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O.C. teen gets ready for the U.S. Women's Open
Sleep didn't come easy for Elisabeth Bernabe the night before the most important tee time of her young golf career.
Startled by her nervous energy, the Canyon senior-to-be awoke at 1 a.m., disappointed to see that there were still six hours to go until she had to be back at Industry Hills Golf Club to see if it would be her or 13-year-old Angel Yin who would get to play in one of the most prestigious tournaments on the LPGA calendar.
Both players were in a tie for third with two-time U.S. Amateur champion Danielle Kang in the May sectional qualifier after shooting a 2-over-par 145.
On the second playoff hole, Kang earned the third qualifying spot into the U.S. Women's Open which begins on Thursday at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc.
Four players advance out of the qualifier, so either Bernabe or Yin would join her there.
But by that time, it was too dark to continue the playoff, so Yin and Bernabe had to return the following morning at 7. When she walked onto the 14th tee, Bernabe was mentally exhausted, and she was ready to just get it over with.
Less than 10 minutes later, it was over. Bernabe holed a birdie. She was heading to the U.S. Open for the first time in her career.
"When I went into the playoff I was like I have gotten so far already and a lot of girls can't say that, so I was happy," Bernabe said. "But when my birdie putt went in, it was really exciting. I am really looking forward to going, and it should be a really fun experience."
Maybe she'll finally get to see her favorite player, Paula Creamer, someplace else besides her TV. Bernabe almost seemed as excited about that as the prospect of actually getting a chance to play in the major championship.
She has the style down and she's really good," Bernabe said. Craemer won the U.S. Women's Open in 2010. "I just want to see her play in real life and what she does on the putting green and on the range and see if I can learn anything from her practice routine."
Bernabe entered her first sectional qualifier last year, and she came up a bit short, posting a 76 and a 74 at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, so all she was looking to do at Industry Hills was improve upon those scores. She did that, carding a 71 and 74 in the 36-hole qualifier. That's when she started to want more.
"I was watching the scoreboard and my name was up there in third place," Bernabe said. "I had just posted two consistent scores, and then started to think that maybe I can qualify."
From the time she started playing on the varsity girls golf team at Canyon as a freshman, Bernabe has been a consistent ball striker. In the fall of 2010, she survived the vicious, howling wind at La Purisima to shoot a 3-over-par 75 in Lompoc and win the CIF-SS Individual Championship. Just a couple of weeks before that during a Southern Section team tournament, she posted a 7-under 65 for the Comanches at Western Hills Country Club in Chino Hills, a course that has more than its share of trees and blind shots.
Putting, though, has been a struggle for her from time to time, so this past girls golf season, she made the switch to a belly putter. The consistency though, still wasn't there, and in February, she began using the claw grip in which the player extends the fingers of their right hand down the length of the shaft. This helps to take the wrists out of the putting action, putting more emphasis on the shoulders.
"From 5-feet and in, I am much more confident, and I am starting to make some longer putts, too," she said. "Before it was always two putt, two putt, two putt. Now the ones for par are all going in."
And that led to some impressive results for her last month. First, she holed 13 birdies at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla and finished tied for 10th in the AJGA Rolex Junior Girls Championship.
The following week, she finished with a 1-over 145 at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station, N.J. to earn a spot in the 64-player match-play field at the U.S. Women's Publinks. She won her first match 3&1. After that, she was the medalist in her qualifier for the U.S. Girls Junior, posting a 1-under-par 71 at Old Fort Golf Club in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Now, her goal of making the cut at the U.S. Women's Open seems to be within her reach.
"I just want to do that," Bernabe said, "and see where I go from there."