Superal will face Navarro in U.S. Girls' Junior finale
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – As soon as Princess Mary Superal walked off the 18th green at Forest Highlands on Friday afternoon, calls of “Galing!” rang out from the crowd. As Philippine teammates Sofia Chabon and Yuka Saso explained, it means good.
That’s an understatement for Superal’s day. The 17-year-old advanced through two full matches at the U.S. Girls’ Junior to reach the final match. She will be the first Filipina to reach the final since Dottie Ardina in 2011.
The pressure of quarterfinals and semifinals in a USGA championship did little to throw Superal off her game. But Superal, who took the last two years off of school courtesy of a new program in the Philippines that allows promising young athletes and actors to study on their own, is seasoned in competition.
“I play a lot of tournaments and I always handle my pressure,” she said. Already this year, Superal won the Kuala Lumpur Amateur Open, was runner-up at the Philippine Ladies Open and was third at the Women’s Porter Cup.
The advantage was Superal’s through most of her match against Cindy Ha, a 17-year-old from Demarest, N.J., who also advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links last week. Superal made the turn 3 up and kept going strong. Ha, who had been employing Kenneth Ree as a caddie all week, father of her good friend Robynn, decided to make a change. Kenneth and Robynn switched places, and Robynn walked the back nine in jean shorts, Chuck Taylors and a caddie bib. Ha won Nos. 12 and 14 with birdie.
At the 15th, Superal stopped that momentum by making a 30-foot putt for birdie. A final birdie at the 18th gave her a 2-up victory over Ha and sent her to the finals.
Superal spends nearly three months in the U.S. each year competing in tournaments, and she has not decided if she will persue college or turn professional. The Philippine National Team maintains a house in Sun City, Calif., that they use as a home base during that stretch.
Five players from the Philippines began this tournament, which gives Superal quite the cheering section. Add national team coaches Anthony Lopez and Nestor Mendoza to that contingent, too.
Lopez has not only worked with Superal’s game recently – mostly on posture and setup – but has encouraged Superal and her teammates to put more attention on physical fitness. It has been crucial at Forest Highlands, a hilly, high-altitude setting.
Mendoza, meanwhile, says the the key to Superal’s game is off the tee. If she is driving the ball well, as she did on Friday, she can continue to win. Still, Mendoza was nervous in the crowd.
“I’ve been with Princess for a lot of times and being nervous is part of it,” he said. “I’m confident with her.”
Caddie Mark Walker is confident, too. Walker retired in May after 34 years as a firefighter. He has worked on his own handicap during that time, but decided to give back to the game this week by offering to pick up a bag. He didn’t know how far he would go in this first foray into caddieing.
“She is just like a little machine,” Walker said. “... She is automatic.”
Superal is also a little shy, Walker admits, so few words have been exchanged between the two outside of yardages. Locals have taken to calling Walker “Fluff” in honor of the thick white mustache that hides most of his upper lip.
Walker has joked each day that Superal needs to win her match before she reaches 18, perhaps the biggest uphill climb on the course. Superal went two passes there on Friday, as did every other player left in the field. It was the first time in championship history that every quarterfinal and semifinal match required at least 18 holes.
Marijosse Navarro, who will meet Superal in Saturday’s final, required more than that. Navarro went 21 holes with Australian Shelly Shin before earning her spot. Navarro, of Mexico, drained a 40-foot birdie putt at No. 16, the 21st hole of the match, to advance.
It shocked even her.
“It was too fast, but thank God it went in” she said of that putt.
Navarro also has a local caddie on the bag in Jacquie LeMarr, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native who plays for the Northern Arizona women’s golf team. LeMarr helped Navarro navigate the altitude and wind gusts that make Forest Highlands so tricky.
“The fact that she trusts me, it’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s also a confidence booster,” said LeMarr, who called Navarro a very coachable player.
Even after she had finished her round, Navarro admitted to having leftover nerves. In three previous trips to this championship, she had only made it as far as the second round of match play.
“I have a goal and I’m trying to reach it,” she said.
Navarro already spent a semester on the Texas A&M roster, and finished sixth individually at the NCAA Championship. Her mother Mayda proudly wore a bright pink polo with that logo on it Friday. Her hat had Marijosse’s name embroidered on one side and the Mexican flag on the other.
Mayda, who coaches her daughter, beamed from the sidelines all day while clutching a royal blue rosary. Marijosse’s father Hugo paced nervously. With each match Marijosse wins, she is achieving Mayda’s goal for her. Marijosse calls it her mother’s best piece of advice this week.
“Enjoy your last U.S. Girls’.”