By Ryan Kaczmarski
When you are listed as one of the top 50 female junior golfers in the country, it could be easy to be full of yourself and think you know everything about the sport. Not so for Westlake resident and Magnificat junior Ali Nageotte.
Nageotte traveled to Reunion, Fla., to compete in the Annika Invitational at Reunion Resort over the weekend of Jan. 18-21. This tournament, put on by Annika Sorenstam, the former No. 1 women’s golfer in the world, took the top 50 girls junior golfers and pitted them against the top junior girls golfers from around the world.
The girls played the par-72 Independence Course, designed by Tom Watson, an eight-time Major championship winner, including five (British) Open, two Masters and one U.S. Open victories.
“The course played 6,350 yards, which is the longest course I have ever played in competition,” Nageotte said. “It was a very challenging course with lots of hills and elevation changes, and punishing fairway bunkers on both sides of fairways were common. The greens were very large and many had multiple tiers.
“Although it was challenging, I really liked the course. It was in great condition.”
The event winner was Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar (Calif.) High School, with her scores of 68, 71 and 67.
Even though Nageotte did not come out on top over the weekend, with her scores of 83 in the first round, 76 in the second and 78 in the third, she was still very proud of the way she played.
“I struggled with my swing during the first round,” she said. “My swing coach, Judd Stephenson, and I worked it out that night and I played much better days two and three. I was very close to shooting at or under par for the second round. I gave myself many birdie opportunities and had a few putts lip out.
“Under the circumstances, I would say it was one of the best rounds of golf I have ever played. During the third round, I struck the ball very well and I was a few swings away from having another very good round.”
Along with playing against the best junior competition from across the country, she had the opportunity to play with girls from Slovenia, Sweden, the Netherlands and Puerto Rico.
“This was the strongest field I have ever played against,” Nageotte said. “This is the first tournament of that caliber that I have played in.
“It was such an amazing experience,” she added. “I learned so much about myself and my golf game over the weekend. I confirmed that I can compete with the best players in the world. It also has given me a lot of confidence.”
She also feels that her experience playing in the Annika Invitational will definitely help her in tournaments to come.
“I gained so much confidence during the tournament that I will be able to fall back upon and will benefit me in the future,” Nageotte said. “I also learned that in order to be the best, there is almost no margin for error. I need to focus 100 percent on every shot and commit to it.
“I will be working on that a lot over the next few months, and I think it will really help me improve my game.”
The opportunity for Nageotte to meet, and learn from, one of the best female golfers in history will definitely stay with her throughout her career and beyond.
“Meeting Annika was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she said. “She is absolutely a role model for me. Not only is she the greatest woman to ever play the game of golf, but what she has done since she has stepped away from the game is equally impressive.
“One of my favorite parts of the tournament was not on the golf course, but at one of the clinics after round two,” she added. “Annika talked about the day she shot a 59. It was amazing to listen to her talk about her experiences and how she got to the top. She was once in my shoes, and to see where she went is so inspiring and motivating. Lastly, I just want to say that this tournament was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I will always look back on it and pull positives away from it for the rest of my golf career. I am so thankful to Annika for the opportunity to play in the event.”