FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Anthony Lopez, coach of the Philippines national women’s golf team, was on the verge of tears.
And no one back home in Manila, where it was early Sunday morning, could blame him.
He had just watched 17-year old Princess Mary Superal become the first Filipino-born winner of a USGA Championship – the U.S. Girls’ Junior – in 37 holes at Forest Highlands Golf Club and found himself at a loss for words.
“This is really, really big,” he said. “I think everyone back home is awake watching the TV or checking the Internet. I have what seems like 1,000 texts on my phone right now. I can’t even think about this. I’m just so happy for this girl.”
Earlier in the week Lopez acknowledged high expectations for the talented Superal, but the teenager never cracked under the pressure, maintaining a stoic presence throughout both stroke-play qualifying and match play.
“She was calm the whole day,” he said. “I felt more pressure than her. She has won a lot of events and she just finishes strong. She has a good head and a good heart.”
She was also far away from home and her family.
“I was just texting her mom and sister who are in San Diego,” said Lopez. “Last night I almost told them to drive over here for today but I didn’t want to jinx anything. So they stayed there. I will have her call her mom as soon as possible. I know her father (a teaching professional) is already celebrating back in Manila.”
Lopez discussed a simple strategy with Superal before her first tee shot at 7 a.m. MST on Saturday.
“I told her you should focus on getting to 3 or 4 under and I think that will pull us through.“ He was right. She shot 3 under in the morning round and 5 under for the final 18 holes, before edging Marijosse Navarro, of Mexico, on the first playoff hole.
Her talents were evident immediately when she came under the tutelage of Lopez and assistant coach Nestor Mendoza in 2010.
“Oh yes, we saw her potential right away,” said Mendoza. “I always say she has the golden hands when it comes to her short game.”
A turning point in Superal’s young career came in 2012 when she qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., but did not advance to match play.
“She then played in the Women’s Trans-National Golf Amateur Championship in South Carolina soon after and finished second,” said Mendoza. “It was impressive to see her bounce back so quickly and her game has progressed upward ever since.”
Lopez, Superal and the rest of the team will drive back to their summer home base in Southern California on Sunday, with a celebratory visit to Universal Studios in Los Angeles on the schedule.
But Superal has a chance at one more USGA Championship before she heads home – the U.S Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., in two weeks.
After that it’s back to the Philippines.
“I’m really sure we will have a big party when we get home and even our President might want to meet her,” said Lopez.
USGA Champ Cheers Navarro From Afar
Tim Hobby knows what it takes to win a USGA Championship, and on Saturday one of his former students narrowly missed that honor.
Hobby, who won the 1989 Amateur Public Links Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, Ill., coached U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship runner-up Marijosse Navarro for eight years until last December.
Her run to the 36-hole final match at Forest Highlands Golf Club did not surprise him at all.
“Trust me, she has put in a lot of hours of practice,” said Hobby, director of instruction at the Club at Sonterra, a 36-hole private facility in San Antonio. “She’s earned every bit of the success she has had. There’s no doubt about that.”
Having worked with 55 college scholarship players, Hobby knows what it takes to be a successful junior golfer. But he says Navarro, who earned second-team All America honors in her first semester on the Texas A&M golf team last spring after finishing sixth at the NCAA Division I Championship, is another breed.
“She’s at a different level and on a different wavelength than everyone else,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of good players come and go, but I’m telling you, Marijosse has the ‘it’ factor,” said Hobby, who coached three-time PGA Tour winner Jimmy Walker at Baylor University. “If she can just get back to solid fundamentals, there is no doubt she can play at the next level. The sky is the limit.”
Quite A USGA Résumé
Among the several hundred spectators who watched the championship match on Saturday was Forest Highlands G.C. member Joe Porter. Porter, who was using a disability scooter to view the action, knows a thing or two about playing in USGA championships. In fact, the U.S. Senior Open is the only championship missing from his portfolio, other than the U.S. Amateur Public Links for which he was ineligible.
Porter’s first USGA championship was the 1962 U.S. Junior Amateur held at Lochmoor Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., where he advanced to the round of 32 (there were 128 players in the bracket) before losing in 19 holes to Charles S. McDowell.
The next year, he played the U.S. Amateur at The Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa. He also missed the cut at the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot as part of an 11-year PGA Tour career, where he registered four second-place finishes.
He later regained his amateur status and competed in a pair of U.S. Mid-Amateurs: 1986 at Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss., and 1990 at Troon Golf & Country Club.
“These girls really can play,” said Porter while watching Superal and Navarro.
Porter added that a debilitating muscle disease, first detected in 1989, prevented him from ever trying to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open.
Going The Distance
Since the quarterfinal round, every match at the Girls’ Junior went the full 18 – or in Saturday’s case the full 36 – which has never occurred in the previous 65 playings of the championship. It was only the second extra-hole final since the USGA switched to a 36-hole format in 2006.
When Mark Walker, Superal’s regular caddie all week, needed some medical attention on the 30th hole of the match, Philippine teammate Yuka Saso took over for the final seven holes. Walker, exhausted from a long week, was OK and later visited to the media room to give Superal congratulatory hug. Walker is a retired fireman from Chandler, Ariz., who is a Forest Highlands member.
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. USGA senior staff writer David Shefter contributed.