Sisters are Close but Also Competitive July 22, 2013 By Stuart Hall

Gabriella Then, competing this year in her last U.S. Girls' Junior, inspired her younger sister to take up the game. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Minutes after signing for her first-round 73 at the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on Monday, Angella Then knew exactly where her score stacked up.

She beat me by one, said Then, not referencing Andrea Lee’s first-round-leading 5-under-par 67, but her older sister Gabriella’s even-par 72. I almost got her, but she’s a senior [in high school], so I will just get her tomorrow.

Angella Then, 14, and Gabriella Then, 17, of Upland, Calif., about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, are playing in their first USGA championship together. However, their situation is not unique – they are also one of three sister duos in this week’s field at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Also playing are Emily and Kristen Gillman, of Austin, Texas, and Anina and Hana Ku, of Basking Ridge, N.J. 

While this is Angella’s USGA debut, Gabriella is playing in her 11th USGA championship, which includes last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club, where she missed the cut by five strokes. 

At the 2010 Girls’ Junior, Gabriella lost to Victoria Tanco in the first round. A year later, she lost to eventual champion Ariya Jutanugarn in the quarterfinals. Last year, she lost to Yueer Feng in the first round.

Spend a few minutes with the Then sisters and it is evident they are bound by a mutual love, but are also different on and off the course. Despite the three-year age gap, the sisters spend a lot of time together.

Yes-ish, that’s my answer, said Gabriella when asked if Angella was a good sister. We have our moments, but when we’re together we usually have our little inside jokes. We can’t stop laughing. It is back and forth.

As for who is the better player of the two, Gabriella offers the more objective review.

Driving? Her. Chipping, putting? Me. Second shots? I might have to go iffy on that one, though sometimes when she gets nervous she gets a little chunky, she said. Personality wise, I am more calm and she is more up and down. She will go ‘Yes!’ on one hole and then ‘Ohhhh’ on the next. I’m even-keeled.

Angella agrees with the assessment, adding that she hits a more natural fade and Gabriella hits more of a draw. Angella does question her sister’s assertion that she is more like their father, Andre, emotionally.

Really? she asked.

Encouraged by her father, Gabriella began playing golf with plastic clubs at age 5 out of Industry Hills Golf Club. By age 9, she was playing PGA of Southern California events and graduated to USGA and American Junior Golf Association events a few years later. Gabriella, ranked No. 279 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and 32nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin Girls’ Junior Ranking, will play for the University of Southern California beginning this fall.

Angella took to the course because of her sister.

I was thinking I want to do this, too, she said.

Gabriella was thrilled to have Angella around.

I was like, ‘Just go get me some golf balls,’ and she did, Gabriella joked. That was nice.

As both improved, competitive spirit took hold. In practice sessions, for example, they square off in putting accuracy contests. Gabriella also looks after her sister, serving as a de facto coach by dispensing advice on an as-needed basis.

I let her do her own thing, but when the same mistakes keep coming up again and again and again, then I will say something, Gabriella said. Earlier this year, she was missing a lot of 6-footers for par saves, so I made a point of saying her pre-shot routine was a little too fast.

Angella is appreciative, but apprehensive.

She gives me her perspective, and then I try it, she said. If I like it, I’ll keep doing it; if not, I just don’t tell her.

Considering this is Angella’s first foray into a championship with match play, the sisters played their own matches in preparation for this week. Again, Gabriella was the wise sage.

I was teaching her all the rules, like with gimmes and farthest from the hole always plays first or the other player could call the shot back, said Gabriella, who lost, 3 and 2, to eventual champion Ashlan Ramsey in the semifinals of last month’s Western Women’s Golf Association’s National Amateur Championship in Dayton, Ohio.

But should the Thens finish in the top 64 in stroke play and meet at some point in the championship’s match-play bracket, sisterly love will go only so far.

Don’t say that, don’t say that, said Gabriella, admitting she had not considered that possibility. And since the Rules of Golf would prohibit Gabriella from giving any advice to Angella in competition, she may just take it a step further. I might not give anything, even tap-ins.

Said Angella: I gotta do what I gotta do. I love my sister, but at the end of the day it’s still golf.

And they will still be sisters. 

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.