By Bruce Meadows
Abby claims state title . . .
Abigail Leighton is no longer an underdog !
The 16-year-old junior to be at Cardinal Newman High is the champion of the 70th annual California Junior Girls State Golf Tournament.
Abby, the 18th-seeded player in a field that included some outstanding players, some who will play college golf in the fall, survived one challenge after another, including sudden-death playoff wins and victories over the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds.
In the final at Quail Lodge and Golf Course in Carmel, she held on to upset top-seeded Jackie Lucena from Chico, 2-up.
“I tried to focus on the present, not the end result,” explained Abby, who started playing golf when she was just 5 years old and had her first tournament experience when she was 8. “I didn’t want to get too cocky, but the more I won the more confidence I had.”
In the back-and-forth final, Abby took a two-hole lead in the match-play event, before Lucena, a two-time Northern Section champ, birdied the 17th hole to pull within one.
On No. 18, a par-4, Abby wanted to “play it safe” and her tee shot hit the fairway while Lucena, headed for UC Davis, hooked her shot into some trouble. Both girls hit their second shots left of the green.
“We both had the same chip shot, but I got my par and she took a bogey,” said Abby. “I really didn’t expect to get that far, but she (Lucena) was super nice and it was a light-hearted round. I’m really proud of how I played.”
So is her dad, Jon, mother Janene and sister Tori. Oh, and please put her Newman teammates and local legend Jessica Reese Quayle in that group.
Jessica, an outstanding player first at Montgomery High, then University of Texas before a stint on the LPGA Tour, now has a teaching academy at Oakmont GC in Santa Rosa and first started giving Abby lessons when she was 10.
“I could see the ability . . . she was always a long-ball hitter – she can get it out there 270 yards — with great hand-eye coordination,” recalls Jessica. “But she owns her own game, she’s her own boss as far as practice – which she loves.”
“She has always been a sassy kid who wanted to learn more, wanted to understand the ‘whys’ of the game,” adds Jessica.
Jess was with a student competing in Seattle during the state event, but stayed in contact with Abby and her mom. “We talked and texted every night,” said Abby.
It’s hard to point to one thing that made a difference in the tournament, but Jess and Abby think a “baby hook” (see illustration of the par-4 16th) that she learned prior to the event was a big factor.
I helped me in every round, definitely in my playoff wins,” explained Abby. “It’s sort of a risky shot if you don’t hit it right.”
“It is, but it allowed her to cut off a ton of yardage,” said Jessica. “It allowed Abby to take advantage of her length and shorten certain holes.”
It was a perfect shot for Abby on the dogleg-right holes . . . she would sometimes start out her shot over an adjacent fairway but then have the “baby hook” bring it back where she wanted it to set up a shorter shot to the green.
“I played it safe the first two days, but decided to start cutting it around the trees,” explains Abby, noting that “when I did that, I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack.”
But Abby made it work when her matches went to playoff – No. 16 was the first playoff hole – “and I closed out a few matches on that hole, too.”
She is only a junior with plenty of high school golf ahead at Newman, where she has been the No. 1 player since she got there, including shooting a record 9-hole score of 32 at Fountaingrove. She also captured a Division II North Coast Section title, shooting a 69 to win.
So is it too early to think about college, or beyond?
“I definitely want to play in college, and have sent out a few letters . . .no idea where I want to go yet,” said Abby, who is coached by T.J. McMahon at Newman. “As far as pro golf, having a career in which I get to play the sport I love would be awesome.”
That’s a long way off, but for now Abby can savor an outstanding effort on a big stage.
“I didn’t realize this tournament was such a big deal until it was over . . . I’m not really back to earth yet,” said Abby, who has won a U.S. Kids age-group event as well as a recent Hurricane Tour junior tournament in Sacramento. “We just signed up without really know how big it was.”
The best thing about these events is “meeting new people, some who become your good friends, being able to play with outstanding golfers,” said Abby.
It would seem this young woman has plenty of good golf and good friends awaiting her.
Windsor Summer Camps . . .
Windsor GC is offering Summer Junior Camps in July and August. Dates are July 16-18, and Aug. 6-8. Camp times are all 9-11:30 a.m. Classes are for ages 6-12.
All aspects of the game will be taught, including rules, etiquette and course management. Cost is $100 per student, and includes range balls and all equipment. Call Demian at 838-7888.
At Rooster Run . . .
Rooster Run PGA pro Dave Johnson continues with his summer junior golf camp schedule. His camps are in their 15th year.
Half- and full-day camps are being offered July 15-18 and Aug. 5-9.
Cost is $295 for half-day 9-noon) camps, which include nine holes of golf; full-day camps (9-4) are $425 and also include nine holes of golf.
For more information or to sign up, call 707-484-0467 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org
Oakmont summer camps . . .
Summer camp registration is still open at Oakmont GC. Camp #2 July 8-12, Camp #3 July 29-Aug. 2.
Half-day (9-noon) sessions are co-educational, ages 7-13. Full-day (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) for ages 7-17. All abilities welcome; small-group instruction followed by daily instruction on course; cost includes mid-morning snack and lunch. Participants should make sure to have both health insurance info and phone numbers available when registering. For details, contact Rebecka Heimert, at email@example.com
Let’s hear from you . . .
Thanks again for your comments, questions and suggestions. I love to get them and would really like to get more. If you have information about anything golf-related, including upcoming activities or tournaments or sales, please let me know. And if you have questions, complaints or compliments about golf in our area, I’d love to hear them.
If you have a golfer you know who you think would be an interesting story. Tell me about it. Having trouble with your game? Let me know what it is and I’ll try to get a sensible answer for you from a local pro.
And we would be proud to include you as one of our sponsors – thanks to Bill Carson at Wine Country Golf for his continued support – so if you care to get some details about being a sponsor of GOLF 707, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org