FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Early week at Forest Highlands, Tim Janiga created a mantra for his daughter Mary. After perusing the names of adolescent heavy hitters on the U.S. Girls’ Junior scoreboard, Janiga decided his daughter could become one, too.
“To get her excited, we were saying, ‘Who’s Mary Janiga?’ ” he said. Indeed, before Wednesday, the name took a Google search when it showed up on the leaderboard.
After the first round of match play, Mary Janiga is one of 32 players still standing at the U.S. Girls’ Junior. That required Tim to change a plane ticket he already had scheduled home for Thursday because his daughter isn’t done yet.
“It’s kind of bittersweet because it’s my last Girls’ Junior, and my first,” said Janiga, who has committed to play for Mercer beginning next fall.
A 17-year-old from Wellington, Fla., Janiga won her first-round match against Muni He, 3 and 2, despite losing two of the last three holes to He pars.
“I got a little shaky those last few holes,” Janiga said, though she shouldn’t have been. She has garnered plenty of match-play experience in the BallenIsles Junior Cup, an annual Ryder Cup-style match among South Florida-area juniors. Janiga guesses her lifetime match-play record now stands at 4-0.
Lately, Janiga’s game has just been clicking. She won the Florida State Girls Championship on July 2, just three weeks after she qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior. The difference is in Janiga’s ballstriking.
“I’m a pretty consistent putter, but the key for me is irons,” she said. “I struggled with irons at the beginning of the summer, and it got better and better.”
As soon as Janiga won Wednesday’s match, she returned to the course with caddie Jennifer Zeng, whose daughter Courtney is a friend from home. Tim Janiga was on Courtney’s bag as part of a switcheroo that meets the U.S. Golf Association’s rule preventing parents as caddies at this event. Both players qualified out of West Orange Country Club in Winter Garden, Fla., and they made a pact that day to provide caddies for the other.
“As long as we’re both here, we’ll both caddie,” Tim said.
Mary and Jennifer share a calm demeanor, while Tim and Courtney exude energy. After Courtney advanced with a 4-and-3 victory over Mika Liu, Tim corralled all three women into a mini mosh pit by the scoreboard. Then, he cabbage patched.
Tim calls himself the ultimate golf fan, and has created a business out of perusing other people’s garages, buying used golf equipment and then selling it through his online store, Tim Janiga Golf. Meanwhile, said equipment sits stacked in his own garage.
Janiga also volunteers this tidbit about his golf nuttiness: Even his toilet plunger has a golf ball attached to it. His dog is named Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
“My dad first got me into golf when I was in diapers,” Mary said. “My middle name is Augusta.”
That name stems from Mary’s birth date, which happened to fall on the final round of the 1997 Masters. Had she been a boy, Tim swears her name would have been Robert Trent Janiga. Mary has been to the Masters twice.
“It’s magical,” she said. “It’s like Disneyland for golfers, I think.”
As it is, she is the sixth and youngest female named Mary in the family, and so goes only by Mary Augusta during family reunions, when another identifier is needed. Thanks to Tim, that’s not the case this week.
Who is Mary Janiga? Quite possibly the great underdog story of this Girls’ Junior.