By Beth Ann Nichols |
January 23, 2021 1:25 pm
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Not all the players in this week’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions celebrity field are famous. In fact, there are 12 amateurs in the field, 10 of whom qualified through Wednesday’s pro-am. Two of the amateurs, in fact, are teenage girls: Ariana Urrea (age 13) and Katherine Schaefer (14). Both shot even par to play their way into the 72-hole LPGA season opener.
During Thursday’s opening round, Urrea putted out on the 18th green at Tranquilo Golf Club and looked up to see her face on the jumbotron.
“I was like, is that really me?” she said, smiling broadly to reveal a mouthful of braces.
Urrea’s phone immediately blew up with text messages and requests started coming in for her Instagram account. The seventh-grade Peruvian typically lives sixth months of the year in Orlando with her family and competes on the Hurricane Junior Tour. She hopes to soon qualify for her first AJGA event.
Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions: Leaderboard
Urrea first took up golf at age 8 after watching strangers hit balls on a driving range. She was a tennis player back then and no one in her family played golf. Now her father carries around Urrea’s personal business cards, which feature her personal logo and contact information.
Katherine Schaefer, a ninth-grader at American Heritage Plantation in south Florida, teed off alongside Frenchwoman Celine Boutier and former MLB player Mark DeRosa in Saturday’s third round. Prior to this week, she said, the biggest stages she’d played on would have to be the state high school championships or the U.S. Kids World Championship at Pinehurst.
“I think I’m handling it pretty well,” said Schaefer, who was stoked to meet two of her favorite LPGA players, Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson.
One big difference between the qualifier and the main event: about 1,000 yards. The junior girls played from the forward tees in the qualifier. Saturday’s official yardage: 6,427.
“I’ve always been a shorter player,” said Schaefer, “so I had to get good with my woods and my hybrids. There hasn’t really been a challenge with the yardage.”
Urrea’s goal is to one day compete against the players she’s collecting autographs from this week. There haven’t been many players from Peru who have reached the top levels of golf. Jenny Lidback most notably won a major, the du Maurier Classic, in 1995. Another Peruvian native, Alicia Dibos, was a rookie on the LPGA in 1993 and is now director of instruction at Winged Foot.
“I didn’t think I would qualify,” said Urrea. “I thought, let’s meet Nelly Korda (in the pro-am). I feel like she’s really sweet and nice and she was.”
And then the pinch-me moments just kept coming.
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