Golf

UAlbany golf coach’s U.S. Open gamble pays off

Read more at www.timesunion.com

The 75th U.S. Women’s Open golf championship is being played in Texas this week, the final major on the reshuffled LPGA schedule.

It’s a remarkable achievement both in the historic significance of the U.S. championship and the tour organizers’ determination to complete the 2020 schedule. The LPGA quickly adopted and continued to evolve COVID-19 guidelines that have been proven successful in allowing players to compete professionally while also keeping participants and organizers and their families safe.

The event is the oldest of the five majors on the LPGA schedule — the only tournament recognized as a major LPGA event since the group’s founding in 1950.

Colleen Cashman-McSween, coach of the University at Albany women’s golf team, has compelling and entertaining stories to tell about her two U.S. Open appearances. Her first U.S. Open experience is an example of taking a gamble and that risk paying off.

In 2002, Cashman was 25 and in her fifth season on the Futures Tour — the road to the LPGA now known as the Symetra Tour — when she earned the distinction of first alternate for the U.S. Open. She barely missed out on qualifying outright in a Florida playoff. The championship was being held at Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Kan. She was on tour in Ann Arbor, Mich. The week before the tournament, no one had dropped out.

“I can remember having a conversation with my mom, because I didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Cashman said. “I had to figure out how to get from Ann Arbor to Kansas on my own dime. My mom said, ‘You know what, this is like once in a lifetime, you might as well go do it. We’ll figure out something.’ ”

So she bought a last-minute $400 plane ticket, rented a car in Kansas and arrived for the practice rounds of the U.S. Open, hoping that someone else’s misfortune would turn into her opportunity. Because she was an alternate, Cashman-McSween wasn’t allowed to practice on the course but walked it with friends who were playing.

“I was allowed to hit range balls during the whole time, so I did that quite a bit,” she said.

The night before the tournament, her boyfriend surprised her by booking a flight to Kansas. She remembers picking him up at the airport knowing she might not even get a chance to play.

“So the morning of the first round I had to be there at the first tee waiting to see if someone withdrew,” she said. “I think tee times started around 7 a.m., and then at around 9:30 I saw a USGA official walking toward me, and she had a big smile on her face and she said, ‘You’re in.’ ”

She took the place of Saratoga Springs’ Dottie Pepper, who withdrew because of an injury. According to a U.S. Open Magazine article Cashman-McSween has framed, Pepper had been out that season because of a posterior labrum tear and had arthroscopic surgery March 1. Pepper had returned to the tour just one week earlier after rehabbing in an attempt to play in the U.S. Open — held in early July — but she was forced to withdraw.

Cashman had a 1:46 p.m. tee time. Her boyfriend and future husband, Dave McSween, would be her caddy. After practice and lunch, she headed to the first tee, which was crowded with people. She wasn’t nervous — not yet anyway. Her threesome would include Danielle Ammaccapane, a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour out of Babylon in Suffolk County, and LPGA veteran Kimberly Williams.

“As we all gathered at the first tee, I could literally hear all the wives yelling at their husbands that this wasn’t Dottie Pepper’s group,” Cashman-McSween said. “It was funny. I remember looking at my boyfriend and saying, ‘This is going to be a long day.’ ”

Nerves caught up with her when she realized she would be the first of the group to tee off. People were still grumbling in the gallery. Things went blurry when she teed up the ball. She took a few practice swings and remembers striking the ball — something she’s done thousands and thousands of times. She asked McSween where it went. Right down the middle, he told her.

“I was fine after that,” she said.

She had a terrific start. She was featured on the television broadcast when she carded three birdies after 10 holes. On hole 12 she saw her name at the top of the leaderboard but struggled back into the clubhouse with a 75. The next day she made three doubles for an 82. She didn’t make the cut. But full of confidence, she went on to get a third-place finish the following week on the Futures Tour. It was the experience of a lifetime.

“I can say that my name was at the top of the leaderboard for the U.S. Open,” Cashman said. “I got back to the car and pulled my phone out of the bag and had 43 missed calls and I don’t know how many text messages. But they had all seen the broadcast, everybody from my golf course friends to my family and my friends had seen me on TV.”

The Florida native returned to play in the U.S. Open in 2006. This time she had the true experience of a lifetime with all the perks:  swag, a courtesy car and this time a practice round on a pristine and typically challenging U.S. Open course with fast greens and high rough. When she was on the driving range at Newport Country Club in Rhode Island, Pepper was there, covering the event as a broadcaster.

“She came up to me and we did an interview about the 2002 U.S. Open and me replacing her,” Cashman-McSween said. “We got a good laugh out of it. Everytime I see her I bring it up.”

Before beginning her coaching career, Cashman-McSween played in more than 100 professional golf tournaments as part of the Futures. She played in Albany and continues to play annually at the Symetra with a sponsor’s exemption. She made the cut in nearly 80 percent of her events, she posted nine top-10 finishes, and won the 2003 Tampa Bay Next Generation Futures Golf Classic.

Cashman-McSween said she played with “everybody through the years. I’ve played with Annika (Sörenstam), I’ve played with Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer. I have to say my favorite player is Meg Mallon. She took me under her wing when I got to meet her. She was always willing to help me with any questions I had when I was out on the tour.”

It is those experiences as a golf professional that help make Cashman-McSween a success in recruiting and coaching at the collegiate level. At UAlbany, she is a three-time MAAC Coach of the Year who has led UAlbany to three MAAC titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Her team was able to practice for about three weeks in the fall before a Covid-19 shutdown of athletics at UAlbany.

“They cancelled the fall season as far as traveling before we ever got started,” she said.

College golf traditionally includes both fall and spring play, and colleges in the south played in the fall, something that was hard to swallow for the team at UAlbany. Golf by its very nature — outdoors and spread apart — is a low-risk sport.

“I’ve been told that as long as the MAAC doesn’t change its rules, we are looking forward to having the season in the spring,” she said.

Meanwhile, she has another promising team that includes players from Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines. Two of her players weren’t able to get their Visas to travel to the United States in the fall. But paperwork, schedules and team preparations are in place for the spring.

“We have to do our Zoom meetings at 9 p.m. to consider all the time zones we have,” Cashman-McSween joked about her virtual team meetings.

“It’s been a challenge for sure,” she said, noting that much of her time is spent recruiting players. She has built a program for players that includes a good chance to win a league championship and compete in the NCAAs year after year.

Cashman-McSween is all about creating opportunities, accepting challenges and getting the most out of a situation.

[email protected] • @joyceb10bassett • https://blog.timesunion.com/allin

#womenworthwatching

• Supporting women’s programs: As a followup to last week’s All In column, Siena College’s Saints Alive page  sienasaints.com/sports/saints-alive allows donors to direct donations to specific programs. UAlbany has a similar website, www.Albany.edu/giving/athletics. The Capital District Sports Women of the Year program honors outstanding high school and college female student-athletes for excellence in academics, athletics and community service.  It also provides donations to charity. Go to cdswoy.com for more information on how to support that worthwhile program.
• Sponsor: This column is sponsored by Times Union [email protected], the Capital Region’s network of business and professional women. Join today at: https://womenatworkny.com

Read more at www.timesunion.com

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button