Guam among first-timers at WWATC

The opening ceremonies of the Women's World Amateur Team Championship.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Tessie Blair, Aiga Payne and Rose Cunliffe don’t want to talk about their rounds. That’s understandable. One has to scroll to the bottom of the leaderboard of the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship to find Guam. These women – all in their 50s – are a story not because of their skill level, but because this marks the first time Guam has participated in the WWATC. Any time a new nation joins this friendly event, it’s newsworthy. There are a record 52 teams in Argentina, with Tanzania, Israel and Slovenia joining Guam as first-timers.

Will the ladies of Guam return in two years?

“Not us,” they said in unison, laughing. The level of play in Argentina is admittedly too good for these middle-aged wives. They hope to return to their island, an unincorporated U.S. territory that is part of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, and tell the youngsters what they’ve seen.

“This is a very prestigious tournament, with a lot of young kids,” Payne said. “They are very intimidating.”

All three women took up the game at about age 30. They ride in golf carts at the country club and watch players such as Americans Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang on TV. (They were on the lookout for the U.S. stars here.) At the end of Payne’s round Thursday, she told her playing partner, the No. 1 player from Ecuador, that she’d be looking for her on the LPGA. Actually, she’ll see many players from this field on the tour in the coming years.

Israel, by contrast, fielded a team of teenagers who opted to carry their own bags.

“I wouldn’t be able to swing,” Cunliffe said in astonishment.

Laetitia Beck, 18, is the oldest Israeli. She and her family moved from Belgium when she was 6 years old because “every Jewish person dreams to go to Israel.” Beck moved by herself at age 14 to the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Her family lived on the only 18-hole course in Israel, where the rough is sand. Instructors could develop scratch golfers, she said, but not professionals.

“It’s not as hard as people would think,” said the independent Beck of moving overseas alone.

Her 15-year-old teammate, Hadas Libman, followed to Bradenton this year. Beck is a freshman at Duke, where she eats her evening meals at the Jewish center on campus.

For many years, Beck played in international competitions as an individual. This marks the first time her country has been able to field a team, after 15-year-old Petra Bogoslavsky moved to Israel from Brazil.

The Israelis were tied for ninth after the first round but dropped to T-39. Not surprisingly, Beck also had no interest in talking about her round.

Tanzania only has two participants this week; the third player wasn’t in good enough condition to travel. The process of securing a new visa was too cumbersome to replace her, so Hawa Ayoub Wanyeche and Madina Iddy Hussein came on their own.

“It’s our first time because it’s not easy to organize,” said Wanyeche, a 24-year-old who desperately would like to turn professional but has no financial support or formal instruction back home. “It’s just us.”

Wanyeche and Hussein arrived in Buenos Aires on Tuesday morning and had only one practice round. They played Olivos blindly today.

“The body is not in a good position,” Wanyeche said of the jet lag.

Wanyeche practices four times a week at one of two 18-hole facilities in the country. She needed the extra time in Argentina to get used to the varying conditions.

“This course is very beautiful,” she said “and ours . . . it cannot match this standard.”

There’s no cut at the World Amateur Team, underscoring the good nature of this event. While there’s much expectation atop the leader board, for teams such as Guam and Tanzania, it’s a chance to see what the rest of the world has to offer.

Cunliffe is financial controller for the Guam Visitors Bureau. She and her teammates already are thinking about whether Guam could host such a tournament. They know the 60- to 90-minute shuttle rides wouldn’t exist on their island. One can tour the entire U.S. territory in two hours.

The trio will hand out pins and business cards, soaking up every detail they need to grow the game in Guam. That’s exactly what makes the bottom of this week’s leaderboard count as much as the top.

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