Wong thriving amid new surroundings

Freshman Christine Wong already has a pair of individual victories this season.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.96 
2Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.17 
3Gaby LopezArkansas  70.29 
4Noemi JimenezArizona St  70.31 
5Celine BoutierDuke  70.40 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.64  13 
2UCLA 70.83  12 
3Duke 70.89  11 
4Stanford 71.74  13 
5Arizona State 71.75  12 

Christine Wong doesn't waste much time. For that matter, neither does her golf coach, Emilee Klein.

Wong claimed medalist honors last week at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami. It’s the second collegiate victory for the San Diego State freshman who, together with newly minted coach Emilee Klein, is breathing new life into the Aztec program.

It only took one semester for Wong, also a winner at the Price’s Give ’Em Five Invite in October, to get the lay of the land in San Diego, even though she was playing golf more than 1,000 miles from her home in Richmond, British Columbia, just south of Vancouver. Despite a pang of homesickness when the Winter Olympics come on TV, Wong has transitioned well and is thoroughly enjoying the warmer climate and extended practice season. She used the first semester to figure out how to juggle school and golf, and now is on to more important things: winning golf tournaments.

“I’ve never had so many people support me and try to help me with my game,” Wong said.

A big part of that support comes from Klein, a California native and former LPGA standout who is in her first year coaching at San Diego State after four years at UCF. Wong calls her “the best coach I’ve ever had.”

“She’s always there for us to talk to, to ask anything we need,” she said. “She’s done a lot for the team already.”

The affection is mutual from Klein, who attributes Wong’s smooth transition to a carefree, happy personality and a closely-bonded Aztec team ready to open its arms to Wong and her fellow freshmen. 

“She’s such a strong player, she just hits the ball so far that when she gets her consistency going, she’s a really good player,” Klein said.

Barely into her college career, Wong, ranked No. 77 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, already is making vast improvements to her game. Klein is helping her nail down exact yardages throughout her bag, improve her distance control and hone an already solid short game. Wong’s good play is set up by her distance from the tee.

At this rate, Wong is a player to keep on the radar as her game continues to improve. She gave a taste of what she’s capable with last week’s three-shot victory in Miami, setting the pace for the field in Round 1 with a 3-under 69 in which she hit every fairway and every green. She lays out those details casually, along with the fact that, “I think I had just under 30 putts for that round.”

“My short game has improved a lot and I see it improving more in the future,” Wong said. “I’ve worked on my distance control and the mental side of my game. I’m just looking forward to learning.”

• • •

photo

The Dianne Dailey Golf Learning Center.

New place on the block: Members of the Wake Forest team might have the coolest new playground in college golf. The University is building the Dianne Dailey Golf Learning Center, named in honor of the current women’s head coach who is in her 22nd season with the Deacons. The center will be ready for use March 15.

Listening to Dailey describe the new facility has a “12 Days of Christmas” ring to it: 18 acres of range area including 16 different bunkers, 11 different target greens, 4 bent grass greens, one Bermuda grass green and a tree in the middle of it all to hit shots around.

The learning center – which also includes a building with five indoor hitting bays, a filming bay and a club repair area – was funded entirely by donors and has a price tag of about $1.8 million. The next stage of the project includes a team room, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, a workout room and a conference room.

“I’m just overwhelmed by the generosity of the donors that made this possible,” Dailey said. “... I’m honored that they named it for me, but the thing that’s more important than that is it’s just going to give our students a really first-class facility to learn and for us to teach.”

Dailey had been scouting out inspiration for the project for the past three years and creating a wish list.

“All the places where we play our tournaments I’ve taken pictures, and trying to take the best of all of those and trying to combine it into our facility,” she said.

• • •

Making the transition: Entering Pepperdine’s lineup this week at the Arizona Wildcat Invitational is Danielle Kang, who graduated from high school the first week of January and joined the Waves a semester early. Kang’s college golf career was delayed slightly as documents were processed, causing her to miss Pepperdine’s season-opening appearance at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge last week.

“We are excited to have Danielle play her first tournament for the Waves next week at Arizona,” Pepperdine head coach Laurie Gibbs said in an e-mail.

Kang comes off a successful high school and junior career that included medalist honors during stroke play qualifying at the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

• • •

A look ahead...

What: Arizona Wildcat Invitational

When: Feb. 22-23

Where: Arizona National Golf Club, Tucson, Ariz.

Why it’s important: Talk about a loaded field. Six of Golfweek’s top-10 ranked teams will make the trip to Arizona. USC will get its second start of the spring season after a season-opening win at the Northrop Grumman. Pepperdine, which finished second at that tournament, also will be on hand. Top-ranked Arizona State and Auburn, No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, are in the field, with Arizona, Denver, Oregon, Tulane, UNLV, Duke, New Mexico, Stanford, California, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Washington.

• • •

Five questions with Arizona State senior Juliana Murcia, Golfweek’s eighth-ranked player who won the 2009 Northrop Grumman for her first collegiate victory and was T-7 in this year’s event:

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Juliana Murcia

1. You led ASU to a fourth place finish last week at the Northrop Grumman. Do you feel any extra pressure this season because you’re a senior?

I don’t feel any extra pressure because I know the team does very well. Everybody works really hard, and each of us wants to do our best. I just believe that if we enjoy ourselves and give 100 percent that it will add up for a victory.

2. You were recently featured on Sun Devils 101 for being able to strike a balance between your art major and golf. What kind of art are you most interested in?

I’m with sculpture, so I like a lot of three-dimensional forms. I’m interested in pop art. Some stuff has social concepts in it. So I enjoy art because I can give information about how I think about society through my work. That’s why I chose being an artist.

3. Do you ever get inspiration for a piece of art from playing golf?

I do. My coach would laugh. She knows that I sometimes study for my art history exams on the course. Just being outside, with walking and looking at the scenery. It gives me inspiration, and I really enjoy being outdoors. It gives me, like, five hours to think about whatever, so I keep myself busy.

4. You were on last year’s national-championship team. What’s the best memory you have from that week?

I remember that we had a really nice dinner, and one of our teammate’s dad took us. This was the night before we played the final round, which was very special, especially how even though we had a rough start and the team kind of wanted to give it all, we never gave up. We always played each day trying to give our best, and thankfully the third day we were sitting at dinner, we saw that we were a few shots off the lead. Just being at the table with all my teammates and some of the parents and having still a chance for the championship I think raised our hopes, and I think that really helped us with the inspiration for the last day. 

5. What’s your greatest accomplishment outside golf?

Being a student-athlete. It’s a lot of time management, and especially being an artist because I have studio classes which require more hours of me for my work. Actually getting the major and succeeding and having good grades. That’s an extra achievement I’ve gained through being a student-athlete.

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