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STREAMSONG, Fla.—The fruit of Texas’ expansive junior golf programs keeps popping up all across the nation.
The USGA only holds 13 national championships each year, but over the past 10 years young Texans have won
11 of the nation’s most coveted national amateur titles.
On May 25, Hailee Cooper (16) of Montgomery and Kaitlyn Papp (17) of Austin added their names to a growing list of national champions from Texas since 2006. They join the likes of Jordan Spieth, Colt Knost, Cory Whitsett, Kelly Kraft, Kristen Gillman, Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris and Trip Kuehne.
In the second staging of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Tom Doak-designed Streamsong Resort, the Texas side had to work overtime to outduel a pair of 13-year-olds in extra holes to win the title.
Both Cooper and Papp were members of the victorious 2015 USA Junior Solheim Cup Team and 2015 first-team AJGA Rolex All-Americans.
Papp, No. 70 in the women’s world amateur golf rankings, became the second Lake Travis High golfer to win a USGA championship in the past two years, following Gillman’s 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur victory.
“It’s crazy to have my name as a USGA champion along with Tiger Woods and so many other great players,” said Papp. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Gillman and former Austin resident Sierra Brooks were the No. 2 seed in the four-ball after 36 holes of stroke play, but were eliminated in the first round. In April, Gillman and Papp led Lake Travis to the Class 6A state championship.
“Kristen and I are really good friends and I know she was pulling for us the whole way,” said Papp, who will play for the University of Texas in 2017.
With their fathers on their bags, Cooper said, “It’s awesome. They’re so supportive. They come to every
tournament anyway. Most tournaments we play we don’t get caddies, so it was an honor to have them on the bag. This is for them.”
Even though they were the more senior of the two junior sides, the final match over two California middle schoolers was certainly no cakewalk.
After finishing stroke play tied for the No. 7 seed at 6-under 138 for 36 holes, the dynamic duo never had to play the 18th hole in any of their four matches leading to the final. They won by a 6 and 4 margin in the round of 32, 4 and 2 in the round of 16, 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals and 4 and 3 in their semifinals.
They never played the old age card, but admitted their legs were tired and their feet were aching as they walked the final holes trying to finish off the efferevescent Angelina Kim of Los Angeles and Brianna Navarrosa of San Diego in the championship match.
In the championship match, the Texas side quickly jumped out to a 2 up lead with Papp making birdie putts of 16 and 10 feet at Nos. 1 and 2. Kim drove the green on the 317-yard par 4 sixth and made eagle to trim the lead, but Cooper restored the 2-up margin with a birdie at the eighth hole.
But that was the last hole the Texans would win until the 19th. After they lost with a bogey at the 11th and Navarrosa drained a 9-foot birdie on the 14th, the match was back to all square.
Both sides finished with four consecutive pars—including an 8-foot par putt by Navarrosa at the 18th to send the match to extra holes. The championship was not decided until Kim and Navarrosa both three-putted for bogey on the first extra hole.
“I still can’t believe it,” Cooper said after she and Papp embraced the tearful runners-up. “On the 19th green, it was kind of a realization like, wow, we just did it after all these holes we just played and after a tough match.” TL