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County : GOLF / PETER YOON

Southern Section Has Finally Found Fairway

September 11, 1998|PETER YOON

First they said not enough girls would play. Then they said it wouldn't be competitive. After that, they said not enough schools would field teams.

Proven wrong on each count, the Southern Section ran out of excuses last winter and voted to sanction girls' golf as an interscholastic sport.

Thursday, the first all-girls' teams from coed schools took to the links in a landmark move that was a long time coming.

"We could see this coming the last three years," Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley said. "There have been an increasingly large number of girls on the coed teams in the spring. There's a lot of interest out there."

More than 100 Southern Section schools will field girls' teams this fall, exceeding the 70 to 80 teams that section officials expected. Crowley received calls from several schools this week wanting to start teams.

La Reina and Louisville highs, all-girls' schools in the region, have been instrumental in the crusade to sanction girls' golf.

Both schools formed teams in 1996 and played unofficial matches. They joined leagues--La Reina the Tri-Valley and Louisville the Mission--in 1997 and played full league schedules against the boys.

Forced by Southern Section rules to play from the men's tees against boys' teams, La Reina and Louisville did not fare well.

"It was hard to get girls' golf sanctioned," La Reina Coach Geoff Marshall said. "A lot of schools had trepidation that there wouldn't be enough players. But they didn't realize that if they got the opportunity, they would play."

Now playing from the ladies' tees and with two years of experience playing against the boys, La Reina and Louisville are expected to excel in the all-girls format.

Making girls' golf a sport makes sense, considering golf is one of a handful of women's professional sports.

Some of the most popular high school sports for girls--softball, volleyball and soccer--have virtually no professional opportunities.

In golf, women can move through college and into established professional tours. The pinnacle is the lucrative LPGA Tour, which started in 1950.

The irony is that until now, girls in the golf hotbed of Southern California did not have the opportunity to compete against each other in high school, where many top professionals develop their games.

Girls who wanted to play high school golf had to earn spots on the boys' teams. Only a handful of girls were good enough to play at that level and others, sadly, never tried.

Westlake Coach Dave Costley, who coached USC's Linda Ishii in high school, said intimidation was a factor in girls not trying out for boys' teams.

"There was very little interest from girls before," Costley said. "Only the ones of Linda Ishii quality. Others would come out and see how good the boys were and then they didn't want to stay."

The Southern Section has instituted a clause allowing girls who were good enough to play against the boys to remain on those teams.

Krystal Shearer of Alemany High and Charlene Alfonso of Agoura are among those who have opted to play on boys' teams, skeptical of the competitiveness of girls' golf in its early stages.

"Mentally I can get more out of playing with the guys," Shearer said. "It's more of a challenge, and what fun is golf without the challenge?"

Most girls' teams have full schedules of about 15 matches. Southern Section individual and team championships are set for November.

With so many newcomers playing this season, it is difficult to predict how girls will fare in competition.

"I'm hoping they will shoot about 55 to 60 [over nine holes] in their first match," Costley said.

Team scores will be compiled from the top three players of four. In boys' golf, matches are 18 holes and the top five players of six count toward the score.

But girls will be playing, and in a game that is said to last a lifetime, they couldn't have started too soon.

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