Brown an inspiration to teammates, community
At the beginning of the season, even Ashtyn Brown’s Ball State teammates didn’t know everything about a past that makes her one of the tougher collegiate golfers you’re likely to meet. But after this week, Brown’s story has spread much farther than Indiana.
Brown, a petite blonde freshman, has twice beaten acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She first was diagnosed in 1999 and again three years later. In both cases, she underwent treatment at Riley Hospital for Children that involved more than two years of chemotherapy, plus radiation after her relapse. This week, she is serving as the Riley ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, which qualified her for a spot in the tournament’s pro-am.
Ball State head coach Katherine Mowat recognizes that the opportunity couldn’t be more perfect for Brown, who she says still is coming to grips with why she survived when so many of the other patients she encountered didn’t. One of those was Justin Cross, who played on the men’s golf team at Ball State and was diagnosed with leukemia a year after Brown. He died during his senior year on the team, and left Brown determined to play for Ball State. On the course, she still carries mementos given to her by Cross.
“Me and Justin were really close, he was like a brother to me and the fact that he’s not here, I think about it every day and I think about it on the golf course so to be able to do what he didn’t get to finish – and not just because he didn’t get to finish it but I also wanted it for myself – I think it just adds more purpose,” she said. “When you lose yourself, like I have a few times, then I have him.”
Mowat describes Brown as the type of junior golfer who made her presence known because of sheer determination and work ethic. Though limited in her initial contact with Brown because of NCAA recruiting regulations, Mowat was touched by Brown’s fire.
“I knew she was a solid player. I knew more than anything that she was very determined to get to where she was with collegiate golf. She has always been very passionate about the game,” Mowat said. “I remember saying to myself that if I’m at Ball State when that time comes, it would be my honor to make her dream come true and to be a part of her story.”
Brown shot a net 13-under 131 (62-69) over the two days of the pro-am. She was tempted to become frustrated during the second round, but displayed an incredible, though not surprising, ability to put it all in perspective.
“You start getting frustrated and you’re like, ‘Oh wait, wait a minute. I’m playing with pros right now and I have this opportunity.’ It was just an awesome experience.”
Brown is one of three freshmen on the Ball State roster, and fits in beautifully – perhaps never more so than after Mowat sat the team down and gave Brown the opportunity to tell her story.
“She spoke for probably a good 40 minutes and no eyes left her, everyone was in tears and it was very captivating, it was very powerful,” Mowat said. “I think everyone was blown away not only by her stories but by her gift to tell her story and just the passion and the meaning behind everything she says.”
Still, the thing that shocked Brown the most about her trip to Disney was that people were so interested in her life – twice winning a battle with leukemia and pursuing the game she loves. When first asked to serve as the Riley ambassador, she didn’t think much of it, but soon the experience began to snowball, and she moved from one interview to the next, somehow fitting the golf itself in between.
The soft-spoken Brown wasn’t always OK with telling so much about herself, but is getting more comfortable with the idea. And perhaps Mowat, at Disney this week to take in the experience with her player, sums it up best.
“She’s at a stage in her growth and in her maturity where she realizes there’s a reason she’s here.”
A look ahead:
What: Mercedes Benz SEC/Pac-12 Championship
When: Oct. 21-23
Where: Holston Hills Golf Club, Knoxville, Tenn.
Why it’s important: The championship heads east this year to the Lady Vols’ playground after being hosted by Stanford last fall, where UCLA won. A few roster notes of interest: senior Stephanie Kono replaced freshman Kyle Roig in UCLA’s fivesome, and USC is playing with four while sophomore Sophia Popov rests a wrist injury and freshman Doris Chen plays the Sunrise LPGA Championship. As for teams to watch, UCLA isn’t a bad bet to go three in a row on the season here, but also keep an eye on Washington, which finished third at last week’s Stanford Intercollegiate even after going 5 over in the final five holes. As for the SEC, a win for host Tennessee would be huge, though LSU or Alabama might be the conference’s best bet.
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Comeback kids: After Eastern Michigan made up six shots on Notre Dame during the final round of the Hoosier Fall Invitational on Oct. 18 to win by one shot, head coach Sandra Wagner had some words of wisdom on the Eagles’ second victory of the fall.
“A one-shot victory has many lessons in it. A one-shot loss hurts and we had that at the MAC Preview the week before and they worked very hard to close the round and finish well," she said. "And with that - a victory at Crooked Stick.”
Eastern Michigan also won the Nittany Lion Invitational on Oct. 2. The victories sandwiched a third-place finish Oct. 11 at the Mid-American Conference Preview. At the Hoosier, the Eagles claimed four players inside the top 11, including Sarah Johnson in third.
“I’m very proud of our team and how hard we played and stuck it out until the end,” Johnson said. “We're all bad weather players and looked forward to the challenge we faced (in the final round) and we went out there and won it. I’m looking forward to the next few years to see what we can do.”
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Five questions with Washington freshman Soo Bin Kim, who won the individual title Oct. 16 at the Stanford Intercollegiate:
1.) You won your third start with Washington – what was your reaction to winning a top tournament so soon?
After the round, I just had a really good round so I was excited about my round and then it felt good because I was working on a lot of stuff with my coaches. When I heard that I won the tournament, I did have that feeling like I really couldn’t believe I just won my first college tournament. I was really thankful for all my teammates and my coaches for working with me for the whole week.
2.) What part of your game do you think was responsible for the low rounds this week?
I kind of went into it differently, I did work on my technical stuff before I left for Stanford but I was working on a little bit of the mental side to comfort me, commitment on every single shot I make. Whenever coaches came around, they made sure that I was confident in what I was doing.
3.) You were bogey-free in the final two rounds. Is that normal for you?
That’s really not, I actually told my coaches I was really excited, it’s actually my record playing bogey-free rounds. I think it was like 40 holes in a row. It’s still on (after the practice round of the SEC/Pac-12 Championship). I was really excited for making another record in my game.
4.) You opened and closed with 66. How does that compare to your career low?
My career-low round is 7 under (final round of the 2010 Callaway Junior World Championship). I just tried to keep myself calm when I was making all the birdies and try to focus on the tempo so I don’t lose the touch in my game. I was really trying to relax and calm myself down.
5.) You’re from British Columbia, so what’s the best part of playing golf in the North/Northwest?
Everybody says moving to a warm area gives you more of an advantage but it really depends on how you put your time into practice. I think Washington has a really good indoor facility so that’s pretty much where I’ve been working on my stuff since I got here. The weather is kind of cold so I don’t have that much homesickness.