Cavanagh Takes Game from Ice to Course August 10, 2015 | Portland, Ore. By David Shefter, USGA

Last summer, Susan Cavanagh decided to give up playing ice hockey to focus on her golf game. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Plenty of competitors arrived at Portland Golf Club for the 115th U.S. Women’s Amateur with a long list of accomplishments at the junior and college levels.

Susan Cavanagh was not one of them. She never competed in American Junior Golf Association events and her one year of college at the University of Connecticut was spent on the school’s women’s ice hockey team.

For 17 years, Cavanagh, 21, of Warwick, R.I., laced up her skates and competed at various levels of ice hockey, sometimes with boys. Her skills were good enough to play forward on the boys’ team at Pilgrim High in Warwick, where she wasn’t afraid to go into the corners and forecheck. And a postgraduate year at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., led to a partial scholarship to UConn.

Hockey might be bigger within her family – Cavanagh’s uncle, Joe, was a three-time All-America selection at Harvard and was invited to try out for the 1972 USA Olympic Team before a broken wrist ended that dream – but golf was also a passion. And after a successful summer of competitive golf in 2014, where she won the Rhode Island Women’s Amateur and Women’s Stroke Play, Cavanagh decided to quit hockey and withdrew from Connecticut, which doesn’t have a women’s golf program.

Now she’s hoping a successful week in the Women’s Amateur will lead to a college playing opportunity.

“With golf there’s a future in many different ways,” said Cavanagh. “With hockey, there’s college and that’s it.

“I miss the team aspect of hockey. But it’s tough to miss it when you are out here in 70- to 80-degree weather hitting a golf ball.”

Cavanagh has never backed down from a challenge. Being the third-oldest of 13 children – the oldest is 25 (Theresa) and the youngest is 8 (Richie) – has a way of toughening the mind and body. Growing up, Cavanagh shared a bedroom with four sisters. Secrets were hard to keep and there was no shortage of playmates. 

Susan Cavanagh is hoping a strong performance in this week's U.S. Women's Amateur will lead to a Division I college opportunity. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

“You learn to co-exist,” she said. “You’ve got to go with the flow or you are out of luck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It was normal for us.”

With so many siblings, Cavanagh quickly learned not to take anything for granted. She often took the city bus to hockey practices because mom “couldn’t be in six different places at once.”

Holidays were always fun. Cavanagh said the family didn’t have time to wrap Christmas presents so everything was piled under the tree. And nobody was ever late for dinner, although sometimes benches were used to get everyone seated.

“If you didn’t hustle to get your food … it could be a little wild,” said Cavanagh. “During the summer, everyone is home. We’ve got people sleeping on couches. Once people leave [for college], we shift things around and when they come back, they don’t have a room anymore.”

Last summer, Cavanagh caddied for Matt Doyle, the director of golf at the Dye Preserve in Jupiter, Fla., in the Rhode Island Open. That led to a job at the club and Cavanagh used the chance to not only make some extra money, but also hone her game at a facility used by several professionals, including Daniel Berger, Will Mackenzie and Azahara Munoz.

Cavanagh absorbed a lot from watching the pros practice. Always long off the tee, Cavanagh quickly realized that controlling her golf ball was just as important as hitting it far. Strong hand-eye coordination developed from years of ice hockey transitions well to golf.

“I watched how they practiced and what they worked on,” said Cavanagh. “I usually just bang balls [at the range]. They do it with a purpose.”

With guidance from instructors Doyle and Tom Acciardo from Agawam Hunt Club, Cavanagh’s home course, her game started to transform. Putting and short game were focal points.

Cavanagh is beginning to see the results of that work. Last month, she qualified for her first USGA championship with a 75 at Allendale Country Club in Massachusetts. Although she lost in Friday’s championship match of the Rhode Island Amateur to Lisa McGill, 2 and 1, Cavanagh realizes the litmus test for her game comes this week in Portland.

To prepare for the biggest event of her burgeoning career, she played last week with former PGA Tour pro Brett Quigley, the 1987 U.S. Junior Amateur champion. Rhode Island native Brad Faxon, who is also at Portland Golf Club this week as part of the Fox Sports 1 broadcast team, was asked by Cavanagh’s father, Richie, during a charity event if Faxon could give his daughter an on-site putting lesson. That so far has yet to occur.

Even though her family could make for a sizable gallery, only Cavanagh’s 14-year-old brother, Danny, came to Portland. Danny, an up-and-coming golfer himself, will serve as her caddie.

“He’s living the dream for sure,” said Cavanagh, who never has issues finding a family member to carry the bag. “He just competed in our junior club championship and told me, ‘This is why you love it.’ He’s starting to realize how much fun [golf] is.”

But caddie duties aside, Cavanagh knows how much a strong performance could lead to a college scholarship. Several Division I coaches are here to support their current players and watch potential recruits.

“This is huge,” said Cavanagh. “Everyone back home is very excited. It’s a big step in the right direction.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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