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The Loop

The Loop

School daze for trio reaching Women's Am's Sweet 16

August 11, 2011

__BARRINGTON, R.I.—__Want to know the secret to playing well at the U.S. Women's Amateur?

How about be attending summer school.

OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly hasn't hurt a trio of college players who finished off their second-round opponents Thursday morning at Rhode Island CC and prepare to play their third-round matches in the afternoon.

UCLA's__Tiffany Lua__ missed a quiz in a psychology class today back in Los Angeles, but was psyched to have defeated 13-year-old Mackenzie Brooke Henderson, 3 and 2. (Pardon the pun; those were Lua's words actually.) The Bruin junior-to-be never trailed in the match, taking the lead on the second hole and cruising with three birdies and three bogeys on the day.

It wasn't that long ago that Lua was the young darling of women's golf. Of course, she's hardly ancient at age 20, but considering that 23 of the 32 players advancing to the second round of match play at RICC are teenagers, she is closer to joining AARP than almost anyone else playing.

"Pretty much you assume everybody is 13 or 15," Lua said about the feeling of playing a 13-year-old. "I don't even bother asking any more. It only makes me feel worse."

What Lua has on most of her competition is the edge of experience, having played in 21 previous USGA events, including the U.S. Women's Open and the Curtis Cup. Lua has never failed to make match play in a USGA individual championship she has competed in, putting together a 22-17 overall record. (She'll have that tested Thursday afternoon when she competes against UCLA teammate Stephanie Kono.)

Alabama's Brooke Pancake, a 2-and-1 winner over__Elyse Smidinger__ in the second round, says she's feeling comfortable again after having played in only one tournament this summer, the Tennessee Open. Instead of competing this summer, Pancake has been taking classes in Tuscaloosa in order to lighten the load during her senior year with the Crimson Tide.

"I did it looking to the future," said Pancake, a first-team All-American last season as well as the winner of the Edith Cummings Munson Golf Award, a national honor based on academics and athletics. "I kind of wished I kept playing and tried to qualify for the U.S. Open. That would have been an incredible experience. But I'm going to make it easier for myself and hopefully it will pay off during the season."

At least Lua and Pancake have played some competition this summer. LSU's Austin Ernst hadn't played in a tournament since her impressive victory at the NCAA Championship in May, deciding also to take classes back in Baton Rouge.

"I really wanted to play because I was playing well," Ernst said. "I always played a lot of summer golf. So it's been a lot different. I can't remember last time I did this. It was nice [to have the down time], but the school part was not nice. I did not like summer school. But I needed to do it at some point.

Ernst said she had to knock off some competitive rust early in the week, but she managed to beat Stanford's Sally Watson in the first round then take out Michelle Piyapattra in the second.

"I didn't get as much practice in as I would have," Ernst said of the real difference she's experienced by taking some time off from the game. "Normally that's all I'd be doing in the summer."