FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The U.S. Girls’ Junior will be Gabriella Then’s final junior tournament, and she really means it this time.
“I’ve been delaying it all summer,” said Then, an incoming USC freshman who originally said she would call it quits as a junior golfer after the Rolex Tournament of Champions. That tournament came and went, Then finished 25th, and yet she still showed up at Sycamore Hills Golf Club this week to play for the fourth and final time.
Then advanced Wednesday from the No. 44 spot on the match-play bracket. Her track record at this event includes two first-round losses and a trip to the quarterfinals in 2011 before losing to eventual champion Ariya Jutanugarn. On Wednesday, Then seemed to float around Sycamore Hills, going 4 up on opponent Gabrielle Barker by No. 7.
Then was 4 up again at No. 15, and needed only to tie Barker to win the match. She pulled a 3-wood to go for the green on her second shot but landed long and left. She pitched out from behind a tree to 40 feet and sunk the putt. Far be it for Then to play it safe when she could end the match then and there.
“I know I can reach the green with my 3-wood,” Then said with confidence later as she described the final hole.
Then, 17, had fellow competitor Patricia Wong on the bag – rather, the pull cart – and mother Maya rooting enthusiastically from outside the ropes. Her younger sister Angella, 14, played Australian Hannah Green four groups ahead but lost, 2 up.
This is the first year the sisters from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., have played the Girls’ Junior together, so there could be some torch passing at week’s end. In true big-sister form, Gabriella bragged Wednesday that Angella is the first alternate out of her U.S. Women’s Amateur sectional qualifier. Gabriella’s story is different.
Playing in the qualifier at Country Club of York in York, Pa., after the Rolex TOC, Then posted a 73 that would have put her in a five-woman playoff for four available spots. At the end of the round, however, a competitor questioned a shot Then had hit left-handed from beneath a pine tree at No. 13.
Then had taken several right-handed practice swings, testing the effect of low-hanging branches, before switching to the left-handed shot. The competitor questioned one she took while standing over the ball, and after several minutes consulting USGA officials at the end of the round, one stroke was added to Then’s score. With a 74, Then was in a playoff for the first- and second-alternate spots, but she claimed neither.
“I’ve never seen myself get that mad before,” Then said.
Had she qualified she would have added one final tournament to her last junior summer, but as it is, the next big circle on Then’s calendar is freshman move-in and orientation. Beyond that, Then isn’t sure of too many details, such as the number of classes she’ll take or what they might be.
“I don’t know the first thing about it,” Then said of college. Here’s guessing she’ll learn quickly.