My Year in Golf: Julie Williams

Lizette Salas hits her tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the Kraft Nabisco.

Nearly five years into this Golfweek gig, my collection of press passes for various golf tournaments has finally grown too big for just a door knob (or even two). They have their own hook next to my desk at home, and occasionally I like to sort through them, remembering all the things I saw at each tournament.

We say the words “inside the ropes” a lot at Golfweek, but in 2013, some very good memories came from outside the ropes. Sometimes I laugh at the ridiculous things I hear in a gallery (if I had a dime for every time I’ve had “better than most!” screamed in my ear . . .), but a lot of times, what’s going on around the tournament is just as interesting as what’s happening on the leaderboard.

And so, some of the most memorable things that happened outside the ropes this year:

• Without a doubt, one of my favorite stories on the LPGA is Lizette Salas. Her path to success is inspiring – most notably, she was the first college graduate in her family, first four-time All-American at USC. Salas’ mega-watt smile is priceless.

I’ll probably never forget following Salas and Inbee Park in the final round of the Kraft Nabisco, when Salas had the best chance of overtaking Park. The Salas family overflows with love and support. I was touched at the sight of Mrs. Salas, wearing every bit of Trojan red she could find and so nervous and excited for her daughter. Mr. Salas carried a shopping bag full of T-shirts for Lizette’s fan base, which was large that day. Rarely have I seen two parents who show more love for their daughter. The Salas gallery is always uplifting.

• A few months later, I got to know Park’s family a little better. I got similar chills as I settled in next to Park’s mother, Sung Kim, and listened to her (and a translator) talk about watching for the first time as her daughter won the U.S. Women’s Open. She was absolutely beaming with pride that day at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. There was so much Korean support for Inbee that the aftermath of her victory was pure chaos. I loved it.

I had lost track of my gracious translator by the time I caught up with Park’s dad, Gun Gyu, but he repeated one line for me: “She is No. 1.”

Park is the most subtle of champions, which is something I can appreciate in professional sports. She is not flashy or boastful, but wow, is she consistent. Her family is so calm, I can now see how she comes by those admirable qualities.

• The next time I went to Southampton, for the Walker Cup a few months later, I had much more trouble getting in the gates next door at National Golf Links. We just so happened to arrive at the same time as former President George W. Bush. Needless to say, that entrance was a bit bottlenecked.

I never actually laid eyes on No. 43 that day, but he returned for the first day’s competition in a makeshift golf-cart motorcade. I had to laugh but felt chills at the same time. Can’t imagine how the U.S. team must have felt, with a former president looking on.

• I fulfilled a longtime golf dream in October with a tee time (three, actually) at Bandon Dunes. I’ve been plotting ways to get there for years, and had resigned myself to the fact that it might be an excellent way to celebrate my 30th birthday in a few years.

When a colleague and I ended up in central Oregon with just less than two days to spare, we decided we had to try for it. I won’t tell you exactly how crazy those two days were, only that the majority of the sleep I got (which was very little) happened in the car. We played The Preserve (Bandon’s par-3 course) upon arrival, then Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails the next day. It’s among the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever experienced. Pacific Dunes at sunrise was especially overwhelming – and hard, because I didn’t break 100. Bucket list, check.

• It’s always been a goal of mine to qualify for a U.S. Golf Association championship. I can now say I am 0-for-2, but that I will keep trying!

At 26, I decided this year to try for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. I’d like to say I practiced tirelessly for this endeavor, but that’s not the case. Still, I felt my game was in decent shape by the time my dad (visiting from Missouri) picked up my bag for that 18-hole round at the Country Club of Orlando (Fla.). It was a beautiful morning that started out well enough until disaster struck at the fifth, a nasty par 5.

I had put my tee shot in the woods, punched out, hit a solid third shot to within 40 yards of the green and had an easy wedge to get up-and-down for par. I skulled that shot, however, and my ball landed between a curb on the golf-cart path and a wall behind the hole. Three rulings, two drops and one shot off the cart path later, I two-putted for an 11, effectively ending my Mid-Am dream.

Between a curb and a wall? It’s about as far outside the ropes as you can get.

Better luck next year, I suppose.

Happy holidays to all!

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