Notebook: Caddie Pals On A Roll August 6, 2014 By Lisa D. Mickey and David Shefter

After being eliminated in the first round on Wednesday, medalist Bethany Wu (left) decided to caddie for good friend Kristen Gillman. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Lauren Diaz-Yi claimed her first USGA championship last year at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, but there is a possibility she could grab another national title this week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur – as a caddie.

While Diaz-Yi, a rising sophomore at the University of Virginia, would have preferred to still be competing at Nassau Country Club, a wrist injury forced her to withdraw during Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying.

So Diaz-Yi, 19, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., decided to help good friend Grace Na by serving as her caddie. The injury hasn’t prevented her from carrying the bag or walking the course and so far it’s turned into a prudent decision.

Na posted a pair of victories on Thursday, including a 2-up round-of-16 decision over Lauren Kim, to reach the quarterfinals.

Grace and I kind of have a thing – sort of an automatic dibs – if one of us ever fires or loses a caddie, said Diaz-Yi. The deal is we’ll help each other out if we’re available, and I was.

The two are longtime friends and they know each other’s games well, which helps in a national championship when a second opinion on a putt or club selection might make the difference in a win or loss on a critical hole.

I trust her 100 percent, said Na, 21, of Oakland, Calif., of her friend’s guidance as a caddie. If I gave her a dollar for every time she saved me a shot, she’d be rich.

While she wishes she were playing this week, Diaz-Yi said there was no way she was leaving the championship after withdrawing. In fact, she had three requests from players to caddie for them, but knew she would help Na, a recent Pepperdine University graduate.

I’m here to help her out there and to get to the next match, said Diaz-Yi. This is a national championship and being here is an honor.

Bethany Wu started the championship by earning stroke-play medalist honors, but after shooting 3-under 137, the 2015 UCLA commit was eliminated in the round of 64 by 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Lakareber Abe. Instead of packing her bags and heading back to Southern California, the 17-year old opted to help the player who beat her last week at the PGA Junior Championship in Texas by 11 strokes.

Kristen Gillman, 16, of Austin, Texas, with Wu on her bag, moved into Friday’s quarterfinals with a 5-and-3 win over Stanford University rising sophomore Casey Danielson. Gillman and Wu were West teammates at last month’s Wyndham Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event conducted by the American Junior Golf Association, and will be teammates at the Junior Ryder Cup next month in Scotland.

After she lost her first match, she was looking for someone to caddie for and I was looking for a caddie, said Gillman, who lost to eventual champion Princess Mary Superal at last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz. We get along really well and she knows my game.

Wu helped Gillman with club selection and sometimes helped with a second opinion on challenging putts.

She knows this course and she’s a good player with a lot of USGA experience, said Gillman. It’s always helpful to have a caddie like that.

Young And The Talented

The average age of the field when the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship started on Monday was 19.45. With the competition down to the last eight golfers, that average dipped to 16.88.

That means quarterfinalist Grace Na, 21, will have the distinction of being the oldest remaining player on Friday.

I feel old! laughed Na, who faced 12-year-old Karah Sanford, of Escondido, Calif., in Wednesday’s round of 64. But I was out here at that age and I didn’t know I was a youngster.

Na, a four-time All-America selection at Pepperdine University, said today’s golfers start playing and competing early in major championships. So it comes as no surprise that these kids frequently show up for and contend in the nation’s top events.

They’re very mature and that’s why they are here, said Na. They deserve respect. All props to them.

Stanford University sophomore Casey Danielson was eliminated in the round of 16 by 16-year-old Kristen Gillman, but for Danielson, turnabout is fair play. She was 16 and a high school sophomore when she advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

I was just out there having fun and the next thing I knew, I was in the quarterfinals, said Danielson, 19, of Osceola, Wis. That happens when you’re young and fearless. When you get older, you start thinking about things.

Danielson said players can’t be dismissed just because they aren’t old enough to possess a driver’s license. And even if they barely tip the scales at 100 pounds, it’s foolish to think they can’t scramble to score, especially in match play.

These kids can play, they really can, said Danielson. They’re ready when they come out here. They’re good and they’re nice, but you still want to beat them.

Alison Lee is one of two college players remaining. Lee, 19, a first-team All-America selection as a freshman last season at  UCLA, faces 16-year-old Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, of Canada, in one of the marquee quarterfinal matches.

But while Henderson, No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™, is in her teens, Lee, who is No. 3 in the WAGR, said pre-teen junior players competing at the highest levels of amateur golf is the new norm.

Golf teaches you a lot, so these girls are pretty mature for their age, said Lee, whose first U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance came as a 13-year-old in 2008. I remember when I was a little kid playing against the older girls. It’s cool.

 For college players, we have more at stake – a lot more pressure to do well – and the kids just want to have fun. It’s a different mindset.

Koga Showcases Toughness Two Years After Head Injury

Eimi Koga, of Honolulu, might have been eliminated from the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship by 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitor Alison Lee in 19 holes on Thursday at Nassau Country Club, but that defeat was nothing compared to the incident she endured on Halloween two years ago, one that could have ended her golf career.

While playing a practice round on the Big Island of Hawaii for the Asia Pacific Junior Cup – a Ryder Cup-style event between male and female golfers from Hawaii and Japan – Koga was drilled in the head by a golf ball. She and three teammates were on a par 5 on the second nine when one of the male golfers drove his ball in the rough. While he searched for the ball, Koga walked up 30 yards on the opposite side of the fairway. Thinking she was safe, Koga waited for her teammate to hit his 3-wood. But he shanked the shot, and Koga couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. The ball struck her just above her left eye.

It’s like a divot, said Koga of the permanent damage the ball inflicted on her head.

An ambulance quickly rushed Koga to a local hospital. A CT scan revealed she needed surgery, but there wasn’t a brain surgeon on the island. She had to be airlifted to Oahu, where she underwent emergency surgery.

I felt really bad because my sisters couldn’t go trick-or-treating, said Koga, who had her 12-year-old sister, Jennifer, serving as her caddie this week.

Koga, an 18-year-old rising sophomore at the University of Washington, was told the recovery process would last six months. She was back playing in two.

That weekend, I had the [Michelle Wie Hawaii State Junior Golf Association] Tournament of Champions and I really wanted to play, said Koga, who tied for second, two strokes behind Allisen Corpuz. So I just played. 

Serve And Volley

A day after Nassau Country Club’s longtime director of racquets, Tom Mangan, served as a volunteer standard bearer, two of his employees stepped in to assist. Taylor Stanton, who has been a tennis professional at Nassau for 15 years, was the standard bearer for the Emma Talley-Su-Hyun Oh match, while fellow tennis pro Brian Kline, who has been at Nassau for 16 years, was the group’s walking scorer.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org. Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.