While there weren’t any residents of Murray or Whitfield counties competing in Monday’s U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying tournament at Dalton Golf & Country Club, there were still local golfers on the course.
Dylan Coffey, a 2010 graduate of Dalton High School, and Ethan Hayes, a rising junior at Northwest Whitfield, both caddied during the muggy tournament that ended with nine qualifiers and two alternates headed to the U.S. Women’s Amateur later this summer in Charleston, S.C.
While most of the players had family members or coaches serving as caddies, Middle Tennessee State University sophomore Avery George chose to have Hayes as her caddy, and Coffey would have been part of the biggest story of the tournament had 13-year-old Duluth resident Leiko Niwano qualified. Niwano was the youngest player in the tournament and finished with a 22-over-par 94 as the course played at 6,439 yards and par 72.
“We were in the clubhouse one day and (DGCC staff members) just asked us if we would be interested in caddying for the qualifier,” Coffey said. “We had nothing else to do, so we thought we would do it when they asked. I caddied when I worked at Atlanta Athletic Club and a little bit over in Tuscaloosa.”
Hayes had the same excitement when asked to be part of the tournament.
“When they asked, I told them I would love to do it,” he said. “It was my first time caddying for anybody, but it was really a lot of fun.”
Both Hayes and Coffey have played in tournaments across the Southeast, and having to face a golf course with very little preparation time can be an extreme challenge. Both caddies were able to provide a lot of local knowledge of the course to their players.
“That was sort of the reason that I really wanted to do it was to help them out and give them the best opportunity to succeed,” Hayes said. “I have played this course a lot and was able to tell her where she wanted to put the ball and places she wanted to avoid. Having that local knowledge about a course can help a golfer out in a lot of ways.”
Gaining a new perspective on the game was a learning experience for both. Taking a loop on the bag gave them a chance to see the game from a completely different view. Coffey, especially, found himself turning into a cheerleader for Niwano.
“She had a rough day, but she is only 13,” he said. “That was pretty incredible. She had some rough holes, but there were some tough conditions out there. It was just wet out there, but it was a lot of fun to see a lot of the different approaches to the game.”
With the new perspective, Hayes said he gained a better appreciation of the sport and saw things he could apply to his own game.
“I think I got more frustrated watching them and seeing some little mistakes than I get frustrated at myself when I am playing out on the course,” he said. “It is a totally different perspective of the game. It was fun to be able to watch them and analyze their game. You are so focused on your own game that you really don’t get a chance to pay attention to the other golfers.
“For my game, I think that it will really help to see the game from another point of view. I learned some different strategies that I can use. There were some things I can take from this and work on in my game.”
• CHAMP RETURNS: In 2009, as a freshman at North Clayton High School in Riverdale, Mariah Stackhouse was the medalist at the Georgia High School Association Class 4A girls state tournament at DGCC.
She won that tournament — Northwest Whitfield won the team title — with a par round. She couldn’t duplicate that total her second time around.
Now a sophomore at Stanford University and building quite an amateur reputation with her play, Stackhouse struggled on the greens and finished at 6 over. Stackhouse, who qualified for the 2011 Women’s U.S. Open, said this was a much different DGCC course than she remembered.
“It is a different course from what I remember from winning state,” Stackhouse said. “I was fairly confident coming into the round, but that is one of the biggest difficulties in an 18-hole qualifier. It is one round, and you have to be on top of your game. A couple of bad holes can spring up and you have no one to blame but yourself.”
The course also played a lot longer. GHSA recommendations for postseason girls play puts the distance of courses near 5,500 yards. The course played more than 900 yards longer than that Monday.
But Stackhouse wasn’t blaming her distance, she was blaming her putter. While drives weren’t rolling far on the fairways after seven-straight days of rain, Stackhouse and the rest of the field could fire at pins as greens were sticking.
“I just didn’t make any putts,” she said. “You could fly it to the pin, but when I had birdie putts, I made par, and when I had some par putts, I made bogey.”
During her freshman year at Stanford, Stackhouse lit the golf world atwitter after shooting a 61 to win the Peg Barnard Invitational. She shot a 9-under 26 on the front nine at Stanford Golf Course and finished the round at 10-under.
As an African-American golfer at Stanford who lived up to her first-year expectations, the comparisons to Tiger Woods — a Stanford alum — have been inevitable.
“It is an easy comparison for people to make because we are both African-American,” she said, “but he was a lot better at my age than I am.”
• SPOTS SECURED: Katy Funk of Spartanburg, S.C., and Ally McDonald of Fulton, Miss., both finished at 2-under 70 to share medalist honors and were two of nine automatic qualifiers for the championship, which will be played August 5-11 at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.
Lauren Stephenson of Lexington, S.C., was alone in third at 71, while Lori Beth Adams of Burlington, N.C., shot a 72. Laura Wearn (Charlotte, N.C.), Jordan Britt (Chattanooga) and McKenzie Talbert (North Augusta, S.C.) all shot 73 and were automatic qualifiers.
England’s Melissa Siviter and Suwanee’s Sloan Shanahan won a four-woman playoff at 74 for the other two automatic spots. Cammie Gray of Northport, Ala., and Sarah Harris of Hermitage, Tenn., lost the playoff and will serve as alternates.