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Fleming leads Torrey Pines girls’ golf in defense of CIF title

Senior Libby Fleming is the leader of a young 2021 Torrey Pines girls golf team.
Senior Libby Fleming is the leader of a young 2021 Torrey Pines girls golf team.

(Ken Grosse)

It’s hard to imagine a team that had won 14 of the 19 previous San Diego CIF Girls’ Golf Championships being considered an upset winner when it claimed No. 15, but that’s just how Torrey Pines Head Coach Chris Drake viewed his team’s November 2019 section victory at Admiral Baker Golf Course.

“It was shocking and amazing,” said Drake after his team had pulled away from runner-up Scripps Ranch and two-time defending champion Rancho Bernardo. “Torrey Pines has an incredible history of success so I know we always have a chance, but RB had beaten us twice during the season, was seeded No. 1 and it seemed like it was their tournament to lose.”

In a topsy-turvy year-plus since that triumph, one that has seen the Covid-19 pandemic wipe out the scheduled Fall 2020 season Drake’s squad finally has an opportunity to defend its latest title in a winter-spring campaign that teed off Feb. 25.

With a 13-girl roster featuring eight freshmen and sophomores, it appears that Drake & Co. will need to produce a little more of that 2019 magic if they intend to make it two CIF banners in a row. The Falcons are off to a strong start, though, winning their first four dual matches, and Drake is not selling this squad short.

“We are a pretty young group overall,” admitted Drake, “but we have good senior leadership and our new players definitely have some talent.

Freshman Chloe Diep
Freshman Chloe Diep is part of an excellent group of Falcon golfers.
(Ken Grosse)

“I think it’s going to be fun to watch them all grow together and I expect to have as much competition for our six playing spots as we’ve had in a while. I’m hoping we’ll be in the mix for the league and CIF titles and a spot in the CIF Regionals as well (there will be not CIF State title this year).”

When Drake references “senior leadership,” he’s got one of the best in Libby Fleming, the defending CIF individual champion who will be headed to Texas Tech next fall. Fleming, who rebounded from a disappointing CIF finish as a sophomore to top RB star Vanessa Ho by two strokes a year later, has a potent combination of physical and mental skills according the Drake.

“Libby has good distance on her drives, typically puts herself in good position and is a pretty good putter,” he said. “She rarely three-putts, so when she gets close, she takes advantage.

“Mentally, she’s super competitive and really wants to be the best. She worked hard to adjust her mindset to winning after a bad second day at CIF as a sophomore. She learned a lesson there, put the time in to correct the problem and got better. I wish she had four more years at Torrey Pines.” Fleming posted the best rounds in Falcon non-conference victories over Coronado and Cathedral Catholic.

Another key senior is Lynne Xu. Academic priorities kept Xu from being in the top six in 2019 but she has the potential to be there this time around. Sophomores Muzi Wei and Emily Zhou, both members of the top six as freshmen, are showing good form early (Zhou was TP’s low scorer in a season-opening win over La Jolla) and the potential of first-year players like Chloe Diep and Annie Zhang has Drake excited.

Before post-season arrives, Torrey Pines figures to be tested strenuously in the loaded New Coastal League. Canyon Crest and Carlsbad, who finished fourth and fifth respectively in the ’19 CIF tourney, as well as El Camino all look to be formidable. Among their returnees are Meghan Royal (CA), Sofina Firouzi (CCA) and El Camino twins Janae and Jasmine Leovao, all juniors who have been top six CIF placers.

Fleming after winning the 2019 CIF individual crown.
Fleming after winning the 2019 CIF individual crown.
(Ken Grosse)

LIBBY FLEMING Q&A

Fleming, a 5-10 San Diego native who got a relatively late start in the sport of golf, spent time recently talking about her introduction to the game, what she considers her strengths and weaknesses and how she ended up with a scholarship to Texas Tech.

Q—As a youngster, your athletic focus was soccer. How did you get introduced to golf?

FLEMING—I played competitive soccer for the Surf Club since I was six or seven years old and I loved it. My dad plays golf four or five times per week and one day, when I was about 12 years old, he brought me with him to the driving range at Morgan Run.

I made contact right away and hit the ball a lot further than I thought I could. My dad said I was “a natural” and I’ve never really put the clubs down since that day.

Q—It was really that simple?

FLEMING—It was hard to quit soccer but I liked golf so much more. In golf, you’re so much more independent. I was able to control everything and there wasn’t a reliance on other people.

It was so different than other sports I’d played that were more physical and required a lot of running. I could be outside, alone with myself and it was so peaceful. I mean, it’s a stroll on a golf course. Plus, I felt like I was just better at it. I had the physical attributes for soccer but not a passion.

Q—What are some of your early golf memories?

FLEMING—Well, the first time I played on a regular course was with my dad at Morgan Run. That was exciting and a whole different athletic experience than I was used to.

I loved playing but I used to get angry a lot when I was younger. I keep it bottled up better now, but I cried pretty regularly when things didn’t go my way—it’s kind of sad thinking about it now.

I was definitely crying after almost every single tournament. I enjoyed golf so much but got so upset when things didn’t go right. I can’t believe I was taking junior golf so seriously. I remember shooting an even 100 in my first junior tournament at Twin Oaks and I thought my entire future was gone. Looking back, it was just a good learning experience.

Q—Where do you hope golf will eventually take you?

FLEMING—I don’t know, but I certainly have a steadfast belief that it will all work out and I’ll be the best one day at whatever level I am able to reach whether it be college, professional or something else. I work hard, pray a lot and try to do my absolute best in every area I can control.

Mostly, I just want to be assured that I have always played my best and done the most that I could have done in whatever I’m doing. If that eventually means winning multiple majors or just playing a great final round in a tournament, that’s great—I want to be satisfied.

Q—When did you start getting serious about the game and what do you consider your best attributes?

FLEMING—I actually got fairly serious in the first couple of months of playing. As I mentioned, my dad said I was a natural and felt I took to golf right away. He thought I could get really good at it. When he told me that, I believed it.

In general, I’m physically a good golfer. I think I have a solid swing and ball-striking is probably my best skill. I hit a lot of fairways and greens and feel I can consistently put myself in position to get par or better.

That said, I have areas where I can improve and am always working. I believe I have a good putting stroke but don’t always free myself up to take advantage of that. The mental game and handling pressure situations that inevitably come up is something I’m focusing on getting better at.

Q—Do you enjoy playing high school golf? How is this year’s team?

FLEMING—Definitely. Even though golf is a very individual game, I really like having a team around me. When you have people that are there for you and something to represent, it feels like you have a purpose. Everybody’s trying to do it for each other.

Winning the CIF individual championship was great but the fact that we won the Division I team title made it so much better. We were all able to celebrate together.

This year’s Torrey Pines team is pretty young, only a couple of seniors, but the good part is we should be still be solid this season and a steady team for the next several years.

Q—Outside of Torrey Pines, what’s your golf schedule like?

FLEMING—I work with my swing coach, Greg Casagranda once a month. I also work in the pro shop at The Bridges in Rancho Santa Fe. Because of that, I’m able to practice there which is really great. It’s a privilege to be able to train somewhere that nice. I previously worked at Morgan Run which was also fantastic. I’ve been going there since I started and everybody at the club wants to see me succeed.

When I play practice rounds at The Bridges, it’s usually with the guys from the pro shop or the cart barn. It pushes me to get better and prove that you don’t have to hit it 310 yds. to score low. In junior high school and at Torrey Pines, I have usually practiced against the guys as well.

I’ve played in a number of junior golf tournaments but was not flying all over the country. There’s not much point spending a small fortune when you don’t necessarily need to do that to be seen and get opportunities.

Q—How did you become interested in Texas Tech and eventually decide to accept their offer to play college golf there?

FLEMING—Figuring out college has been interesting. My freshman year at Torrey Pines I committed to San Diego State. Their coach, Leslie Spalding, saw potential in me and thought I had room to play better. But the next two years, my golf game was not improving as much as I would have liked and we mutually decided I should look at other opportunities.

So I de-committed and started e-mailing different colleges during my junior season. The CIF Championship came along at the right time and after I won that, I started getting a lot of replies. One of the schools that responded was Texas Tech. Their coach, JoJo Robertson, talked to me in January and two weeks later, I went to Lubbock on an official visit.

I loved it. The facilities are amazing, the girls on the team were amazing and I liked Lubbock. I felt it would be a great environment for me to improve my golf game and committed shortly thereafter. The coaches are extremely friendly and are there to make us better. Texas Tech seems to have everything covered and the way they go about things is totally first class. It’s a happy place where I can see myself developing my game for the next four years.

Q—What do you remember most about winning the 2019 CIF Championship?

FLEMING—Coming into CIF, I hadn’t been playing that well but I knew the course, had just changed my swing coach and was trying a few new things which seemed to be positive.

Early on in the tournament, I wasn’t putting that well but I was hitting a lot of greens and putting my wedges close. When I got to the final nine on day two, I had a couple of quick bogeys but wasn’t watching the scoreboard and didn’t know exactly where I stood. I kind of got lost in the moment and was concentrating on myself.

I remember focusing on my breathing to calm me down. On 15, I put my approach inches from the hole, converted for my birdie and knew that I had a chance to win it. I was very nervous because I’d never been in that position before but held it together down the stretch to get the victory.

Q—Have you noticed things are different after winning that event?

FLEMING—I’ve been playing well the last couple of months and feel like I can have a good senior season even though I’ve felt a lot of pressure in almost every aspect of my life. Being the defending CIF champion is part of it and a lot is self-imposed and I’m trying to deal with that.

I don’t want to let anyone—parents, coaches, etc.—down but you have to shut a lot of that out and just play the way you can. I’m going to try to have fun, prepare myself for college and not let any external aspects effect the way I play.

Q—What is your favorite golf course and what do you consider the best courses in San Diego?

FLEMING—I would have to say Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz is my favorite course. I played in the California Women’s Amateur there last July and had a hole-in-one on No. 8. I shot two over that round but went 80 the next day.

The Bridges is definitely the nicest course in San Diego. It’s like an entirely different world. I also like Rancho Santa Fe Country Club, which is the home course for our Torrey Pines team, and, of course, Torrey Pines which will be hosting the U.S. Open in a few months.

Q—What would be your dream foursome?

FLEMING—Tiger Woods, for sure, Richard, my granddad (deceased) on my father’s side and current PGA pro Jon Rahm. I listened to him (Rahm) on a podcast recently and felt like we have a very similar approach.

My grandfather lived in Ireland and was a huge golfer. We only got to see him in the summer and he passed away when I was young. He never got the chance to see me take up golf and achieve some success. He would have liked that.

Q—What type of academic direction are you planning to take at Texas Tech?

FLEMING—I’m leaning towards a business major now but I’m sure that will waver. There’s nothing that I feel that strongly about. I’m hoping to gravitate towards something that makes me feel as passionate as I do about golf.

Q—What would the average person be surprised to know about what it’s like to play golf a a high level?

FLEMING—That you need to have the ability to switch things off. It can be all-consuming where you feel very pessimistic after a bad round. You have to know how to leave it behind when you leave the course. If you take it with you, it’s not going to make you any better.


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