U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Blake Finds Positive Out of Hurricane Harvey’s Wrath July 22, 2019 | Stevens Point, Wis. By David Shefter, USGA

Avery Blake found more time to practice while living in a hotel for 7 months after Hurricane Harvey. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

As Avery Blake and her family drove through central Wisconsin on Saturday morning to SentryWorld, site of the 71st U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, she started having thoughts of déjà vu.

Trees were scattered on the highway, monsoon-like rain was pelting down and tornado warnings were being issued on the radio. With traffic stopped, her father got out and helped carve up the branches with a borrowed chain saw. 

Even the course, which received 3.04 inches of rain in a 24-hour period and had several displaced trees, was completely closed to competitors.

Blake had flashbacks to Aug. 17, 2017, when Hurricane Harvey rolled through Texas – particularly the Houston area – inflicting $125 billion in damage, matching the largest damage caused by a tropical cyclone on record in the U.S. (Katrina in 2005). Then 14 years old and entering her freshman year at The Woodlands (Texas) High School in suburban Houston, Blake witnessed first-hand the fury Mother Nature can cause.

Their rental home – a temporary residence while their new abode was fully renovated – was flooded, forcing the family to live in a hotel for 198 days. Blake’s mom, dad and younger sister, Arden, and their 110-pound Labradoodle shared a crowded room.

Blake, however, found refuge at The Woodlands Country Club. It was her escape from the crowded quarters and a place to find solitude. Spending 3-4 hours a day after school until dusk, Blake, now 16 and a rising junior, put all of her attention into practicing and improving her game.

So while no one wants to experience such a natural calamity, in a way Hurricane Harvey is responsible for Blake qualifying for her first USGA championship. All of that practice time – especially her short game – paid dividends on June 24 when she posted a 73 at Sugar Creek Country Club’s Trent Jones Course to earn one of the five available spots.

“Me and my friends would have competitions,” said Blake, who won the District 15-6A individual title this past season. “I did a lot of drills with my putting and chipping.”

The night Harvey arrived, Blake and her family packed up as much of their belongings they could, including her clubs, and went to a friend’s house, not far from where their current home was being renovated. At first, they were going to try to stick it out, but eventually the water in the street began rising to the point where it wasn’t safe to stay. The flooding damaged some saved scorecards, but all of her medals/trophies were spared.

In the aftermath, Blake and her high school teammates helped in the cleanup of The Woodlands Country Club. Other high school golfers assisted at other area courses. Debris had to be removed from fairways and bunkers.

She also isn’t the only player in this year’s Girls’ Junior field who was affected by the Category 4 storm. Allyn Stephens, a 2018 Drive, Chip & Putt age-group national finalist, managed to earn her way to Augusta just a few weeks after their home was completely flooded.

Through the benevolence of millions of people – The Woodlands resident Stacy Lewis donated her winner’s check ($195,000) from the 2017 Cambia Portland Classic to Harvey relief and Texans All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt raised $41.6 million – the city has managed to recover. Blake and her family have since moved into their renovated home. Her grades significantly improved from ninth to 10th grade, given the distractions of being displaced were now in the rearview mirror. A sense of normalcy has returned to her life.

“It was hard to focus on studying,” said Blake, who often went to the hotel lobby to do homework.

Blake gravitated to golf after her father joined The Woodlands Country Club nearly a decade ago. Her first passion was competitive swimming – specifically the breaststroke – because her mom, Angie, was a former swimmer. But dad (Jason) wanted her to play golf, so after three years of hitting the pool for early morning workouts, Blake hit the links. While her younger sister didn’t take to the game – she’s involved in theater and the fine arts – Avery fell in love with the game.

She even had a standing bet with dad. As a player who enjoyed wearing high socks, her dad offered to also wear them the first time she broke 80. When she did, he put on a matching pair for a father/child event at the club. “He didn’t like them,” she said.

Blake has since ditched the high socks, saying they were too cumbersome to wear in the Texas heat.

But it’s her game, not attire, that she wants to do the talking. The U.S. Girls’ Junior will be her first major competition outside of Texas. Earlier this month, she was among 25 girls invited to take part in the Scotland Junior Golf Invitational, a 10-day event that took the kids to such places as St. Andrews (Jubilee and Strathtyrum courses) and North Berwick (West Links and Glen Golf Club). If anything, the trip gave her another perspective on the game.

“It was very different,” said Blake, who flew home last week and then made the drive with her family from Houston to Wisconsin. “The ground is a lot harder. The greens are slower, but also harder [to putt]. It was really fun. It teaches you different shots.”

Blake hopes to bottle some of that experience in her first USGA event. Her goal this week is to make match play and then see where it takes her.

If the week is anything like her arrival, she could be in for a wild ride.

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

 

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