.