Two generations of local golfers were paired Jan. 7 at the USGA Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship qualifier at the La Costa Resort — and both pairings finished at the top, earning them spots at the championship in Bandon Dunes in Oregon in May.
Brooke Seay, 14, an eighth-grader at La Jolla Country Day School, and Carolyn Zhao, 15, a sophomore at Torrey Pines High, had the tournament’s lowest score of 68. The older pairing of Michelle “Mickey” Burgess and Kate Grace finished in third place, shooting a score of 72.
Both teams will compete at Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore., in May.
“Bandon Dunes is a spectacular golf course,” said Grace. “It’s like going to Scotland without going to Scotland. It’s a links course, so it’s walking only — as it should be — and it has really big tall grass, lots of heather, and it’s very challenging because it’s right on the coast, so there’s lots of wind.
“You can have three costume changes in one round because of the weather. The weather plays a big role in how you play the golf course. We’re very excited, and now we think we can win, because all bets are off with a course like that. Even if you can hit the ball a mile, it’s about whoever manages that course well.”
For Burgess and Grace, the third-place finish was a big and unexpected accomplishment.
Grace, a member at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club since the 1990s, has a very busy schedule with her work as a physical therapist and is able to get on the course only about once or twice a week. Before the tournament, she hadn’t touched her clubs in six weeks.
“Mickey and I play a lot together, and we know each other’s games so well. When you have confidence in each other, it helps you play your best,” Grace said. “The girls we’re playing against, not only are they a lot younger and can hit the ball farther, but they’re playing golf eight times a week.”
“We decided to try and knock it around and see what happened,” said Burgess, a personal trainer who has been a member at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club for 10 years. “We tried to keep up with those youngsters.”
If it weren’t fun, Grace said, they wouldn’t do it. But the pair had a lot of fun on a very challenging La Costa course.
“The course played longer than we’d ever played before,” said Grace, noting that to get up and down the greens in regulation took a lot of chipping and putting. “We didn’t have the length to get on the greens, so the short game is what saved us.”
Because of their packed schedules, both women pick about one tournament a year to try to qualify for. In the past, Grace has qualified for the USGA Mid-Amateur and USGA Senior-Amateur tournaments; Burgess has played in about seven USGA events.
Together, they form a No. 1 team for the RSF Golf Club’s team matches.
“She’s hilarious and such a fun person to be with, and she’s a really good golfer,” Grace said of her teammate, Burgess.
“We have some laughs,” agreed Burgess. “We both work hard and have fun.”
Brooke and Carolyn met in junior golf and decided to pair up for the tournament.
“They were very good and very focused,” Burgess said of the young team. “They both have great swings. Those girls are going to have no problem taking their game to the collegiate level.”
Brooke started golfing at age 4. She never really made a decision to start taking the sport more seriously; it just happened gradually the more she played and the more success she had, such as winning the Junior World Golf Championships at age 10 and the U.S. Kids Championship at age 12. Her father, Gordon, serves as her coach.
“It works well because he sees me every day … he knows my swing better than anyone else,” she said.
Brooke is a member at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club and is out there every day. On Mondays when the club isn’t open, she’ll play at Torrey Pines or hit balls into the net in her backyard.
Brooke plays tournaments on the San Diego Junior Golf Association and Toyota Tour Cup circuits and is starting to play tournaments through the American Junior Golf Association. While it was exciting to be a medalist in the qualifier, she feels that the biggest tournament she has played in was the USGA Junior Girls tournament in Flagstaff, Ariz., last July.
“It was mostly to get the experience. It was long yardage, and also I was one of the youngest players there. There were a lot of older girls, and I really enjoyed it, even though I didn’t play my best,” Brooke said.
“I think the more tournaments you play, the more you get used to the pressure and learn to focus and stay in your game,” she added. “I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better at it.”
Brooke and Carolyn had played La Costa two weeks before the event, shooting a 68. Their goal was to shoot a 65, Carolyn said.
“It’s a difficult course. The greens are very undulating, the back nine is longer, and it’s very hard to stick the ball on the green,” Brooke said.
“On my own ball, I shot a 71; I played really well that day. My driver was good, I had good control with my irons, my chipping was good and when I made a mistake, my partner was there to help me.”
Said Carolyn, “She’s a really good player and we just made a great team. We cheered each other on. We were pretty excited (to have the lowest score) and we were surprised because we definitely thought the scores were going to be lower.”
Carolyn is a member of the Torrey Pines High girls golf team that won their sixth straight CIF Championship this season. She has been part of two winning teams.
A native of China, she began golfing at age 6, choosing the sport after trying ice skating, swimming and tennis. At age 7, she started playing in tournaments, and her family moved to Del Mar when she was 13. She now plays at Morgan Run Golf Club six days a week and works with coach Chris Mayson at Maderas Golf Club.
Carolyn won the San Diego Junior Am for 13-14 girls in 2014 and was part of the U.S. Junior National Team that competed in China. Carolyn led after two days and placed fifth overall.
Carolyn feels her best qualities on the course are her “strong mental game” and her solid putting.
To prepare for Bandon Dunes, Brooke hopes to get some time in on a links course, as she has never played one before. She also wants to maintain consistency with her irons and drivers, and to practice with Carolyn a few more times.
Carolyn will be able to help out her partner, as she has experience playing links courses in Scotland, Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills. With her trainer, she plans to work on building up her strength before the tournament and will continue to focus solely on golf in the coming months.
Brooke, on the other hand, will spend time playing on the La Jolla Country Day School soccer team and will play for the school’s tennis team in the spring. In her spare time, she also has a passion for foreign languages and is working on German, French and Russian in addition to taking Spanish in school. She hones her language skills by watching YouTube videos and listening to music in foreign languages.
She said she finds it easier these days to balance all of her sports and her schoolwork because it gets darker sooner. She will play golf until the sun goes down, so the earlier sunsets mean she must tear herself away from the course at an earlier hour.
“My most valued quality is that I don’t give up,” said Brooke. “I never stop trying to reach my goals.”