California's Gulugian cards straight title

Friday, August 15, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ Jordan McLaurin cheered his ball toward the 18th hole on a dramatic pitch shot that closed out his victory Thursday at the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Championship. McLaurin chose a unique route as he sent his ball up the green's steep embankment and let it trickle down to the cup.

Ani Gulugian couldn't even move her right arm without pain this past weekend.

By Thursday, the 16-year-old Gulugian was using the arm to lift the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge —— a replica, that is.

The bridge was part of the trophy she had won, and partly symbolic of some of the adversity she had to cross in winning the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Championship.

The end of a six-week journey from her Irvine, Calif., home ended with her second straight 68 at the formidable par-72 Dalhousie Golf Club and her second straight AJGA title.

After setting the women's competition course record Wednesday for a two-stroke lead over 14-year-old Lauren Salazar of Santa Clara, Calif., she pulled away in Thursday's final round for an eight-stroke victory in the 39-player event.

Salazar shot her third consecutive 74 to finish second, her best AJGA finish. Bonnie Hu, 16, of Freemont, Calif., who also played in the final group, lost 10 strokes to the leader on the day, but finished third, 14 strokes behind.

Gulugian's final two rounds were part of her more consistent encounters into the 60s, which she credits to better distance control on her approach shots, improved putting and maturity. She has had a lot of junior success, which includes the California Junior State Amateur in 2006, but she likes the current state of her game.

KIT DOYLE ~ Ani Gulugian, right, of California showed her Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge trophy to one of her fellow competitors after winning the girls AJGA Dalhousie Junior Championship.

"I think mentally I'm tougher," Gulugian said. "I've learned a lot from playing with better players in USGA events. It helped out a lot. I'm a lot more confident."

The junior-to-be had to call on that toughness and confidence this past week.

Gulugian received a trophy last week in Springfield, Mo., after bettering a field of 23 by seven strokes at the Bass Pro/Payne Stewart Junior Tournament.

All was going well on her six-week trip with her father, John, that included a team victory in Calgary, Alberta, as well as a tournament stop in Hartford, Conn., and an AJGA event in Philadelphia. But pain arose in her shoulder Friday as she practiced shots.

KIT DOYLE ~ Completing the AJGA Dalhousie Junior Championship scoreboard Thursday, August 14, 208, in Cape Girardeau.

"All of a sudden my arm started hurting, and as it progressed, it started hurting more and more, and it got to the point where I couldn't even move it," Gulugian said.

Her stay in Cape Girardeau started with visits to a local chiropractor on three consecutive days.

She has had neck problems in the past, but never with the arm pain that accompanied this bout.

By Monday, with her final chiropractor visit and the help of an electrical massage stimulator she had borrowed, she began to turn the corner.

"I don't like to give up," Gulugian said. "I've never withdrawn from a tournament. I was caught between whether I should do that or not. It hurt so bad I didn't know if I should risk it, but after talking to the medical guy here, he said you couldn't hurt it any more than it already is. I figured this was my last tournament, and then I'm going home."

She played in Tuesday's first round, but no chiropractor could help her with the next pain in the neck. She triple-bogeyed her first hole and played the first round at 6-over-par 78.

"I don't ever give up," Gulugian said. "It was upsetting, but I thought, if I just stayed patient over the next couple of days, I'd be OK."

Hu had played in only two previous AJGA events — she finished second in both by a stroke — but was familiar with Gulugian and even commented to her own mother that she was surprised by the score.

"I knew she was really good," Hu said.

Gulugian, gaining her health and a feel for the course, verified Hu's notion Wednesday. Beginning the day tied for 11th and seven shots off the lead, Gulugian began her run to the title.

She played the next 36 holes at 8-under par, which included only one bogey and nine birdies.

She only had to scramble for par twice in Thursday's bogey-free round, hitting all but one fairway off the tee and 16 greens in regulation. Her longest par putt was about 4 feet.

Her display of precision included a tee shot within 2 feet on the 144-yard par-3 13th. Her birdie putt pushed her lead to five shots over Salazar.

Salazar had missed a short par putt on her first hole of the day to fall three behind.

"I was a little worried after that putt," Salazar said. "I thought, 'Stay focused,' and I did."

She later countered two Gulugian birdies at Nos. 4 and 6 with birdies of her own on Nos. 8 and 9 to remain three shots back at the turn.

"Lauren kept me awake all day," Gulugian said. "She didn't let me make any mistakes."

Gulugian added five strokes to her lead with a 34 on the back nine.

"She's definitely improved," said Salazar, who has encountered Gulugian numerous times in junior play in California over the past five years. "She's always been a good player. When we were younger, when I was 9, she was 11. I always looked up to her — she was a big girl."

And now she's growing.

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