One (more) and done before a shot at the pros for Marijosse Navarro

It was almost 10 years ago that Tim Hobby thought he would turn down a request by some parents to give golf lessons to their 8-year-old daughter.

“I told them, ‘Thanks, but I really don’t teach many 8-year-olds,'” Hobby remembers saying. But before he could recommend someone else, the parents made a push for Hobby to reconsider.”They told me, ‘No, we think you might want to take a look at this one,'” Hobby said.

Marijosse Navarro (left) finished off the NCAA Women's Golf Championship with a pair of sub-70 rounds and accepted the congratulations of her Texas A&M teammates in May (AP photo).

Marijosse Navarro (left) finished off the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship with a pair of sub-70 rounds and accepted the congratulations of her Texas A&M teammates in May (AP photo).

So Hobby watched a young girl from Mexico named Marijosse Navarro absolutely stripe a ball straight away from the practice tee. When the thought ‘Surely, that was an accident,’ crossed Hobby’s mind, Navarro hit another one. And another. And long before the little girl reached the bottom of the practice bucket, Hobby’s mind flitted in another direction.

“Well,” he thought, “I’m not doing anything else right now.”

Marijosse Navarro moved away from the practice tee that day and has kept hitting them straight. Now a 17-year-old freshman at Texas A&M, Navarro recently finished sixth in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship in Tulsa. She was even-par for 72 holes, including her final two rounds of 68-66 (6-under-par).

“She’s a ball-hitting machine,” Hobby said.

Navarro last week was named to the NCAA Division I All-American second team by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association. Alison Lee of UCLA (the Bruins finished third in the team standings at NCAAs) was a first-team selection and was chosen ahead of Navarro as Freshman of the Year.

Navarro is from Mexico City, and she appears to be working in fast-track fashion toward an attempt to land on the LPGA Tour. After her late run into the top 10 at the NCAAs, Aggies coach Trelle McCombs said Navarro is “a special player … the real deal. She played like a true champion.”

“Maybe next year I will try to qualify for the pros (through the LPGA Tour school),” Navarro said. “But right now I want to play my best and have fun. And I’m happy with the results.”

Navarro has been successful in the Mexico National Team program before hitting the radar in this country with play in AJGA events. As a freshman at Reagan High School, Navarro was third in the 2012 UIL State Class 5A Tournament with a final-round 68. That came after two rounds in the 60s while winning her district tournament and a pair of 72s landed her in the playoff for the regional title.

She left Reagan and finished her college entrants requirements at Blessed Hope Academy on San Antonio’s Northwest side and enrolled at Texas A&M in December.

“She had a 3.6 GPA here, completed her SAT and was a very hard-working student,” Blessed Hope Academy director Alice Ashcraft said. “She was steady, reliable and focused. Her parents were right here with her, and although she was very quiet and called no attention to herself, her parents were very proud of her and were always beaming.”

While in Mexico City, Navarro’s family lived next to a golf course. By age five, Navarro’s senses drew her to the green space next door.

“I liked the sound of the golf ball when it’s hit,” Navarro said. “And I loved the smell of the grass.”

If the push for Navarro to play professionally continues, she’ll stay at Texas A&M one more school year. Once done with the academic year next May, the first stage of LPGA qualifying typically begins in August, with two more stages through December 2015.

The Aggies are getting a quick return while she’s in College Station. She’s played in four college tournaments and has finished in the top 12 in each, including a win at the Battle at the Valley in South Carolina (74-70, even par for a four-stroke margin) and a second at the SunTrust Garor Invitational in Florida (71-69-65, 5-over to miss a playoff by a shot).

Her role model is no surprise for someone from Mexico. It’s major champion winner Lorena Ochoa.

“Yes, she played so well, but she was always in a great attitude,” Navarro said. “That’s what I want to do, to have fun like she did. And I just try to play my game.”

She’s not one to talk about her results. And that fits in with what Hobby remembers about Navarro.

“Golf, the way she plays, make the expression for her,” he said. “She’ll let her clubs do the talking.”

They’ve spoken volumes so far.

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A national champion in Kerrville

When his team won the conference tournament back in April, Schreiner golf coach Ron Macosko did not call the jeweler to have the customary championship rings ordered. Though he’d done it the year before, Macosko sensed there was something worth waiting for this time around.

He’s glad he put it off, and now he can order some even bigger bling. Schreiner went on to the NCAA Division III Men’s Championship in Greensboro, N.C., last week and won the Mountaineers’ first national championship in golf since the school became a four-year institution in 1980. Macosko and his wife Anna came to Schreiner in 2005, and both oversee the golf program.

Schreiner's men's golf team members (from left) Zach Oliver, Jimmy Keener of San Antonio, Cheyne Kendall, Matt McClung and Phil Stewart show off the hardware from winning the NCAA Division III title last week in North Carolina ( photo).

Schreiner’s men’s golf team members (from left) Zach Oliver, Jimmy Keener of San Antonio, Cheyne Kendall, Matt McClung and Phil Stewart show off the hardware from winning the NCAA Division III title last week in North Carolina ( photo).

“We still are talking about it, that ‘Hey, we won the national championship,'” Macosko said. “It’s remarkable.”

The Mountaineers, ranked 16th coming into the tournament, took the lead in the first round and kept it the rest of the way. With none of the five players being seniors, Schreiner took a three-shot lead over Division III power Oglethorpe (Ga.) with a round to go and expanded it to five at the end of play. Oglethorpe had won the national championship twice in the last four years.

Cheyne Kendall, a junior from Deer Park, finished second in the individual standings at even par (70-70-74-74), and junior Jimmy Keener (San Antonio’s O’Connor High School) was third nationally at 2-over (70-73-72-75).

“We’re very hands on with our players,” Macosko said. “When they make decisions on the golf course, we want them to think about playing for each other. We call it team golf. We want them to embrace it every day, and I think Cheyne and Jimmy did it to a tee at the national championship.”

“>Macosko’s approach to coaching is a shared concept that’s been been put into practice along with his wife Anna, who competed professionally including 1998-2004 on the LPGA Tour (she shot a 60 in the final round of the ’04 Longs Drugs Challenge to join Annika Sorenstam, Meg Mallon and Jung Yeon Lee as the fourth player in LPGA history to shoot 60 or better).

The Macoskos stress academics, which led to the golf squad being named Team Scholars heading into the NCAA event.

While Kendall has been a steady performer this season, Macosko said Keener has had to develop through inconsistency.

Keener won the team’s first tournament in the fall (the John Bohmann Memorial at Blanco’s Vaaler Creek) with scores of 72-73, and his first four competitive scores of the season came out to a stroke average of 72.0.

“And then we never saw that guy again until the Nationals,” Macosko said.

Keener’s next 13 rounds had a stroke average of 77.5, and then he came through his NCAA rounds at 72.5 for the third-place national finish.

“I told him ‘We don’t want to see that player that we had before nationals,'” Macosko said. “I just think he thought too much before a tournament even started, because you can see that his physical gifts are amazing — he has an excellent swing and great hands with great touch around the greens. And he works his tail off.”

Keener said his coach’s advice was helpful late in the NCAA tournament, when he knew things were close with Oglethorpe.

“That final round, for sure, our approach paid off,” Keener said. “Everyone was coming up to us telling us ‘Good luck, good luck.’ The other teams were scoreboard watching. I knew about where we were at, about where we stood (in the team results). But I think all of us stayed in the moment, we didn’t think about (winning the title). We took it one shot at a time.”

Keener came to Schreiner with his high school teammate Ian Davis. Though he did not make the traveling team to the NCAA Tournament, Davis was kept as team captain by Macosko.

“In addition to being a talented golfer, he’s a talented musician, and talented in a lot of things,” Macosko said of Davis. “I think he’s pulled in a lot of different directions. And I’m as much impressed with Ian as I am with anyone. He’s been an even better leader. He takes it upon himself to feel the need to make sure that the guys are practicing. His contributions are important.”

Davis and Keener are expected back for their senior seasons. And when everyone who played for Schreiner while winning at the national championship (Kendall, Zach Oliver, Matt McClung, Zach Oliver and Phil Stewart) is set to come back as well, it’s easy to see more chances at a national title next year.

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Familiarity at Briggs Ranch gave Texas State’s Smallwood a chance

After winning the individual championship at the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Golf Tournament, Texas State’s Stuart Smallwood was hoping for no letdown with his next big event.

“I’ve got plenty of momentum,” Smallwood said. “I’m picking up right where I left off. I don’t plan on stopping.”

Smallwood, a senior at Texas State, qualified for the NCAA Men’s Regional Tournament that was played in mid May at San Antonio’s Briggs Ranch Golf Club. Smallwood is familiar with Briggs Ranch after playing in a tournament hosted by UTSA earlier in the spring, and his first-round of 1-over 73 put him in 24th place, six shots back of the lead set by TCU’s Julien Brun and Bryson Dechambeau of SMU.

Brun, who came to TCU from France, won the Big 12 Conference title by nine shots. Dechambeau won the American Athletic Conference title by five for SMU.

Brun, with a 54-hole total of 10-under, won the NCAA Regional by a shot over Georgia’s Lee McCoy. Georgia won the team title.

Smallwood finished tied for 52nd at 9-over for the three rounds.

Smallwood, who played high school in North Texas at Paris, made a jump at the leaders early in the first round with a birdie on No. 2. He still was 1-under through seven and missed birdie putts inside 10 feet at both 13 and 14.

“I thought he played well,” Bobcats coach Shane Howell said. “If he would have made a few more putts today, as well as he hit it, he could have really scored. I know he’s a little disappointed in that, but he’s going to give himself a chance.”

Smallwood found trouble with Briggs Ranch’s par-3s. He had bogeyed the 198-yard 8th and did well to keep it to a bogey at the 15th where the 206 yards played into the wind.

“I hit a hybrid into the wind trying to get it on a little, bitty green,” Smallwood said.

He pitched up and over a pin cut on the short side of the green and two-putted for bogey, but got up and down after missing the green on the par-4 16th. A delicate, downslope chip at the 18th set up his putt inside five feet that finished a stretch where he parred nine of the last 10 holes.

“You hang in there,” Smallwood said. “Sometimes, you keep making pars. Eventually give yourself enough opportunities (for birdie), they’ll go in. They didn’t today, but hopefully I’ve saved them up.”

Smallwood went wire-to-wire to win the Sun Belt in Biloxi, Miss. His 8-under total matched a school-record.

“The problem with finishing at the conference tournament and starting here at the regional is he has finals in between,” Howell said. “His head has been buried in finals. But he had a good four days of practice coming in, and his attitude is great.”

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Two from SA head to US Open sectional qualifying

Anthony Broussard, currently listed in the top 10 of the money list on the Adams Tour, was one of six players to advance from the U.S. Open Local Qualifying Event on Wednesday at Cedar Creek Golf Course. Broussard, a resident of the Dallas-area community of Addison, shot 6-under 66 and will advance to sectional qualifying along with Sugar Land’s Justin Engel (67), Dallas’ Cody Gribble (68), Tom Moore (70), Dallas’ Charlie Holland (70) and John Kimbell (71). Moore and Kimbell are listed as residents of San Antonio.

Former Tour winner John Kimbell of San Antonio takes a step to the U.S. Open (Tom Reel/SA E-N photo).

Former Tour winner John Kimbell of San Antonio takes a step to the U.S. Open (Tom Reel/SA E-N photo).

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La Vernia’s Shawnee Allen: ‘Snoopy’ clubs to a state championship

If it’s difficult for the best players on the PGA Tour to hold a lead and win a golf tournament — and names as big as Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are a couple who have blown leads on the final day at tournaments this year — it can’t be too extraordinary for a 14-year-old high-school freshman to sweat it out.

Shawnee Allen can point to an even-par 72 in her opening round that put her on the road to this year's UIL Class 3A girls state individual title.

Shawnee Allen can point to an even-par 72 in her opening round that put her on the road to this year’s UIL Class 3A girls state individual title.

It’s the position Shawnee Allen found herself when she shot an even-par 72 in the opening round of the UIL Class 3A Girls State Tournament last month. Here was Allen, a freshman from La Vernia, teeing it up against a field that included two players who had won state championships in the last three years. Allen had a three-stroke lead, but it guaranteed her nothing — except for an uneasy evening before teeing it up in the final round the next day.

“I had the jitters. I was all over the place,” Allen said. “I’m surprised I got to sleep at night.”

Allen’s nerves cooled, and she actually added another stroke to her lead for a four-shot win in the UIL championship at the Wolfdancer Golf Club near Bastrop.

“She’s the most mature freshman I’ve been around,” La Vernia golf coach Kyle Andrews said. “You can’t tell by watching her whether she’s just hit a good shot or a bad one. If it’s a bad one, she just erases it and goes on to the next one. If it’s a good one, she builds momentum.”

Maybe it seems Allen has come from nowhere. She is the first golfer from La Vernia, where the only golf course in town has closed, to qualify for the state championship (the school was two players short of a full girls roster this year). The Wilson County community of some 1,200 people is known in the athletic world for high-jumper Dusty Jonas, who competed in the 2008 Olympics and finished third in the World Championship two years later.

To win a golf championship, Allen would have to beat Sarah Black of Andrews, who won the girls 3A title in 2011, and two-time defending champion Sarah Moore of Burkburnett. The closest those two were to Allen after her first-round 72 (that was the low score of the tournament) was six shots. Though Allen wasn’t as smooth with a second-round 77, it still was second-best of the day to Black’s 75 in windy conditions.

Allen has been this a while. Her grandfather and uncle gave her a few plastic toy clubs to swat around one-handed when she was about a year old.

“They were little ‘Snoopy’ clubs,” Allen said. “I remember them when I see me with them in Christmas pictures.”

By the time she was 5, her game outgrew the front yard and her parents took her to The First Tee in San Antonio. She began instruction with Brad Martin, who eventually became coach at University of the Incarnate Word, and she’s been playing in the Golf San Antonio Junior Championship at Brackenridge Park since she was 5.

“At some point after she turned 5 or 6,” her father Herman Allen said, “we were traveling to Houston or Austin for tournaments. And she always handled it well enough mentally that we would move her up one or two age groups.”

Burnout can be a risk, and Allen admits she felt it a couple of summers ago. She quit — for maybe two months.

“I wanted to get back,” she said. “I didn’t lose anything from my game, and I love it.”

During the fall Allen won a junior event at Fort Sam Houston’s Salado Course that was conducted by the Southern Texas PGA. Her best round during her district tournament was a 73, and she broke a tie for the lead after the first day of the UIL regional tournament with a 1-under 69 at Oso Beach Golf Course in Corpus Christi. She won by 10.

Suddenly on the golf scene, people are taking notice of Allen. She’s received her first contact from college recruiters; Auburn, currently ranked 24th in the nation, has mailed her a questionnaire. The smaller schools in the 3A ranks have produced noticeable players — Taylor Newlin of UTSA won a Class 3A girls championship as a freshman in 2007 for Frisco Wakeland (she won again as a senior when Wakeland moved up to 4A).

“I’ve been thinking of the college scholarship opportunities, and maybe that the college coaches are watching” Allen said. “So I wanted to put some low scores out there.”

Consider it done.

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UTSA’s Arriaga gets another try at NCAA Regional

People were flipping through the record books when UTSA’s Fabiola Arriaga won the Conference USA Women’s Golf Championship last month. And even though they found that Arriaga’s 9-under-par total tied a conference record set seven years ago, she doesn’t count it as her best college tournament.arriaga_swing

“I liked winning the Alamo Invitational best,” Arriaga said. “It was really fun, because our team won, too.”

That was two seasons ago, and the team aspect is the only thing keeps Arriaga from enjoying her Conference USA individual title as much. UTSA finished second in the team standings this time.

And not having her teammates around will be one of Arriaga’s challenges when she plays in the NCAA West Regional Women’s Golf Tournament starting Thursday on the Tumble Creek Club at Suncadia Resort in Cle Ellum, Wash.

“I love regionals,” said Arriaga, who turned 22 last month and has played at this level each of the past three seasons with her UTSA mates in the team competition. “Really good teams go. They set up the course really hard. And I’m very comfortable with my game right now. It’s just sad that my team isn’t going.”

Tumble Creek, about 80 miles southeast of Seattle along the Cascades, is a Tom Doak-design where USC, ranked No. 1 in the nation, is the top seed and Texas A&M is 12th. The top eight teams and two individuals advance to the national championship later this month in Tulsa.arriaga_mug

It’s a regional that has three players from the top six in the Golfstat rankings (USC’s No. 2-ranked Annie Park and sixth-ranked Kyung Kim and fourth-ranked Noemi Jimenez of Arizona State). Arriaga, a senior from Torreon, Mexico, ranked 56th, is one of six individuals that qualified for at-large spots, and from that group only Louisiana-Monroe’s Alison Knowles (41st) is rated higher than Arriaga.

The comfort she expresses with her game now comes from her finish to the regular season. She has four-straight sub-par rounds, including the 68-69-70 at Conference USA play at Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club in Gulf Shores, Ala.

While she struggled to crack the top 20 early in the season, she set up the finish to her year with a 16th place at the LSU Tiger Classic, a tie for second at SMU’s Dallas Athletic Club Invitational and the record-tying performance at Conference USA where she won by four shots. The field featured Tulane, which won the team title and is ranked ninth in the nation.

The uneven performances, and the reasons, are behind her, she hopes.

“It was maybe motivation,” Arriaga said. “There was a point when our team knew we needed to work harder. I had some problems with my alignment, but I knew I needed to focus on my mental game. I just tried to finish strong. I knew it was going to be my last conference tournament. I wanted to have fun and play good.”

She’s planning to play in plenty of amateur competitions this summer, and hopefully qualify for Mexico’s national team for events including the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan during September.

And by the end of the year she hopes to be playing in the last stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School.

Though she misses her team at the Regional — “This is going to be different,” she said — it’s the first step in what she has coming the rest of her golf career. It’s like flying solo.

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Texas State women get third-straight NCAA Regional appearance

When their string of three-consecutive appearances in the NCAA Women’s Regional Golf Championship started in 2012, the challenge coach Mike Akers saw for his Texas State Bobcats was pretty obvious. Inexperience.

That’s not so much of a problem this time, since Texas State will travel to the NCAA East Regional next week with a team that includes three players who have experience at this level going back to the team in 2012. There are other concerns, however, before the first tee shot flies on Thursday.

Following a second-place team finish at the Sun Belt Conference championship, Texas State earned an at-large berth into the NCAA East Regional at Tallahassee, Fla.  (Texas State photo)

Following a second-place team finish at the Sun Belt Conference championship, Texas State earned an at-large berth into the NCAA East Regional at Tallahassee, Fla. (Texas State photo)

“It’s finals week,” Akers said. “Our players will be in a hotel conference room in Tallahassee, Fla., taking their exams on Tuesday morning, and we won’t get out to the golf course until later that day.”

Perhaps getting that bit of pressure out of the way will ease the Bobcats into play. The NCAA East Regional is a 54-hole event at SouthWood Golf Club, designed by Gene Bates and Fred Couples, and Texas State is seeded 19th of 24 teams (Duke is first, and 14th-seeded Baylor is the only other Texas school at this regional). The top eight advance to the national championship tournament later in May at Tulsa.

In the West region, UTSA’s Fabiola Arriaga will compete as an individual. And from the Texas State Men’s team, Stuart Smallwood will compete as an individual at a NCAA Regional at Briggs Ranch in San Antonio.

Last year, the Bobcats were thought of as an outside pick to get into the top eight. Some of the reasoning for the pick might have been because of reputation; Texas State finished 14th in the regional the previous year and was 22 shots out of a national qualifying spot.

But things never got rolling for the entire team last year, and the Bobcats came home from regional 37 shots out of the qualifying spot, 21st place overall.

“So nobody is picking us to move on this year,” Akers said. “But now I think we’re peaking at the right time. I’ve never had this type of depth on a team here, and there’s no pressure.”

The Bobcats, ranked 46th nationally this year, finished second to Troy in the Sun Belt Conference Championship last month. Mara Puisite shot a final-round of 2-under 70 to get into a playoff for the individual honors.

Puisite is from Latvia, where the World Golf Foundation notes the first golf course opened in 1998 and there are 120 adult female golfers and 70 players in the junior ranks (compared to 26 million golfers in the U.S).

Puisite has three of her last six rounds at even par or better. She’s joined on the definite Texas State roster along with three other international students: Lejan Lewthwaite and Lora Assad (South Africa) and Iman Nordin (Malaysia), who leads the team with two sub-70 rounds including a school-record 66.

Nordin was on the Texas State team two years ago that surprised with the 14th-place finish in regionals. It came despite a 320 team total in the first round, which the Bobcats improved each round including a 300 on the final day. A 300-pace would have qualified Texas State for the national championship by 13 shots.

“The first day we dug ourselves a grave,” Nordin said. “I think it came because of the pressure we put on ourselves. I think we’ve learned from that.”

The final spot on the active roster, plus one alternate’s spot, will go to a freshman, but Akers is not worried about that. He expects to make his final decision before the weekend, then travel to Tallahassee on Monday night.

“We have three really good freshmen,” Akers said. “It’s the worst part of my job to tell one of them they won’t go with us. It’s a problem, a good problem, that I’ve had all year. It’ll just depend on who is playing well at this given time.”

Millie Saroha, from New Delhi, India, was the only freshman to play for the Bobcats at the Sun Belt, and she cracked the top 25. Maty Monzingo (Trophy Club, Texas) completed the fall season with an under-par round and opened the spring-season tournament schedule with two sub-par rounds, and Ali Cowan (Victoria) was the team’s only freshman with a top-10 finish at an event this season.

Whoever it turns out to be, they’ll have to lug their books for one last study session. Akers was informed by Texas State’s softball team that a university academic adviser could travel with the team and proctor the final exams at the team hotel.

“I didn’t even know it was an option,” Akers said.

It was a surprise. And a top-eight finish at the NCAA Regionals would be a nice surprise as well.

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