BANDON, Ore. – Perhaps it was just positive thinking that put Athena Yang back in Central Florida as she stood on the first tee Sunday in coastal Oregon. Yang and Kendall Griffin had gritted their teeth in preparation for an afternoon tee time at Bandon Dunes’ Pacific Dunes Course, expecting a strong wind to meet them. Both were pleasantly surprised by the calm – so much so that Yang said it almost felt like another round back home.
Yang and U.S. Women’s Four-Ball partner Griffin spent a whole day traveling from their homes in Polk County, Fla., earlier this week to be here. They arrived late Thursday, slid into the players dinner and dove headfirst into their first U.S. Golf Association Championship.
Before they came, Griffin googled pictures of this course, which might as well be the moon compared to Florida golf, and began looking for some way to prepare.
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“I actually played Streamsong one time before I came here to try to get a look at kind of what it would be like,” Griffin said. “It’s definitely different than anything I am used to.”
Yang added that she’d played six holes at Streamsong’s Red Course years ago – only six because she’d just decided to do one loop around of the place instead of go a whole round. It was complimentary golf, after all.
Yang and Griffin adjusted well to their new surroundings over the weekend. Opening rounds of 66-67 left this team one shot ahead of USC commits Robynn Ree and Hannah O’Sullivan.
For local flavor, Griffin has Chris Gentilcore on the bag, a caddie who has looped on and off at Bandon since 2004, and before that at Whistling Straits. Gentilcore carried Jennie Lee’s bag during the 2006 Curtis Cup.
“I think it’s helped a lot,” Griffin said.
The stroke-play portion of this tournament was such equal parts Griffin and Yang that Griffin’s mom Tracy had to learn a new term from the gallery: ham and egg.
“I just wanted to be the one to make the least mistakes out here and keep making birdies,” Yang said.
It was Yang who put this partnership together more than a year ago at a U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifier.
“My dad was like you should play this four-ball thing,” Yang remembers.
Said Griffin: “I had no idea what it was, honestly.”
Neither player advanced from that qualifier, so the Four-Ball became their first USGA experience.
On Saturday, after the opening 66, Griffin noted what a cool feat it was just to lead during the first round of this inaugural championship. News Sunday that they had medaled in stroke-play was overwhelming, and they needed some time to let it sink in.
“When we qualified for the Four-Ball, that’s when we started playing a lot together,” Yang said. Before that, the girls had met on the Florida Junior Tour circuit and at AJGA events. They live roughly 45 minutes apart, and both will play for SEC schools – Yang at Mississippi State, Griffin at LSU. They’ll only be a state away and, as Yang said, “we’ll be competing against each other.”
The only sure plan Griffin and Yang had coming into this event was to try not to get too far ahead of themselves. Now, they can throw themselves into the next part of the journey.