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After Controversy, Nash Tests Her Game at the Next Level
29 Apr 2018
by Julie Williams of AmateurGolf.com

see also: U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Timuquana Country Club

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Emily Nash (L) and partner Allison Paik
Emily Nash (L) and partner Allison Paik

For a junior golfer, playing a U.S. Golf Association event is a good glimpse into golf at the next level.

“Just to qualify is really hard,” said Allison Paik, 15, after the first day of the U.S. Women’s Four-Ball. Paik and partner Emily Nash, 17, ham-and-egged it around El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., in even par in Round 1 and are in good position to secure a spot on the match-play bracket.

Paik has been after this championship since it first debuted in 2015 at Bandon Dunes (Ore.) Resort, but this is the first year she has qualified. Nash seems the perfect partner – the two hit many of their clubs the same distance and take a similar approach and mindset to the golf course. They forged this friendship partly through competing in U.S. Challenge Cup events, and being among the top players in the region, they often find themselves as opponents in big events in the Northeast. Paik hails from Providence, R.I., while Nash is roughly 90 minutes away in Lunenburg, Mass.

This week, they’re testing how well their game travels, and also how it stacks up not just to other juniors, but to top amateurs, too. As Paik said, “there’s a saying that the golf ball doesn’t see your age.”

You could argue that succeeding in this game is all about the experiences you put under your belt. This week, Nash feels like she is on the other side of the professional events she has gotten a look at through summer trips with her family. The Nashes attended the 2013 Solheim Cup in Parker, Colo., and also the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, among others. Generally, they try to see a professional event each summer. Nash can’t forget that Pinehurst atmosphere, which she also experienced when she played a U.S. Kids’ Golf Championship there as a kid. She’s so hooked that she’s focused her college search in the state of North Carolina. In the meantime, the USGA circuit has embedded a similar hook.

“When we first arrived (at El Caballero), they treat the players just like they’re pro players,” said Nash, who is playing in her first USGA event this week in what is also her first trip to the West Coast. There are snacks (including a generously stocked ice-cream freezer), lockers and a players’ lounge.

For now at least, Nash’s name remains associated with the controversy and subsequent headlines that resulted when she won a district boys’ golf tournament in Massachusetts last fall only to be denied the title because of her gender. She speaks eloquently about it, which is impressive considering the ensuing media frenzy.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” she said. “My phone was just blowing up. In school, I couldn’t even tell you how many people were reaching out to me.”

Nash described an overwhelming nationwide reaction that included everything from social-media follows and messages from complete strangers to personal letters from notable female figures in the game like Marilynn Smith and Cristie Kerr. The headlines went far past golf media and into national news outlets. Six months later, she sums it up this way: “Looking back, it’s just nice to see how many people are so supportive of me even though they have never met me before.”

For the time being, Nash’s name will continue to bring up that story. Her golf knowledge, however, is as praise-worthy as her composure, and that’s gives her staying power in the golf community. Nash has been playing since she was 10 years old, and has steadily taken steps to push herself. She enjoys watching LPGA players’ swings, and likes to compare her own swing to Lydia Ko’s. She talks about that comparison some with swing coach Lee Khang, whose daughter Megan was an LPGA rookie in 2016.

“Usually at lessons, especially during the winter, she is there practicing so I talk to her,” Nash said.

Nash plays on the boys’ team at Lunenberg High School in the small town of roughly 10,000 people, because there are not enough players to field a girls’ team. She started playing in the eighth grade, and already held the No. 1 spot. That meant she was often paired with junior or senior boys during matches.

“I think it has made me better,” Nash said. “…I learned to have a really good short game. Even just not worrying about how far people hit it past you. I have to play my own game.”

It’s a nice change at the Women’s Four-Ball to be on the course competing with Paik, whose patience and competitive spirit are similar. Paik plays ice hockey for a club team called the Massachusetts Spitfires. She got into the sport when her family moved to the Northeast and her dad began asking around about what there was to do in the area.

“I practice golf more than hockey,” Paik explained. “Golf is my main sport.”

While the hockey is fast-paced and physical, the golf requires Paik to think on her feet. It’s another asset she and Nash share.

ABOUT THE U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball

The U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball, the newest USGA championship, was played for the first time in 2015 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. It immediately became one of the USGA's most popular tournaments. The event, which has no age restriction, is open to those women with a Handicap Index of 14.4 or lower. It is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.

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