A friendship born on the golf course

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead 4-year-old Olivia Sulzer got a chance to meet golf phenom Casie Cathrea at the U.S. Women’s Open.

When Scott Sulzer received tickets to a practice round of the U.S. Women’s Open June 27 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, he figured it would be a great opportunity for his 4-year-old daughter to mingle with some of the top golfers in the world.

As a longtime golfer who caddies at prestigious Friar’s Head in Baiting Hollow, Sulzer knew practice rounds are often the best time to interact with the golfers. And his daughter, Olivia, who was quickly developing a growing admiration for golf, was more than thrilled leading up to the tournament.

“She and I have a thing,” Sulzer said. “I love to play golf and she loves to come with me.”

Father and daughter arrived at the pristine golf course and headed right for the merchandise gate to pick up some items for Olivia to have autographed. Within the first hour, she had about 10 signatures.

They arrived at the eighth hole to find Casie Cathrea, a 17-year-old amateur phenom from California who grew up playing basketball and doing karate before focusing on golf. Cathrea was nearing the end her of practice round and was nearly out of golf balls that she had been handing out to kids. Cathrea saw Olivia and offered her a deal. She told her if she followed her over the next two holes, she’d give her the final golf balls she was using.

Cathrea gave Olivia and her dad passes they could wear to follow her onto the ninth tee.

“I saw that once [Olivia] got onto the tee, it looked like she wanted to play,” Cathrea said. “She walked with us on nine and we started talking a bit and it looked like she was having a lot of fun.”

Sulzer was beaming as he watched his daughter interact with one of golf’s rising stars.

“I was like, man, this is the best-case scenario I could have asked for,” he said.

The two girls hit it off immediately. Cathrea asked Olivia if she wanted to try putting. Olivia replied that she didn’t know how.

Cathrea stood behind the little girl, demonstrating how to swing the club until Olivia sank a putt of her own.

Cathrea tossed Olivia the golf ball and asked her if she was planning on coming back for the tournament. Sulzer explained that they had only planned on attending the practice round.

Without hesitating, Cathrea, who will attend Oklahoma State University this fall, offered them tickets to the first day of the tournament.

Three days later as Cathrea prepared to tee off for the start of the biggest tournament of her career, she spotted Olivia.

“She gave me a little card and it said good luck and had a little Popsicle stick in it,” Cathrea said. “All four days I ended up leaving the Popsicle stick in my yardage book so whenever I opened it, it was sitting right there.”

The good-luck charm served Cathrea well. She wound up making the cut after the first two days, accomplishing the first of her two goals. By the end of the tournament, she had accomplished her other goal as the lowest-scoring amateur in the tournament.

On the final day of the tournament, Cathrea tied for the best score of any golfer with a 2-under-par 70.

She finished the tournament tied for 25th place.

Sulzer texted Cathrea a congratulatory note after the tournament. Cathrea wrote back to tell them how she kept the Popsicle stick with her throughout the tournament.

“What’s so nice is in other sports you don’t see this interaction,” Sulzer said.

When Cathrea spoke with reporters after the tournament, she mentioned how meeting Olivia was one of her biggest highlights.

It reminded her of her own youth, when she was about 8 or 9 and her dad took her to a golf tournament at Silverado Golf Club in Arizona.

Ben Crenshaw was delivering a clinic after the round and kids were taking turns driving the ball. Cathrea’s father nudged her out with the rest of the kids to take a turn. She smoked the ball down the middle of the fairway.

“Ben said, ‘I bet you can’t do that again,’ ” Cathrea recalled.

So, she did it again.

Crenshaw sent Cathrea a package of memorabilia after they met and the two have been close ever since. Two years ago they teamed up at the Nature Valley First Tee Open at the famed Pebble Beach. Playing as a pro/junior team, they shot 22-under-par to win the tournament.

“Ever since then Ben’s been a great mentor to me,” Cathrea said. “I feel like if Ben could do that for me, I could do that for Olivia.”

Cathrea paused for a second when asked what stood out about Olivia.

“It was something about her that just seemed different than everybody else,” she said. “Her and golf just kind of clicked. It’s hard to explain.”

Since the tournament ended two weeks ago, Cathrea has kept in contact with the Sulzers every few days. Cathrea said she hopes to visit them again the next time she’s back on Long Island.

“I know she’s genuine,” Sulzer said. “When I spoke to her on the Fourth of July she said if there’s anything I can do to help Olivia with golf, give me a call.”

Sulzer knows his daughter has a long road ahead if she chooses to pursue golf. But if she does, she’ll undoubtedly have a lifelong mentor and friend in Casie Cathrea.

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