Cathrea ready to take game to new heights

Casie Cathrea waves to the crowd during the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge last fall.

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1Andrea Lee2016CA68.3
2Kristen Gillman2016TX68.49
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4Angel Yin2017CA69.68
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Outside of California, Casie Cathrea might not be a particularly well-known name.

The Cathreas haven’t made a habit of burning up the highways, crisscrossing the country during the summer in pursuit of junior tournaments. With the exception of a few USGA events, Cathrea, 14, mostly competes in her home state, while juggling her freshman course load at Livermore High School.

West Coast, you’ve been warned. Rest of the country, you’re next.

Cathrea already wins a good percentage of the events she plays. She’s a perennial contender in the California State Amateur, which she began playing as a 9-year-old. When Cathrea was 12, she took medalist honors at the state amateur (she was knocked out in the semifinals that year by Kelly Wilson), and she won the 2009 event in November, beating four-time winner Lynne Cowan, 4 and 3.

“It felt pretty good,” Cathrea said. “I’d been working up to that point for I think about four years.”

If the name Cathrea sounds familiar, it’s because in September, at age 13, she Monday qualified into the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge, beating LPGA veteran Nicole Jeray in a playoff for the second of two spots.

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Though she missed the cut at the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge, Cathrea made a hole-in-one during the first round.

“I’ve always wanted to play that tournament,” Cathrea said. “... The members at Black Hawk kind of encouraged me to do it.”

Cathrea plays and practices at Black Hawk Country Club in Danville, Calif., which is one reason she decided it would be a good venue for a possible LPGA debut.

Good choice.

Cathrea proved she belonged in the field when she made a hole-in-one during Round 1. It was the third of her career, and one that she remembers in a series of quick descriptors: 165 yards, downhill, left-to-right wind, 5-iron with a fade, bounce-bounce, hole.

Though it was the first time she had ever attempted to qualify for an LPGA event, Cathrea is excited at the prospect of doing it again.

“I’m definitely going to try to play another LPGA event,” Cathrea said. “I really want to play the CVS event next year. I really think that my game is doing better so I believe I can compete for a lot more of them.”

Cathrea recently switched to groove-conforming irons, and priority No. 1 for the time being is getting adjusted to them, especially in time for U.S. Women’s Open qualifying this summer. After all, Cathrea has a perfect line in her stats column to defend when it comes to qualifying for professional events.

Cathrea’s game is progressing rapidly because her training is impressively coordinated and remarkably scientific. She has a small army – five instructors in all – that monitors every aspect of her game, from physical fitness to mental toughness to perfecting her golf swing. Cathrea’s self-imposed will to be the best completes the package.

In a word, Cathrea is tenacious. She practices as much as her school schedule will allow, runs up to 25 miles a week and was a little turned off by high school golf because “I felt like I wasn’t getting my own work done.” As her dad, Harry, notes, she’s good at finding a way to win, and she typically doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

“She’s strong and long and she works hard to get there,” Harry said. “You can’t force a kid to run that much, you can’t force a kid to play that much.”

Cathrea started playing when she was 5, but wasn’t the average youngster toddling around with a set of plastic clubs. She owned her first set of fitted clubs as a 7-year-old, and future instructor Rob Neal recorded her swing in 3D that same year.

“I’d never tested someone as young as her,” Neal said.

Pictures on her Web site, www.casiecathrea.com, show a tiny Cathrea hooked up to a series of cords and wires, or sitting next to one of her instructors, studying a computer monitor intently.

It wasn’t long before Neal, the CEO of Golf BioDynamics, signed on to captain Cathrea’s progression from a beginner to budding superstar. The only problem? Neal was located at the Jim McLean Golf School in Miami, roughly 3,000 miles from the Cathreas in Northern California.

Though not ideal, Neal – who also has coached the Danish and German national teams – knew how to conquer that barrier. The Cathreas brought in Rick Rhoads, the head professional at the San Francisco Club, as a local coach while a trainer and another instructor from the Jim McLean school also joined Casie’s team. The final piece of the puzzle is a Northern California-based sports psychologist.

Cathrea and Neal meet in person two to three times a year, and in between visits Harry sends video clips of Casie’s swing filmed in the family garage. Neal then sends feedback and Rhoads helps drive it home during face-to-face lessons once every week or two.

Much of Cathrea’s training is based on her physical development. When she was 9, Cathrea took up martial arts for a year and a half at Neal’s suggestion, as he called it a good complement to her golf training. She spent the last year playing basketball, a sport in which movements like jumping also aid her physical training while the team aspect provides more benefits.

Cathrea now is focusing solely on golf, and Neal is hoping to help improve her putting, course management and develop a “Seve Ballesteros-type creativity” around the greens. Combine those refinements with what Rhoads calls a natural tempo that’s already “like Freddie Couples,” and it’s hard telling where Cathrea’s game could be in a year, especially, as Rhoads notes, with such clear data at their finger tips.

“She’s quite special,” Rhoads said. “She’s got a really good opportunity. She really has an aptitude for this game.”

Cathrea already is off to a good start in 2010, claiming a nine-shot victory in her first start at the San Diego Junior Amateur just days into the new year. For the immediate future, the U.S. Women’s Open and USGA success are on her list of goals. Down the road, college is definitely in her sights, too.

“Right now I’m just trying to play my best,” she said.

One thing is clear: Cathrea not only has a cross-country training program designed for wild success, but the work ethic to match.

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