Kid Fairway: Cathrea on par with golf's best
The fanfare isn't uncommon.
Players stop on adjacent fairways to watch her short game. Others will gather at the driving range to watch her monstrous tee-shots soar.
Even Ben Crenshaw, a professional golfer of 29 years and two-time winner of the Masters, will take a second to witness the amazing.
All of this isn't uncommon if, lets say, you're talking about Michelle Wie (golf's next big thing) or Annika Sorrenstam (golf's current queen of the links).
What is uncommon is that the buzz isn't being created by either Wie or Sorrenstam.
The buzz surrounds one 8-year-old girl, Manteca's own Casie Cathrea -- quite possibly the sports' next must-see player.
She stands as tall as Wie's driver. She's younger than soccer's Freddy Adu, and The Golf Channel even dubbed her swing the future of American golf during a precursor to the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields.
It's safe to say this fourth grader at McParland Elementary School, has captivated the golf circuit, including one of its senior members.
"When she stood up and took a cut at that ball, I was really impressed. It was fun to watch," Crenshaw said of their chance meeting in Napa, where Cathrea found the fairway twice with his driver.
"She stood up to the ball correctly. She took a beautiful cut at it. I would hate to see what she can do with a club that can fit her."
A Year to Remember
Crenshaw should take notice -- the junior circuit sure has.
Cathrea has made quite an impression on the junior circuit since picking up a golf club for the first time in 2001.
In December 2003, she unofficially laid claim to the distinction as one of the best young American golfers, with two top-10 finishes in international play.
She finished fourth in her age group at the Doral Publix Links Junior Classic Tournament in Miami and then went on to place seventh at the U.S. Kids World Championships (8-and-under) in Virginia.
In June, she one-upped her performance at the 2004 U.S. Kids with a fifth place finish. Her 4-under 32 during the Northern California Championships at Shoreline Golf Links in Mountain View was the lowest qualifying mark in the nation.
"Competing against the other kids has been my priority," Cathrea said. "I like competing against the other kids and trying to do my best."
Her best has been good enough for four first-place finishes in 2004.
In June, she captured the Junior Golf Association Northern California' Salinas Little Peoples Championship with a 6-under 66.
She later won the Corena Green Classic in San Mateo with an even-par 36 and the Las Positas Junior Golf Championship with an 11-0 record.
Along with instructor David Balbi, she also took top honors at the Ty Caplin Memorial in Stockton by 20 strokes.
"(Cathrea is unlike) any one I've worked with or I've seen," Balbi said. "I've never seen a junior golfer -- boy or girl -- that is as good as she is."
Swinging into the future
It hasn't always been easy for Cathrea, who first started playing at Livermore's Tri-Valley Golf Center in 2001 with her father, Harry Cathrea.
Being an 8 year old, it seems, has been her biggest challenge.
Twice Cathrea broke her right elbow swinging on the monkey bars apparatus at school, once in 2001 and again in 2002.
Both times, the injuries sidelined her for more than six months.
Her father thought she might never pick up a set of clubs again, but after each accident, she came back stronger -- both physically and mentally.
"Absolutely not," Harry Cathrea said. "I thought she was finished. I would have bet money she was finished.
"But she likes to play golf. She likes to putt. She likes to chip," he added. "She's always worked that hard. It's always been that way."
Cathrea shared her father's sentiments.
It wasn't a question of if, but matter of when for Cathrea.
"Yes," Cathrea said matter-of-factly when asked if she knew she would play again after her injuries.
But hard work alone wasn't enough.
(She begins each round by hitting 150 balls at the range and finishes each round with 150 balls.)
Cathrea's game slowly stalled out under the guidance of her first two coaches, John Joseph and Lisa Educate.
Enter Balbi, owner of Balbi Golf and Perpetual Golf.
Balbi, whose indoor training facilities in San Carlos, Fresno and Sunnyvale use state-of-the-art equipment, has watched Cathrea blossom under his wing.
"She was very good, but she's improved dramatically," said Balbi, who began coaching Cathrea in January.
"She had instruction before, but because of the accuracy of the diagnostic tools I use, I was able to pick up on things in her swing that hadn't been picked up before."
With the aid of 3-D motion analysis and digital video, Balbi has been able to dissect Cathrea's already good swing.
He found that she didn't have fluid balance.
"It's been good," Cathrea said. "Whatever he says to do, I can do and I understand him."
The adjustments have made her the toast of tournaments and the subject of gallery gab.
"The difference between Casie and other kids is her level of focus in golf," Balbi said. "If she stays committed over the next 10 years, she will be world class.
"She will win at the highest level."
Crenshaw can hardly wait. Maybe the next time they meet, he'll ask to use her driver instead.
"She is exceptional," Crenshaw said. "She just has to continue to find ways to make the game interesting ... But she'll be just fine."
By JAMES BURNS
Staff reporter of the
Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin
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