5 Things: Future bright for women's golf

Danielle Kang

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Consider that 25 players in the U.S. Women’s Open field are amateurs, and the future of women’s golf doesn’t look too shabby. The fact that just one of those players, reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang, got in to the field without having to qualify, also shows that the next generation has ambition. Here are five things to keep in mind when play starts at The Broadmoor on Thursday:

1. Brains and birdies: Kelly Shon wears two hats this week: that of the Ivy League scholar, and that of the elite amateur. Shon, a sophomore at Princeton, is making her first Women’s Open start at The Broadmoor, and couldn’t be more excited for what that might mean for her golf career.

Many of Shon’s classmates hit the intern circuit hard for the summer, something Shon had planned to do as an upperclassman. In other words, if ever there were a summer to qualify for the Open, this was it.

“Internships are definitely on my mind right now, but getting into the Open has definitely been an encouraging factor, in terms of maybe turning pro, so maybe not doing an internship for the next couple summers,” she explained.

Outside the ropes, Shon’s older sister Soomin, a 2008 graduate of Cornell, laughed about Kelly’s inability to select a major. One year down, Kelly, 19, is still undecided, but leaning toward philosophy or sociology.

It’s a girls week in Colorado Springs for the Shons, as just Kelly, Soomin and Kae, the girls’ mother, made the trip. Kae caddied for Kelly in the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Medina (Minn.) Golf and Country Club. This week, Kelly was hoping a Princeton teammate might carry her bag, but the cheering contingent from New Jersey didn’t arrive soon enough. Instead, she settled for longtime Broadmoor member Jeff Freyschlag, who also caddied for Constantino Rocca when the U.S. Senior Open visited this venue in 2008.

“Incredibly impressed,” Freyschlag said of Shon’s game as he walked off the final green Tuesday.

No understatement from someone who knows the difficulty of this mountain course.

2. Sister, sister: It’s been nearly two years since Thai sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn began to dominate the junior and amateur golf scenes (Ariya burst onto the scene by defeating defending champion Alexis Thompson at the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior).

Since Moriya, 16, supplanted Ariya, 15, at the top of Golfweek’s Junior Rankings (Ariya still holds the No. 2 spot), an interesting storyline has been brewing in the Jutanugarn camp.

So far this year, Moriya turned in a record-setting performance at the Scott Robertson Memorial, finishing at 16 under, and 13 shots ahead of her sister, who was runner-up. She also earned her first AJGA win at the Winn Grips Heather Farr Classic. Ariya recently won her first AJGA Invitational title, the Rolex Girls Junior.

Neither are a bad bet when predicting amateurs that might make it to the weekend at the Women’s Open, but the jury is still out as to which claims low Jutanugarn honors.

3. Work hard, play hard: Mariah Stackhouse arrived on the grounds Friday for her first golf trip to Colorado, which just happened to be for the U.S. Women’s Open. After practicing through the weekend and adapting to the altitude and elevation changes, Tuesday brought a day of rest.

That’s right, the Stackhouses spent the day scaling Pike’s Peak.

Father and caddie Kenneth explained that most of that mountain climbing will be done with four-wheel drive rather than on foot.

“I want to enjoy myself too,” Mariah said of stepping away from the course for a day.

Stackhouse skipped the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions last week in Sunriver, Ore., after coming off three weeks of competition in a row. She already has two AJGA victories this year.

“I didn’t have as much practice as I wanted toward the end of the school year but I feel that my game is back to where it’s supposed to be,” she said. “Had a tournament last week and shot 66-70 so feeling like I’m playing again the way Mariah can play.”

4. No rest for the young: There are 10 members of the AJGA in the field this week, five of whom came straight from one of the biggest events in junior golf: The Rolex Tournament of Champions.

If she can overcome the fatigue factor, Gabriella Then should have the biggest leg up among those players after winning that tournament for her first invitational title. Then beat Ariya Jutanugarn on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff as Moriya nipped closely at their heels, finishing one shot back.

5. Second chance: Considering that there are more than four times the number of amateurs at the Women’s Open as there were at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the LPGA season, chances are good that more than one of those players will be around for the weekend. Ariya Jutanugarn was the only player to accomplish that feat at Mission Hills.

Kang, who has announced plans to turn pro after attempting a title defense at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August, is the only amateur to have played in both LPGA majors so far this season. She made the cut at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship two weeks ago.

Aside from Jutanugarn and Kang, only USC senior Lisa McCloskey is making her second major start this week. McCloskey is returning from a rib injury that kept her sidelined through much of the NCAA postseason.

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