My name is Nicole Morales and I am from South Salem, N.Y. I am a senior at Lake Mary Prep and I have verbally committed to play collegiate golf at the University of Alabama (ROLL TIDE!). I started playing golf when I was 4 years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. I entered my first tournament when I was seven years old and worked my way up into the AJGA when I was 15. Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a junior membership to GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford, NY. I am so blessed that I get to play on a golf course that includes world-class practice facilities designed by Gary Player. Having the opportunity to practice at GlenArbor is a huge reason behind my most recent successes in junior golf. I work with Cheryl Anderson at the Mike Bender Golf Academy, and she has been my coach since I was 8 years old. I am currently living in Florida so that I can train with her for a full year before I go off to college.
I am serving as this year’s female player representative for the AJGA, something that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would do. It has been such a privilege representing the AJGA – I certainly never would have dreamed that I would be on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive alongside the AJGA’s Executive Director Steven Hamblin, discussing pace of play!
This past week I was in England competing in The Duke of York Young Champions Trophy at the historic Royal Saint George’s Golf Club. Royal Saint George’s has hosted Open Championships, the Walker Cup, the Curtis Cup and the English Amateur in the past. The format is very unique; a 54-hole stroke play tournament where both boys and girls are competing in a mixed field. Fifty-five players representing 31 different countries played on a very demanding golf course. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience representing the United States alongside a great player and friend, Brad Dalke.
After an eight-hour flight from Atlanta, Brad and I landed in Heathrow at noon on Sunday. Tired and jetlagged, we worked our way through customs and found our awesome chaperone Rachel Graves, who works for the AJGA as a tournament director. Since she is an Essex native, we knew we were in good hands.
My first taste of links golf can be summed up in two words: wet and windy. Monday was the official practice round and it truly was a test of patience. It poured the entire day, and we only made it to the 16th hole because the rain was so terrible. After a quick and unanimous vote, we gave up and made the trek back to the clubhouse for some much-needed warmth and lunch.
The conditions for the first round weren’t any better. The Golf Gods decided to test us with 35 mph winds (and the scores certainly showed). I hit the ball really well considering the conditions and made a few key saves for par on Nos. 7 and 8 to keep my momentum going. After a string of bogeys on Nos. 12, 13 and 14, I was able to regroup after I drained a 12-foot par putt on 15. I finished with a 75 and was surprised to find out that I was in a tie for third and only two shots back of the leader. All in all, I was really pleased with my play and excited for the second round.
The second day of the tournament was a little disappointing for me. I couldn’t believe that it was windier than the first two days. I guess that’s links golf for you! The committee was forced to move a few of the tee boxes forward because the wind was so severe players were having a difficult time reaching some of the fairways. I wasn’t able to get into a groove during the round with my putter and consequently missed a few birdie opportunities on Nos. 7, 10 and 16. At the beginning of the round, I wasn’t compensating enough for the wind affecting my putts and on the back nine I was giving the wind too much respect and over-reading my putts. After a 76, I was in a T-6.
On the final day the conditions were absolutely perfect: warm, sunny and no wind at all. I knew that if I wanted to place well, I needed to take advantage of the optimal scoring conditions. I was paired with my roommate Ji Sun Kang of South Africa and Roberta Liti of Italy. I got off to a really good start with birdies on Nos. 2 and 7, but had a disappointing three-putt on No. 4. I made the turn at 1 under. Considering the difficulty of some of the hole locations, I knew I was in good shape. Unfortunately, my wayward drive on No. 10 put me in the left fescue, which resulted in a very painful double bogey. Though it was extremely difficult, I tried my best to put it behind me and focus on the positives. I took advantage of the short par-4 12th with an easy birdie and proceeded to par 13 and 14. The highlight of my round had to be hitting it to 3 feet on the 15th hole in front of His Royal Highness, the Duke of York! With pars on 16 and 17, and a heartbreaking bogey on 18, I finished the tournament with an even-par 70, T-4 overall
I was also the low girl for the tournament, and earned an exemption into the final round of qualifying for the 2014 Ricoh Women’s British Open! I’m really proud of the way that I played this week. I left some shots out there, but I know I gave it everything I had and that was all that I could ask for.
Now that I’m back home, I’m really looking forward to working hard on my game. Up next on the schedule is the AJGA Ping Invitational at Karsten Creek Golf Club this October. I know the course will be very demanding and I am looking forward to the challenge. Until next time!