Lake Travis Trio Together at U.S. Women's Amateur August 1, 2016 | Springfield, Pa. By David Shefter, USGA

Ann Parmerter is enjoying her first USGA championship this week with a couple of ex-Lake Travis High teammates. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Richard Wager might be the envy of high school girls’ golf coaches in the state of Texas. Four years ago, he took over what had been a mildly successful program at Lake Travis High in Austin, and the Cavaliers have won three 6A state championships and finished runner-up once in that timespan.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have talented golfers such as Kristen Gillman and Kaitlyn Papp on the roster, both of whom have won USGA championships in the past two years; the former the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the latter the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner and fellow Texan Hailee Cooper.

Papp and Gillman led Lake Travis to consecutive 6A (largest class) state titles in 2015 and 2016, with Gillman winning the individual championship in May at Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown, which has hosted the state tournament the past two years. She was the first female individual champion in school history. This year’s team also included Morgan Lay (committed to Texas A&M), 2016 James Madison University signee Lauren Comegys and sophomore Sara Camarena, whom Wager expects to receive a Division I scholarship.

Gillman, Papp and a third member from the 2015 title team, Ann Parmerter, qualified for the 116th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, which began Monday at Rolling Green Golf Club with the first of two stroke-play rounds. Parmerter, 19, graduated in 2015 and this past season at Dallas Baptist was named the NCAA Division II co-Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-American by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have some very talented, hard-working girls come through in the last couple of years,” said Wager.

Sometimes, it can be difficult for high school coaches to convince elite talent to play. In many instances, standout players prefer to compete exclusively in national and international events. That isn’t the case in Texas, where the 6A tournament can have the feel of an American Junior Golf Association invitational or a USGA sectional qualifier.

When Lake Travis finished as runner-up in 2014 to Allen High from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the state-champion team featured Maddie Szeryk and Jordy Labarbera, both of whom are in the Women’s Amateur field this week and play for Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively. Lake Travis’ inner-city rival, Westlake High, can boast of alum Sierra Sims (Wake Forest) and incoming freshman Sadie Englemann, also both at Rolling Green. Englemann shared medalist honors in the recent U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.

“There are a lot of good players in Texas and most of them play high school golf,” said Gillman, 18, who is headed to the University of Alabama this fall. “It’s good competition. I definitely think it’s helped me get better as a player.”

Until midway through her sophomore year, Papp was home-schooled, which provided more time to play tournaments but also denied her a “regular” high school experience. Seeing the success of Lake Travis’ program changed Papp’s mindset and she enrolled midway through 10th grade, and immediately made an impact on the girls’ golf team. With Papp, Gillman and Parmerter leading the way, the team won its second title in three years. Papp will try for three in a row in 2017, her senior year, before moving on to the University of Texas.

“I knew a few people on the team and I knew it would be a neat environment,” said Papp, 17. “Last year, we had four of our top five [players] committed to D-1 colleges. We all push each other and it’s nice to be competitive with one another.”

Healthy competition is what Wager desired when he took the reins of the program, which now has three tiers: varsity, junior varsity and a developmental group. Wager said some of the players in the latter category come in as freshmen shooting in the 120s and in a couple of years are coming close to breaking 70.

Gillman, he said, had a lot to do with creating a competitive atmosphere among the players, no matter the skill level. From the moment she arrived as a freshman in 2011, Gillman was intent on putting her stamp on the program.

In Texas, the golf season runs from September to April, with each school permitted to play seven tournaments – either 36- or 54-hole events – prior to the postseason. Teams are comprised of five players, with the low four scores counting. College uses the same 5-count-4 format. Wager said he schedules two in the fall and five more after the second semester begins in January, and does his best to work around his players’ national schedules. But if they can’t play in an event, other players get a chance to step in, which fosters more competition and builds depth.

In the last two years, Lake Travis High's Kristen Gillman (right) and Kaitlyn Papp have brought home USGA titles. (USGA/Rob Rabena)

Gillman, who has also won the 2014 PGA Junior and 2016 North & South Women’s Amateur, wasted no time breaking into the 2011-12 starting five, a group that included older sister Emily who plays at Nebraska, Julia Beck (now at Texas), Courtney Ford (Stephen F. Austin) and Parmerter, who bounced between the varsity and junior varsity.

“Kristen did a great job of leading by example and passing that [work ethic] along to other players in the program,” said Wager. “She’s done enough with her résumé to say whatever I am doing, you probably should mimic it.”

Parmerter admitted to benefiting from following Gillman’s lead, and she dramatically improved over her final two years. Although not heavily recruited by Division I schools – Houston showed some interest – Parmerter was more than happy to play Division II golf, picking Dallas Baptist over St. Edwards, which is located in Austin.

At Lake Travis, Parmerter was the teammate who kept everyone loose with her good-natured personality and ability to find ways to score in adverse situations.

“She was the perfect teammate,” said Wager. “She’s an absolute sweetheart. She didn’t get the looks from big colleges like everyone else. She doesn’t have the most fundamentally looking golf swing, but had a knack for getting the ball in the hole.”

Added Parmerter: “I was definitely the entertainment. I was the one who would hit it off a house and go: ‘It’s all fine. We’ll figure it out.’ Whatever worked is kind of my motto.”

On Sunday, Parmerter reunited with Papp and Gillman for the first time since the spring of 2015 by playing a practice round. With this being Parmerter’s first USGA championship, the round offered her a chance to observe how her more decorated ex-teammates approached a national championship. What she quickly discovered – after settling her first-tee nerves – was that it was still golf, only on a more challenging golf course.

“Playing with them, it felt like a normal round,” said Parmerter. “It made me realize it’s not as [pressure-filled] as it needs to be. You just play your game.”

Words that made a coach in Austin quite proud.

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

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