Gulugian gets ready for Open debut

For Ani Gulugian, the third time is a charm.

Twice the 17-year-old has played her way to U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying only to come up short.

Last month, however, Gulugian battled back from a bogey-bogey finish to a first-round 74, carded a second-round 73 and tied for fourth at the qualifier at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz, Calif.

“I feel like my swing is in the right place, I’ve been working really hard on it with my coach,” Gulugian said. “… My putting feels really good, and all around it just feels good.”

Though “stoked” to play in her first LPGA event, not to mention one she’s had her sights set on for so long, Gulugian won’t be basking in Open glory at Saucon Valley Country Club this week.

The Californian recognizes that she’s got to play her own game to make a good showing in what she hopes is only the beginning of a future career. The rising senior at University High School in Irvine, Calif., has verbally committed to UCLA for fall 2010, and isn’t bashful in stating future plans that involve playing professionally.

Nor is Gulugian reserved in her expectations of her game. The AJGA star, who is No. 17 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, already has three AJGA wins and six more top-10s to her credit.

Her toughness shows when she recounts with a laugh her win at the 2008 Dalhousie Junior Championship in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where the week started with her shoulder in a sling following an injury on a virtual rollercoaster. Gulugian had won the Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship the week before and while still in Missouri, decided she might as well enter the Dalhousie, even if it did require impromptu shoulder rehab.

Gulugian carded a shaky 78 the first day, before rallying to shave 10 strokes and fire back-to-back 68s. She beat the second-place finisher by eight.

“My dad asked if I wanted to go home but I thought I could do better,” Gulugian said of a conversation with her father John after that first round.

When it comes to Gulugian’s game, she admits she’s not an extremely long hitter, but relies on consistency in every aspect of her game.

“I usually hit it down the middle of the fairway and then hit it on the green and if it’s not on the green then I usually get up-and-down pretty well,” she said.

As one of 30 amateurs in the field at Saucon Valley Country Club this week, Gulugian is the second-highest Rolex Tournament of Champions finisher at the Open. Gulugian finished in third place; Rolex champion Victoria Tanco is at Saucon Valley as well, playing in her second Open. Gulugian carded 18 birdies at the Rolex on her way to 3-under 285 (70-72-72-71).

“It was like I could have won and I should have won, but just stupid stuff – mental mistakes that shouldn’t have been made were made,” she said.

Gulugian is all business when it comes to the task ahead of her. She put in workouts and range sessions in the offseason, and has figured out that in order to stay mentally sharp she needs to take her mind off the game when she steps off the course. Couple Gulugian’s consistency with a hot putter and the right thinking, and her game can get pretty lethal.

“I like the way that I’m thinking right now – just being clear with my thinking. I really feel like my game is right there.”

Gulugian is paired with Hannah Jun of San Diego, Calif., and Cindy Lacrosse of Tampa, Fla., for the first and second rounds of play at the U.S. Open.

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THE STUFF OF LEGENDS: Jordan Spieth, No. 1 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, separated himself from the pack at last week’s HP Byron Nelson Junior on the Texas Legends Tour. His 10-under 203 total at Lakewood Country Club in Dallas gave him an 11-shot victory and set the tournament 54-hole record. He had a course-record 62 in the second round.

This is the second HP Byron Nelson title Spieth has collected in as many years, and it joins his three AJGA titles. The 15-year-old from Dallas will carry the momentum from his commanding win into the U.S. Junior Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., where play begins July 20.

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ROAD TO ARKANSAS: Josh Eure is putting some finishing touches on his junior golf resume before starting his college career later this year. The 18-year-old, who is set to play for NCAA runner-up Arkansas this fall, won the Maryland Junior Championship by seven strokes last week, and became the first golfer to put together a three-peat in the tournament’s history.

Eure benefited from a new rule put into effect by the Maryland Golf Association that extended junior eligibility to 18-year-olds that had not yet entered college or technical school. This year’s Junior Championship was the first tournament played since the rule went into effect.

Eure, of Crofton, Md., also won the 2008 Golfweek Junior Invitational in October. He beat Anthony Aicher of Wausau, Wis., by two with his 8-under 205 (65-67-73).

In other good news for the Razorbacks, the women’s program received verbal commitments this week from Alexandra Stewart of Peoria, Ariz., and Emily Tubert of Burbank, Calif., for the 2010 season. Stewart is No. 3 in the Class of 2010, while Tubert is No. 21.

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