Charlotte, N.C. – It’s not uncommon for Sandra Changkija to get a few strange looks or inquiries when they see her golf bag or cap.
NSU? Where’s that?
Most people think it’s in Nova Scotia, said Changkija.
The letters stand for Nova Southeastern University, an NCAA Division II school founded in 1964 and located in Davie, Fla., not far from Ft. Lauderdale. And Changkija has arguably been the best golfer – male or female – in the school’s history.
The 21-year-old Orlando, Fla., resident has dominated the Division II level since enrolling in 2007, winning 11 events, including the 2010 Division II individual title. She also is a three-time National Golf Coaches Association Player of the Year.
Only Rollins College’s Charlotte Campbell has been named Division II Player of the Year four consecutive years, but in 2005 and 2006 she shared the honor with Pamela Feggans (Florida Southern) and Tonya Choate (Drury), respectively.
So how did this talented player wind up at a small Division II school in south Florida?
I didn’t know the recruiting process, said Changkija after carding a 3-over-par 75 in Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 110th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Charlotte Country Club. I looked at Florida Southern and they gave their last scholarship away. So I looked at Nova, and here I am.
I didn’t have a clue [about the school]. I made a recruiting visit and liked everything that day. Everything just went well.
Changkija has been making headlines ever since. During her first two seasons, she posted two victories apiece, but this past season as a junior Changkija recorded seven victories, including the Division II Championship, where NSU also won its second consecutive team title.
National recognition came shortly thereafter. Sports Illustrated magazine listed her among its Faces in the Crowd. Then in May she made it through U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying. Playing at the Oaks Club in Osprey, Fla., Changkija earned the fifth and final qualifying spot by making a birdie at the first playoff hole, sending her to Oakmont Country Club to play alongside the world’s best female golfers.
For the 30 days leading up to the Open, Changkija was a nervous wreck. I was all stressed out, she said.
Prior to the qualifier, Changkija had never filed an entry for any USGA competition.
Her reason: I didn’t feel like I was good enough.
As for the amateur competitions, Changkija admitted to not being a fan of match play.
I play the cart guys at the course I work at (Grand Cypress in Orlando), she said, and I beat them by 10 shots. But in match play, it’s only like 3 up. I like stroke play a lot more.
Further complicating matters for Changkija was a swing flaw that was causing a bad fade off the tee. The problem actually began before the Division II Championship, but it kept manifesting itself over time. By the time the Women’s Open began, her confidence off the tee had waned. She posted rounds of 76-80 and hit just five fairways in the second round.
Once I got there, I wasn’t prepared, and I am still not prepared now, said Changkija of her swing. I usually hit around 10 to 11 fairways every round.
Her focus at the Women’s Amateur has been on consistency. Hit fairways and greens and hopefully a few putts will fall.
It worked well today [in the first round of stroke play] except for three-putting, she said.
Changkija three-putted 15 and 16 and bogeyed 18 when she missed the fairway. In between, she rolled in a 12-foot birdie at the par-3 17th.
While a 75 certainly didn’t put Changkija in jeopardy of missing match play, it definitely left no margin for error on Tuesday.
I am more concerned about starting out in the fairway and hitting greens, said Changkija. I am starting to hit draws again, so it’s almost there. It’s still a work in progress.
Changkija has her eye on a fourth consecutive Division II Player of the Year, but that quest might be ended if she makes it through LPGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall. Changkija still has plans to return to school for the fall semester and will enter Q-School as an amateur. If she earned her LPGA Tour card, however, she’ll give up her final semester of eligibility.
At the start of the year, my big event for the year was Q-School, she said. But since I qualified for the [Women’s] Open, I don’t think I’ll be as nervous going into Q-School qualifying.
Pulling An All-Nighter
Stacey Miller wasn’t going to miss her best friend’s wedding, even if it meant losing a practice round and making a last-minute 12½-hour drive to Charlotte.
So on Saturday night, Miller took part in ex-college teammate Britt Knutson’s wedding in South Bend, Ind., staying until the reception was almost over before driving with her parents to the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Well, Miller’s parents did the driving while she slept in the back of the car.
It was just crazy, said Miller of the past five days, which included picking up a friend at the airport in Chicago last Thursday and then taking part in the wedding festivities before the Women’s Amateur. I just tried to keep my focus. But I wouldn’t change it at all. It was a great celebration for one of my best friends. We played on the golf team for four years and lived together for two.
If there was any lingering exhaustion, it didn’t show on the golf course on Monday. Despite just one practice round on the challenging Donald Ross layout, Miller managed an even-par 72 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying. Miller did have one momentary lapse on the second nine when she accidentally walked toward the wrong tee, likely a by-product of having just one practice round.
A couple of bad mistakes on the back [nine], said Miller, referring to her swing, not her geography. I feel really comfortable with [the course]. I can relax and just play now. There’s a lot of [birdie] opportunities out there, so I am just looking forward to tomorrow.
The Bloomington, Ill., resident just completed her eligibility at Illinois State University, where she posted four victories, including the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference title. But with still another year of school left before earning her degree, Miller has decided to serve as a graduate assistant coach for 2010-11 before giving Q-School a shot next fall.
But right now, she’s more focused on her own game and improving on her 2008 Women’s Amateur performance, a missed cut at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club. That was her first USGA championship experience.
And with her best friend honeymooning this week a few hours away in Charleston, S.C., Miller said it wouldn’t be too outrageous to think Knutson (now Pratt) and her husband might make a side trip to Charlotte should she advance all the way to Sunday’s final.
Before I left [the wedding] they wished me good luck, said Miller. You never know. I would never ask them to come. But they might. She’s a great friend.
From Slap Shots to Golf Shots
Six years ago, Lisa Maunu had aspirations of playing collegiate ice hockey. A couple of Division I schools were interested, including Princeton.
That was until the St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada native got tripped one day and her legs hit the boards so violently that she broke her ankle.
Hockey was on hold, said Maanu, who also played basketball, badminton, volleyball, soccer and golf during her high school career.
So Maanu turned to golf, a game she casually played during the summer months. Her game blossomed enough for the University of Notre Dame to sign her to a golf scholarship, where she played until graduating in 2009.
Canadian high school sports are different than American sports, said Maunu of playing five sports in high school. They aren’t full seasons. Golf just happened to be the last one I chose.
A year after graduating, Maunu, one of 13 Canadians in the Women’s Amateur field, finally qualified for her first USGA championship.
I just played well at the qualifier, said Maunu of the Ann Arbor, Mich., sectional, where she shot 72 at Radrick Farms Golf Course.
While certified to be a high school science teacher in Indiana, Maunu said she currently can’t legally teach in the U.S. She has been working on getting certified in Ontario, but she’s also thinking about a possible professional golf career.
She still plays pick-up ice hockey in the winter, but when asked if she had any plans to resume the game seriously and possibly make a run at the Olympics, Maunu just chuckled.
No. I’m not that good, she said with a smile.
What did make the left-hander happy was a 3-over 75 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying that put Maunu in solid position to make match play.
A couple of silly mistakes, but overall, some pretty good holes, said Maunu. Golf might be in the future after this tournament.
Night To Remember
Four months ago, Katelyn Dambaugh purchased a pair of tickets to see teen sensation Justin Bieber in concert at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte. Little did the 15-year-old from Goose Creek, S.C., know at the time that she would reach the finals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Country Club of North Carolina, thus giving the left-hander an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur which, coincidentally, started one day after the concert at Charlotte Country Club.
So hours before her scheduled 8:50 a.m. EDT starting time for round one of stroke-play qualifying, Dambaugh was screaming her lungs out with friend/caddie Derek Mills inside a packed house. The concert ended shortly after 11 p.m. and they were back at a friend’s house by 11:15.
It was loud, said Mills, who also caddied for Dambaugh at the Girls’ Junior, where she fell to Doris Chen, 3 and 2, in the scheduled 36-hole championship match.
Added Dambaugh, who showed off an I Love Justin Bieber black wristband: It was amazing. I’m surprised I have my voice.
Unfortunately for Dambaugh, her golf game didn’t match Bieber’s performance. She posted a disappointing 9-over 81 on the 6,559-yard layout.
It wasn’t that tough [to focus on golf], said Dambaugh, who will be a sophomore at Pinewood Prep in Summerville, S.C. I just couldn’t do anything right.
But there’s always tomorrow. If I just shoot better tomorrow, I will be happy.
Dambaugh and Mills plan to be in matching outfits for Tuesday’s final round of stroke-play qualifying. That wardrobe will include white shorts, a black golf shirt with a little purple mixed in, and a pink belt.
We’re going to buy him one this afternoon, said Dambaugh.
When asked what the biggest difference was between the Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur, Dambaugh added, A lot longer [golf course]. There are a lot more better players here. They are older and they hit it a long way.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.