You don’t see a Latvian flag flying at every golf event, but Krista Puisite of Riga, Latvia, was the sole representative of her country at this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, advancing to the third round of match play at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. She fell to University of Oklahoma women’s golf team member Anne-Catherine Tanguay of Canada on Thursday afternoon, but Puisite, who has just finished her collegiate eligibility at Texas State University, was pleased with her overall performance.
"Honestly, I’m surprised I got this far because I was really struggling with my swing," said Puisite, 22, who was the 2011 Latvian Amateur champion and a member of her country’s national team in three World Amateur Team Championships.
At least Puisite, who also qualified for last year’s WAPL, became acclimated to the wind while playing collegiately in San Marcos, Texas. This week’s event was an extension of her soon-to-end amateur career; she plans to turn professional in August after the U.S. Women’s Amateur and go through the LPGA Tour’s qualifying process.
Puisite has three more hours of classes to graduate from Texas State with a degree in finance. The chance to combine earning a degree and playing golf brought her to the United States four years ago.
"I would have never had the opportunity in Latvia that I’ve had here," she said. "At home, you either choose to be an athlete or to study, and I wanted both an education and a chance to compete."
Golf is still growing in her home country, a former Soviet republic which gained its independence in 1991. She and her sister Mara, who will be a senior on Texas State’s women’s golf team this fall, along with current Ladies European Tour member and University of Tennessee alumna Laura Jansone, were the only three female Latvian golfers on the scene for some time.
Now, two more Latvian girls and three boys are rising through the amateur ranks.
"It’s getting better," she said. "But there’s still a long ways to go."
College Coach Encouraged by Players
Coming into this week’s WAPL, the roles were reversed for assistant University of Kentucky women’s golf coach Lucy Nunn.
Instead of cheering on her team, Nunn, 26, received text messages from her Kentucky college players wishing her luck. The players texted Go Coach! and encouraging words such as, Show those kids what’s up!
And Coach Nunn nearly did, advancing into the second round of match play until she was upended by Grace Na, 2 and 1, on Thursday morning.
"It feels good that I can still hang in there," said Nunn, a native of Lawton, Okla., who was one of the oldest players in the field. "I grew up 1½ hours away, so I definitely wanted to be here this week."
After graduating from the University of Arkansas and turning professional in 2009, Nunn played her last pro tournament on the Futures Tour (now the Symetra Tour) in 2011. She was named the Wildcats’ assistant women’s coach in July of that year and immediately applied to regain her amateur status.
She received it in June of 2012, then qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. But signing up for USGA events meant the coach had to find a way to squeeze in time for her own practice.
"I practice when I can and play challenge matches with the girls on our team to keep me on my toes," said Nunn, the 2008 Southern Amateur champion, who played in her eighth USGA championship this week. My practice now is definitely quality over quantity.
Nunn wore Kentucky colors for the morning match. And although she was focused on her own game, the coach said she didn’t mind if young players in this week’s championship happened to notice her university logos.
"I don’t recruit inside the ropes, but if players have any questions about college, I can answer questions," she said. "It’s just a little hard to answer questions when I’m trying to make a six-footer."
Now, Nunn will shift her focus to qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, set for Aug. 5-11, at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). If she qualifies, she is sure to see more young talent.
"I have a greater respect for them and what they can do after playing the course conditions out here this week," said Nunn. "It’s great to see the young kids stepping up and playing on the big stage."
Li Tells Caddie Goodbye
Ten-year-old Lucy Li made new fans this week at the WAPL when the youngest player in the field advanced through stroke play before losing in the first round of match play on Wednesday. But perhaps her biggest new fan is Chelsey Franklin, an event coordinator at host Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, who volunteered to caddie for Li earlier in the week.
"I’m already having Lucy withdrawals right now," said Franklin, who played for the University of Oklahoma from 2006-2010.
Once Li was eliminated from the championship, she hung around the clubhouse and followed Franklin as her caddie performed the duties of her regular day job. When Franklin went on errands around the course, her sidekick was right there with her.
"We’d have grown-up conversations, then suddenly, she’d start talking about her brother Luke and how she thought his high school valedictorian speech was funny," said Franklin. "At other times, she would just say how she couldn’t believe she was here to play in a USGA event."
After one round of the championship, Li saw some players crying and asked her mother why the girls were upset.
"I heard her mother tell her, ‘Golf is supposed to be fun, and if you’re crying, you’re taking it too seriously,’" Franklin said. "That was nice to see because a lot of young athletes get burned out early. I think Lucy is on a good path."
Franklin was happy that Li and her family did not just pack their bags and leave Oklahoma as soon as she was eliminated.
Instead, the sixth-grader from Redwood City, Calif., returned to the course Thursday morning to practice, watch some golf and say goodbye to her caddie. She left the course with her family excited about their trip to the Cowboy Museum in nearby Oklahoma City.
"I told Lucy to keep my number and to stay in touch," said Franklin, who had gone back to folding shirts in the pro shop. "It was a lot of fun to see someone that young practice and play so well at an event like this."
An Ace At A Championship
Cindy Ha benefited from a hole-in-one during her second-round match Thursday morning, sparking her 1-up win over Grace Park.
Ha used an 8-iron to ace the 141-yard 12th hole. That hole-in-one started a run which saw the 16-year-old from Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest, N.J., win four of her last seven holes to clinch the match.
Course Record Owner
Kris Yoo, of Schaumburg, Ill., lost in 19 holes to Doris Chen in the third round of match play. But Yoo, 21, a member of the University of Wisconsin women’s golf team, had a good feeling about this week’s championship at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. That’s because she set the women’s course record here in May with a round of 7-under 65 during the NCAA Division I Central Regional Women’s Golf Championship.
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.