City of Industry, Calif. – UCLA senior Brianna Do said she was wiped out from a week of hot, humid conditions at the just-concluded NCAA Division I Women’s Championships in Franklin, Tenn., and wasn’t sure how she would feel at Tuesday’s U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier at Industry Hills Golf Club.
It turns out there was no reason for concern. All the 22-year-old did was take medalist honors at 4-under-par 139 and earn one of the four available qualifying spots for the Women’s Open, scheduled for July 5-8 at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc.
Do, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, may have made it look almost easy, but there was nothing routine about the rest of a competition that featured 126 players. Two of them, in fact, had to return early Wednesday morning to determine the final qualifying spot and first alternate. Elisabeth Bernabe edged Angel Yin for the last spot.
Do, who graduates from UCLA in three weeks with a major in sociology and plans to play the Women’s Open as a professional, said her accomplishment has yet to sink in. She often thinks about losing a five-way playoff for the Women's Open seven years ago.
That was a heartbreaker my very first year, she said. I really haven’t come close since then.
There was, however, no disappointment on Tuesday on the challenging Ike and Zaharias courses at Industry Hills.
I’m excited, said Do, whose professional debut will be the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge, part of the LPGA’s developmental Symetra Tour, June 8-10 in Marion, Iowa. But to be honest, I don’t even know where [the U.S. Women’s Open] is this year.
Among the first groups to tee off, Do had few, if any, problems on the par-71, 6,446-yard Babe Zaharias Course. Her afternoon 18 was on the tougher par-72, 6,731-yard Dwight D. Eisenhower layout and she got through that with a 1-under 71, despite breezy conditions.
I just looked at it as another 18-hole tournament, she said of her approach in her afternoon round. I started with two birdies and took it from there.
Do finished five shots ahead of Korea teenager Jisoo Park and six shots clear of a threesome at 2-over 145 that included Anaheim Hills’ Bernabe, Arcadia’s Yin, who tried to qualify for the championship as a 10-year-old three years ago, and two-time defending U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang, who earned the third qualifying spot on the second hole of a playoff. Kang turned pro last fall and earned an LPGA Tour card for the 2012 season.
Bernabe and Yin, however, returned to Industry Hills Wednesday morning, where Bernabe, a 17-year-old amateur, grabbed the last spot over the 13-year-old Yin, who will be the first alternate.
Xi Yu Lin of the People’s Republic of China earned second-alternate status in a three-way playoff with UCLA’s Lee Lopez and 2010 Women’s Amateur Public Links champion and 2012 USA Curtis Cup member Emily Tubert.
Park, 16, had 2001 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Henry Liaw on her bag Tuesday. Liaw, who serves as Park’s instructor, knows exactly what Park is about to get into. Liaw, after all, was 15 when he won the Junior Amateur.
I’ll just tell her to make sure she stays within herself, said Liaw. She doesn’t have to go out there and impress anybody at a young age. A lot of times you want to get noticed and you try and do something out of the ordinary a little bit.
She has to stick with her game plan.
Park, a 2009 Women’s Amateur Public Links semifinalist, missed just one fairway all day, and Tuesday’s rounds of 73-71 were a marked improvement from the first collaboration between Park and Liaw. That was at a qualifier for this year’s Kia Classic at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., when Park shot 85.
It was so bad, she said with a laugh.
Park understandably was happier Tuesday, but not quite satisfied.
The scores were OK, she said through an interpreter.
For Kang, the playoff pressure was nothing new. If not for a balky putter – she estimated she missed a half-dozen birdie putts inside 5 feet on the day – the 19-year-old Thousand Oaks, Calif., resident might not have been in the playoff.
But there she was competing with the 13-year-old Yin and 17-year-old Bernabe, and surviving in semi-darkness. Kang’s spot wasn’t determined until well past 8 p.m. PDT.
I’m used to these stakes, said Kang, who made a downhill 6-footer for par to earn the third qualifying spot. Over the last putt I felt very calm. I’ve been in these situations so many times; I already know how to handle it and I was confident.
I had been leaving everything short and I just went for it. I told myself, ‘This is a test right here, you need to make this putt, Danielle.’
Kang will be making her fourth U.S. Women’s Open appearance, but first as a professional. She made the cut last year at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and in 2010 at Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh.
Bernabe narrowly missed a 15-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole. Just one more roll, she said with a smile. But she had no issues returning Wednesday to settle matters and was rewarded with a trip to Blackwolf Run.
It’s OK, I still have a chance, she said late Tuesday night. I’m glad I’m still in it. A lot of other girls can’t say that.
Yin, fresh off a tie for 15th in the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., over Memorial Day weekend, echoed those sentiments. While she is an alternate, Yin could still get into the Women's Open if someone from her site withdraws.
I’m still excited. Oh, yeah, she said. I definitely wish I would have taken care of it today, but it’s going to be more intense tomorrow because you know what’s at stake. We’ll see what happens.
Notes: Teen actress Kathryn Newton, 15, of Coral Gables, Fla., was forced to withdraw from the qualifier last Friday due to a movie conflict. Newton, who appeared in the 2010 film Bad Teacher and was on the CBS comedy Gary Unmarried, just recently landed a lead role in a movie that, according to her mother, Robin, is set to be released in October. Newton also withdrew from her May 31 WAPL qualifier at Los Serranos in Chino Hills, Calif., but is still planning to qualify for the U.S. Girls’ Junior later this summer. Newton is just completing her freshman year at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif. … Tiffany Lua, a member of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team, also failed to qualify, but teammate Brooke Pancakedid earn one of the two available berths at a sectional held in St. Louis on May 29. At this juncture, Pancake is the only 2012 team member to qualify.
Larry Morgan writes for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in West Covina, Calif. His work has previously appeared on USGA websites.