Megha Ganne (USGA/Steve Gibbons)
Endurance is a factor for any player who wants to make a deep run in a USGA amateur championship. There have been no easy draws for Megha Ganne in that respect. The 15-year-old’s path to the semifinals at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., has included matches lasting 18, 19, and 20 holes.
Her quarterfinal defeat of Caroline Canales only required 16 holes.
“I might take a nap,” she said of how she’d spend an empty afternoon.
The week before Ganne arrived in the sticky South, the Holmdel, N.J., native was doing daily golf boot camps with her First Tee friends. Ganne’s instructor Katie Rudolph calls it “Katie’s Academy.” Every Monday to Thursday, Ganne starts her day with a two-mile run and a 90-minute circuit training session, then plays an 18-hole match in the afternoon. It’s an 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. day.
Ganne was the inspiration for the camp, in which 22 players, ages 10 to 15, are enrolled this summer.
“I saw this kid and she needed to be pushed harder,” said Rudolph, the chief operating officer of the First Tee of Metropolitan New York. Rudolph has been with Ganne since the beginning, which is to say that she saw the raw talent in Ganne as a 7-year-old, asked around to see if she had a coach, then stepped in herself.
Ganne has risen to the occasion in every way.
Six months before Ganne qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open, Rudolph approached her on the putting green one day at Essex County Country Club with a straight face, explaining they needed to chat. Ganne asked if Rudolph was ill.
“You are going to qualify for the U.S. Open this year, so everything we do from this point on, we’re going to practice and play and be prepared for the U.S. Open,” Rudolph said.
“Okay, weirdo,” Ganne replied, but she did it on April 23, beating a field that included eight professionals.
Ganne and Rudolph’s relationship is sisterly. Rudolph regularly shares meals at the Ganne house and the two play matches together nearly every day. Rudolph (nee Brenny) is a native Minnesotan and former state amateur champion who played college golf at Wake Forest.
“We played every day last week, so we just really try to play a lot of golf and get into a lot of matches – pressure situations and stuff like that,” Rudolph said.
Ganne most often plays out of Weequahic Park Golf Club, home base for the First Tee. It's a place that, as Rudolph said, is “just crawling with kids.” Course access is key for this to all work.
The First Tee of Metropolitan New York operates year-round. Etiquette and life skills are a big part of the nationwide mission, but in the Met section, students become golfers. The No. 1 goal is to sign up a child for a seven-week session, not a one-time visit. Most sessions have roughly 100 kids. They meet formally on Sundays and can return as often as they’d like, Monday through Thursday.
“I keep thinking at some point, I’m probably going to have to move on from this,” Ganne said with a tinge of sadness. Everyone involved in the First Tee feels like family.
Watching the Women’s Am telecast from home in New Jersey, Rudolph is cued into body language. She can tell what her student is thinking simply by the way she walks. She has worked to pump Ganne full of confidence. At this level, every player is accomplished and every player has a story.
“You’ve surpassed the level now where you can be intimidated by anymore,” Rudolph told her. “Otherwise, it’s going to be debilitating.”
First Tee friends watch Ganne compete
Ganne certainly has a story of her own. At this late stage of the Women’s Amateur, she’s the high schooler among three proven Pac-12 college players. Attaining her goal of qualifying for the Women’s Open was a mental turning point and Rudolph was careful to frame it as such. Ganne has exceeded the mindset of “I’m happy to be here.” Rudolph doesn't see any of that in her player at Old Waverly.
Women’s golf skews young, so no one is turning a head toward Ganne because she’s 15. She doesn’t think about it either.
“I know that I’m one of the younger players, but I don’t think anybody there really thinks about that at all,” she said of the Women’s Am field. “Everyone who’s there deserves to be there, no matter if you’re 35 or 15. It really doesn’t matter as much as you think from a player standpoint.”
By contrast, two years ago as a 13-year-old, Ganne was “just trying to keep my head on my neck” in her Women’s Am debut. A first experience is difficult that way.
After this semifinal run – plus whatever follows this weekend – it’s going to be difficult to remain under the radar. That’s good and bad. Ganne’s World ranking, currently in the 500s, will likely skyrocket. That’s important because in 2020, she’d like to return to Augusta National Golf Club not for the Drive, Chip and Putt finals (she’s done that four times), but for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Automatic selections go to the top 30 Americans in the ranking.
“It hasn’t come as a shock to me that I am at this stage,” Ganne said. “I know that it was bound to happen because I’ve been doing everything I’ve had to do. I just believed that I could do it.”
Belief, as Rudolph has preached, is a powerful thing.