Elite Eight Aim to Bring Women’s Open Lessons to Tulsa July 15, 2015 By Lisa D. Mickey

Mariel Galdiano enters the 2015 U.S. Girls' Junior fresh off a tie for 42nd at the U.S. Women's Open. (USGA/Hunter Martin)

Eight of the 156 players who will begin play in the 2015 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship on July 20 come to Tulsa (Okla.) Country Club with a rare and valuable experience under their belts: They are playing in their second USGA championship in just three weeks.

A quartet of those players – Mariel Galdiano, Muni He, Megan Khang and Hannah O’Sullivan – will likely have an extra dose of confidence, as they made the 36-hole cut and competed on the weekend in the recent U.S. Women’s Open as Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club.

Khang tied for 35th alongside such notables as three-time LPGA Tour winner I.K. Kim and 2014 Women’s British Open champion Mo Martin. Playing in her third Women’s Open, Khang finished as the low amateur.

“It was huge to qualify for low-amateur honors,” said Khang, 17, of Rockland, Mass. “To play in the Women’s Open is an accomplishment in itself, but hopefully, it will also be a great confidence-booster for me at the Girls’ Junior.”

Galdiano tied for 42nd in the Women’s Open with American stars Paula Creamer and Lexi Thompson. Creamer has 10 LPGA Tour wins, including the 2010 U.S Women’s Open, while Thompson has four Tour victories, highlighted by her victory in the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

“I was able to play with the pros at the Women’s Open, so I definitely should be able to compete with the amateurs at the Girls’ Junior and feel confident in myself,” said Galdiano, 17, of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Galdiano has played in two U.S. Girls’ Junior and three U.S. Women’s Open championships and she also will compete in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. While the match-play aspect of the USGA’s amateur championships differs from the U.S. Women’s Open, all the competitors feel they gained something from their experience in Lancaster.

“All of the USGA championships are pretty similar in that you still have to grind out the shots on every hole and stay focused,” said Galdiano. “I probably put more pressure on myself at the Women’s Open because there were so many people there. It definitely prepared me mentally, as well as in my golf game, for the U.S. Girls’ Junior.

O’Sullivan and Muni He finished tied for 53rd in the Women’s Open alongside LPGA pro Gerina Piller, a member of the 2013 USA Solheim Cup Team. Muni carded a 2-under-par 68 in the opening round of the major championship to spend some time on the early leader board and spoke of her opportunity to play with one of the world’s best players.

“I played with [two-time Women’s Open champion] Inbee Park in the practice round and just seeing so many great players and learning from them was a real benefit,” said the 16-year-old from China. “I think that watching how patient they are and how they take on a tough golf course helped prepare me mentally.”

O’Sullivan agreed, saying she plans to take what she learned from the Women’s Open to her career 10th and 11th USGA events at this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.

“Course management was really important at the Open, so I can apply that to my future tournaments,” said O’Sullivan, 17, of Chandler, Ariz. “You can learn a lot from playing the course and watching the best professionals in the world play it. I’m learning every day and just trying to get better.”

Four Girls’ Junior competitors were in the field in the Women’s Open but didn’t make the cut: Maria Fassi, Lilia Khatu Vu, Beth Lillie and 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman. However, their respective experiences will still benefit them at the Girls’ Junior and the Women’s Amateur championships this summer.

“Playing in the Women’s Open helped me to understand that even the pros hit bad shots, but you just have to move on to the next shot, no matter what,” said Fassi, 17.

“Even though I didn’t play my best, I take a lot away from playing at the Women’s Open because I know I can compete,” said Gillman, who will be playing in her fourth U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. Gillman is actually playing three consecutive weeks. She is part of the USA team in the Pan-Am Games in Toronto, where the golf competition takes place July 16-19.

That type of schedule underscores the endurance it takes to compete at the highest levels of amateur golf, as well the lessons learned at each step along the way.

Lisa Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

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