By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
When Megan Khang found out Wednesday night that she was competing not only for the Under 16 Girls’ title — which she had all but secured — but also for the title of Faldo Series Champion, she couldn’t contain her excitement.
Coming off a win in the Ping Invitational earlier this month, the Rockland, Mass., native, who turned 16 this week, has played in the U.S. Women’s Open and is ranked No. 3 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, but competing against the boys at the Faldo Series Grand Final on the Old White TPC at The Greenbrier was something unique.
“She didn’t know, and she was so pumped that she was playing with the boys,” said Sir Nick Faldo, the six-time Major Championship winner who brought his series to the United States for the first time. “We were happy to shake (the boys) up a little.”
Khang did more than just shake them up. Her three birdies Wednesday playing in snow and frigid October temperatures allowed her to finish the final round with a 1-under-par 69 on the home course of The Greenbrier Classic. That was good enough for a score of even-par for the tournament and two-shots better than Paul Kinnear, the overnight leader who finished with a 2-over-par 212 for the tournament.
“I did not know I was the first girl winner until I reached the green,” said Khang, who made history with her win. “I knew about Yani Tseng (playing in the Faldo Series) but thought she must have won the whole thing. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, to be one of only three American girls competing against all these great players from around the world. It is cool.”
Kinnear of England had an up-and-down round Thursday, mixing five birdies with five bogeys and a double-bogey. He finished two shots ahead of Zachary Bauchou (Forest, Va.), the top U.S. boy, who had the low round of the day with a 68 and finished 4-over for the tournament. Defending champion Jack Singh Brar shot a 78 to finish at 11-over in a tie for 10th.
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The Faldo Series, launched in 1996, includes 40 annual events in 30 different countries across the United Kingdom, Europe, South America, the Middle East, Asia and the United States. More that 7,000 young golfers participate in the series.
Hosted at The Greenbrier for the first time, the Faldo Series Final is in its 17th season. This year’s event included a record 99 players from 19 countries.
Eight Americans were included in the field. Five were selected from the PGA of America and three from the Mountain State qualified as a result of their play in the West Virginia Amateur.
Wheeling’s Thadd Obecny, Spencer’s Camden Moore and Parkersburg’s Adeena Shears were the West Virginia representatives.
“My goal was to bring it to America, and obviously this was my No. 1 choice because of my relationship with The Greenbrier,” said Faldo, who will send the five age-group winners to the Asia grand Final at Mission Hills in China in March. “I came here with CBS (for The Greenbrier Classic), and I fell for a little chunk of West Virginia up on top of a hill. I loved Sam Snead and spent some time with him, and we put everything together.
“I can’t think of a better place to bring kids. They’ll get the word out about The Greenbrier.”
“It’s really great,” added Greenbrier chairman and CEO Jim Justice. “I say it over and over. I can’t tell you how happy we are to be associated with Sir Nick Faldo. There’s not many of him already the world.
“I do love kids, and I love this state beyond good sense. This is just another piece of the journey for The Greenbrier and the things we’re trying to do. We’re trying to bring all the spotlight we can to West Virginia and to our country and to do great things with kids.
“Golf really prepares you for life, and we’re really happy to have these kids here to learn those lessons.”
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The week was not all about competition. There was also plenty of instruction.
Faldo brought in his personal coach, Keith Wood, psychologist Gio Valiante, Justin Rose’s sports psychologist, and former LPGA player and PGA of America Board member Suzy Whaley to work with the participants — as well as golfer from Greenbrier East High School, Greenbrier West High School, Eastern Greenbrier Middle School and Western Greenbrier Middle School — on their games.
“A lot of them think it falls off a tree,” said Faldo. “You have to have a passion for it. You don’t count the hours you put in, and you don’t worry about standing out in the rain and cold because you love it. We have to show them examples of that.”
Whaley came away impressed with the event, but she was most excited about the opportunity it provided for Khang, and the doors that could open for female golfers.
“We’re all just golfers,” she said. “It’s pretty neat to have the inspiration of a junior event. If I were a junior girl, that would be a huge enticement. I don’t know of any other tournaments in America where girls get a chance to play with the boys.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.