Controversy Behind Her, Nash Thrilled for USGA Debut April 29, 2018 | Tarzana, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Massachusetts native Emily Nash is back in the national spotlight this week as a first-time competitor in a USGA championship. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

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Even though she knew it might be coming, the phone call last October from Annika Sorenstam still caught Emily Nash off guard.

The 17-year-old high school junior was in a car with friends on their way to a haunted hay ride near her Massachusetts home when a Florida number appeared on her cellphone.

“My dad had told me to take the call if the number came up, so I told my friends to be quiet when it did,” said Nash. “I answered and we talked for about five minutes. She mostly said how she supported me and kind of knew how I felt because she played against the guys on the PGA Tour one time (in 2003 at Colonial). It was really cool to talk to her.”

Her brief chat with the three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and World Golf Hall of Famer came just days after Nash, while playing in a district tournament on the Lunenburg High School’s boys' golf team, was denied a first-place trophy under Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules despite shooting the low score and playing from the same tees as her male competitors.

Per the MIAA, her score only counted toward the team total and not for the individual title (only boys were eligible for the latter since the MIAA has a separate girls’ tournament). The situation attracted worldwide media attention, with Nash and her family thrust into a media firestorm.

Six months later, the controversy seems like a distant memory for Nash, who is competing with fellow New Englander Allison Paik, of Providence, R.I., in the 4th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. The side opened Saturday’s first round of stroke play with an even-par 72, good enough for a share of 27th. The low 32 sides advance to match play, beginning on Monday.

For Nash, just being part of the field at El Caballero County Club is a point of pride. Instead of being invited to a major competition because of what occurred last fall, Nash and Paik needed to qualify for this championship.

“I feel like I kind of earned my way into it,” said Nash after Saturday’s opening round. “It’s nice to know that we both earned our place.”

It’s the USGA championship debut for Nash, who is shaking off the rust from a long, cold New England winter.

“I was definitely a little nervous when we started play, but it’s nice having a partner because it’s more of a fun event,” she said. “We played pretty well, but we left a few birdies out there. Overall, it was OK.”

Competing against some of the country’s top players also has been appealing. “I’ve played in lots of tournaments,” she said. “This definitely feels a lot different. It feels like an LPGA event [in terms of how the players are treated]. The player’s lounge is so awesome.”

For Nash and her family, the silver lining from last fall’s events was the tremendous support she received from around the world.

“It seemed like after the first day, once the story got straightened out, everything went positive,” said Bob Nash, Emily’s father. “As a parent, I think it’s great that she’s a golfer, but she was really being celebrated for her character and the way she handled it. That’s what makes me the proudest.”

The family fielded countless requests for media interviews, including an offer to fly to Los Angeles to appear on a talk show.

“We didn’t talk to anybody, and we passed on the morning television show circuit,” said Bob Nash. “We just said it’s not about that. Someone obviously made a mistake and didn’t plan on Emily winning. I have a great relationship with the MIAA, and there are no hard feelings. It was just one of those things. But other people wanted to keep it going and make a story out of it. That’s just not what we’re about. She’s just a kid, a junior in high school, who loves to play golf. It didn’t make any sense to put her on the Ellen [Degeneres] Show or do other interviews. Every decision we made was based on what’s best for Emily.”

Support from the golf world and beyond helped buoy the family’s spirits during the onslaught of media attention. For approximately three weeks after the tournament, Nash came home every day from school to letters and packages addressed to her from the likes of Marilynn Smith, a founding member of the LPGA, 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr and major champion Dottie Pepper, among others.  

“Putting all politics aside, [former First Lady] Hillary Clinton also sent her a nice letter,” said Bob Nash. “She got letters from LPGA players too, but I thought … for Clinton to send a handwritten note was a very nice gesture. We definitely learned about the power of social media. But the outpouring of people who got in touch really touched her.”

Now it’s back to golf for Emily, who, after playing in the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, is looking forward to a full summer schedule of competitions, including USGA qualifiers, plus American Junior Golf Association, U.S. Challenge Cup Tour and Mass Golf events. Nash will also return to the boys’ team at Lunenburg High School for her senior year, a year older and wiser.

“The people who reached out to me, even people I had never met before, that just shows they cared,” said Emily. “It was really nice to know how many people had my back.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.


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