‘Dakota darlings’ dream big at U.S. Junior

Kimberly Kaufman tees off at No. 16 during Thursday match play of the 61st U. S. Girls' Junior Championship.

Girls Rankings »

#NameYearStateRating
1Andrea Lee2016CA68.07
2Kristen Gillman2016TX69.29
3Bethany Wu2015CA69.34
4Angel Yin2017CA70.13
5Megan Khang2015MA70.49

BEDMINSTER, N.J. – The Dakotas, of all places, are well-represented at the Sweet Sixteen of the U.S. Girls’ Junior. Medalist Amy Anderson of Oxbow, N.D., and Kimberly Kaufman (pictured) of Clark, S.D., took their small-town-America games to glitzy Trump National and surprised more than a few.

“The bathroom is amazing,” Kaufman said shortly after winning her first-round match July 22 in a playoff. Trump’s gold-trimmed powder rooms are a cut above the norm at Clark Golf Course, the nine-hole waterless, sandless track that Kaufman grew up on.

“The greens look like the fringes out here,” she said.

College coaches flock to the U.S. Juniors each year to find players like Anderson and Kaufman, Dakota darlings who clean their clubs with something other than AJGA towels. These two 17-year-olds already have their college plans set. Anderson, a home-school product who graduated at 16, signed with North Dakota State to stay close to her coach. The nearly-6-foot-tall Kaufman will head to Texas Tech later this summer.

Several years ago, I wrote a column about a young girl from Indiana who reached the quarterfinals of this event. In describing her unlikely ascent, I noted that she hailed from a state “with more cornfields than golf holes, where basketball is taught as a second language.” The next morning, I received an e-mail from a reader who was less-than-impressed with my assessment of Indiana golf.

Yes, the Hoosier State is home to Pete Dye and Fuzzy Zoeller and several impressive tracks. But I stand by my premise that Indiana is largely regarded as a basketball state.

Honestly, not sure how to assess the Dakotas, other than cold.

So what’s the thing to do in Clark?

“I don’t think there is a thing to do,” said Kaufman, who comes from a town of about 1,200. “We go to Watertown; it’s about 30 minutes away. There’s a movie theater.”

High school sports are big in Clark. Kaufman won four individual state championships, helping her team also win four in the process. This marks her first time making the cut at the Girls’ Junior.

Good weather in the Dakotas lasts about three months (June, July, August). It isn’t uncommon for a high school match to get snowed out one week, only to play the next.

Kaufman and her father went ’round and ’round Clark’s nine-hole track in the summer, making as many as seven loops in one day. These days she spends most of her time practicing two hours away in Sioux Falls with her instructor.

“I love coming out (east) because there’s no wind,” Kaufman said. “That’s why I’m going south to play golf. I need to play year-round.”

(Side note: There is wind in Texas.)

The practice greens at Trump’s place were packed with academy kids and miniature pros from all over the world. Anderson might be the only player out there who puts her clubs away in September and leaves them there until January.

“That way I never get burned out,” she said.

Unlike Kaufman, Anderson doesn’t mind the cold. She quit snowboarding last year for fear she’d “break a leg or neck.” Probably a smart move, though many of the LPGA’s top players spend their offseasons on snow-covered slopes.

Last year’s Girls’ Junior marked Anderson’s first USGA event. This year’s goal was to better ’08 by winning a match. She came to Bedminster 20 yards longer off the tee and with a more solid short game. In the Round of 32, she edged Isabelle Lendl, a talented player whose game is on the mend.

Anderson’s hometown, Oxbow – population 248 at the 2000 census – is on the outskirts of Fargo. She lives on the golf course there and said her community now numbers closer to 300.

She gets lessons from a local amateur player and during the winter hits 60-yard shots inside an insulated sports bubble. Anderson has never seen the movie “Fargo,” even though she lives 10 miles outside the city.

“I hear it’s not totally accurate,” she said. “And I hear they talk funny, which I don’t think we talk funny.”

Anderson wasn’t sure if she’d get the chance to go into nearby New York City this week. Can’t imagine what a girl from a town of 300 would think of a city of about 8 million.

Like the U.S. Girls’ Junior, it’s a good place to dream big.

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