FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – During the final hour of her quarterfinal match at the U.S. Girls’ Junior on Friday morning, it seemed Cindy Ha’s mantra was changing by the minute. Brigitte Dunne was charging, but Ha still had the advantage.
“I looked calm, but on the inside I was pretty nervous,” said Ha, a 17-year-old Vanderbilt commit from Demarest, N.J.
Ha took a 4-up lead into the back nine, which immediately began to dwindle.
“I’m still 3 up,” Ha told herself as Dunne, a fellow 17-year-old from Camarillo, Calif., won No. 10 with a par. By the 13th tee, it was, “I’m still 2 up.”
Dunne birdied No. 15 to cut Ha’s lead to 1 up, and drew roars from a growing crowd when she drained a 30-footer for birdie at No. 17. The two approached No. 18 all square. When Dunne dumped her approach shot in a bunker short and right of the green, Ha merely had to two-putt for par from 40 feet to win the match.
“By the back nine, I don’t know what was into me,” Ha said. “I was flying the greens by 15 yards.”
Some of that, she admits, was adrenaline. But Ha’s ballstriking, overshadowed the day before by Angel Yin’s brute strength, shone on Friday. She’s using a conversion chart swing coach Jason Birnbaum helped her create for this week. It amounts to taking about 10 percent off each shot because of the altitude at Forest Highlands.
“It’s kind of a guessing game but we’ve been doing OK,” Ha said.
Well enough to reach the semifinals.
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SEMIFINAL ROYALTY: In the U.S., Princess Mary Superal’s name always turns head. She’s frequently asked if she’s royalty. As it turns out, the name Princess is common in the Phillipines, the country from which Superal hails. The petite player doesn’t find the questions annoying, however. It’s sort of her calling card.
Even more heads are turning at the sound of that name now that Superal has advanced to the semifinals. She defeated Bethany Wu in 19 holes Friday after a back-and-forth match during which neither player ever had more than a 1-up advantage. Superal stuck a 7-iron to 6 feet at the first playoff hole and made the putt for birdie and a victory.
“I really didn’t expect anything today,” Superal said. “I just told myself to enjoy myself and play my game.”
Superal, who plays for the Philippine National Team, had two teammates following her, Sofia Chabon and Yuka Saso. Five Philippine players entered this championship. For all the support they threw to their countrywoman, Superal still admits it made her a little nervous.
“I feel very overwhelmed,” she said. “They’re supposed to be resting but they watched me.”
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TRUE TEAMWORK: On paper at least, Marijosse Navarro had the toughest match of all on Friday morning. Navarro, a Mexican player who already has spent a semester in college at Texas A&M, went up against Andrea Lee, the No. 1 player in the Golfweek Junior Rankings and a highly sought recruit who recently made a verbal commitment to Stanford.
With a birdie at the 18th hole, Navarro won, 1 up.
“I just tried to stay concentrated and play my best,” said Navarro. That included concentrating on her winning putt, a 4-footer that “looked like 6 feet.”
Navarro has been receiving frequent texts of encouragement from Texas A&M head coach Trelle McCombs. That aspect of college golf has been good for Navarro. It’s also helped her grow up.
“I’m more independent,” she said. “I don’t rely on my mom anymore.”
Navarro’s mother Mayda is also her coach, and a former competitive amateur golfer. Navarro seems to have gotten her mother’s genes.
Thought she is soft-spoken, Navarro is not a nervous or shy player. Jacquie LeMarr, a member of the Northern Arizona women’s golf team who is carrying Navarro’s bag this week, calls her a phenomenal one. LeMarr says Navarro is coachable, and can commit to a shot on the course regardless of what is riding on it.
“She’s great under pressure, which really helps,” LeMarr said.
According to LeMarr, the biggest obstacle at Forest Highlands is thought process, and realizing what elements are at play, from wind to altitude.
“You just have to stay ahead of everything, especially with the wind,” she said.
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SHIN FOR THE WIN: The altitude – and the hills – can also make for a brutal walk at Forest Highlands. Players are allowed caddies at this tournament, as long as that person is not a parent, but Shelly Shin is the only player still standing who has chosen not to use one.
Shin, a member of the Australian National Junior Team, is in Flagstaff this week with just her mother Jeong Hee, but also just likes playing without a caddie.
On Friday, she took Binny Lee to extra holes, stuck her approach on the first one and won with birdie.
The Girls’ Junior is just Shin’s second trip to the U.S. It began early this month, and Shin also competed at the Callaway Junior World Championship, where she finished T-26. She plans to stay through the U.S. Women’s Amateur (to be played at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., in two weeks), and has a trip planned to New York even though she didn’t qualify for that event. If she makes it to the finals of the Girls’ Junior, she’ll earn an exemption.
It seems a little extra motivation for the stoic Aussie.