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Mountain Falls hosts USGA four-ball qualifiers

Word about Mountain Falls Golf Club is starting to spread, and after last week news of the course will have reached Taiwan.

Huai-Chien Hsu and Chun-Wei Wu, two teenagers from the island, won the United States Golf Association U.S. Women’s Four Ball Qualifier on Wednesday, firing a 7-under 65 to finish 1-shot ahead of twin 15-year-olds Jasmine and Janae Leovao of Oceanside, California.

As the top two teams in the qualifier, all four will head to Naples, Florida, to compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Quail Creek Country Club.

Hsu, 16, and Wu, 15, said they have been playing golf for seven years and always train together, and being in Southern Nevada is nothing new to them.

“We often come to Las Vegas to play USGA qualifiers,” Wu said.

The pair was steady throughout the round, going 4-under par on the front nine and 3-under par on the back nine. On only one hole, the par-4 16th, did neither of them manage at least par, with Hsu’s 5 counting for the team. Wu did much of the heavy lifting, accounting for five of their eight birdies.

“I think I putted very well, but Hsu helps me read greens,” Wu said.

“We like playing teams,” Hsu said. “My putting is better than when I just play alone.”

Despite the strong score, they were not confident when they headed into the Grill Room at Mountain Falls to turn in their scorecards.

“When we ended, we thought that maybe someone will play better than us, so we were very worried about that,” Hsu admitted.

Such fears were unfounded, as only two pairs were within 4 strokes of them, with the Leovao sisters edging Laney Frye and Rylea Marcum by 1 shot for the second qualifying spot from the field of 22.

“It was funny,” Janae Leovao said. “I was staying consistent while she was blowing up on some holes, making eagles and birdies, and then I saved her on quadruple bogeys and double bogeys.”

Jasmine admitted that was true: “She played consistent golf and I played crazy golf,” she said.

Southern California does not lack for courses to qualify for USGA events, but for the Leovaos, school had to come first.

“There was one near us, but it was during school, and we have a week break right now,” Janae Leovao said, noting the qualifier at Mountain Falls fell during the Presidents Day holiday. “We thought it would be smarter to focus on school and then play here.”

The twins made it worth the trip, especially after Jasmine Leovao’s eagle on the par-5 11th hole pushed them to 4-under par. That was part of one of her stretches of “crazy golf,” with a bogey on 10, the eagle, a birdie on 12 and a bogey on 13. But Janae parred all four holes, ensuring the duo would keep Jasmine’s good holes and discard the bad ones.

“That’s a good team,” Jasmine Leovao said.

Another birdie by Jasmine on No. 16 pushed the Leovaos 1 stroke ahead of Frye and Marcum, who finished third with a 67. Veronica Joels and Gracie Olkowski shot 70 and won a playoff to become the second alternates.

Neither Ryan Terry nor Blanton Farmer live close to Pahrump, but just as for other golfers, the men’s four-ball qualifier at Mountain Falls worked best for them.

“We were just looking for a place we could go and play against some different guys and have a fun trip out of it,” said Terry, 27, a Tennessee native who teamed with Farmer to fire a 7-under 65 to win medalist honors. “It’s a little bit warmer here than Nashville this time of year, and it just worked out with both of our schedules.

“I used to play professionally, so it’s nice getting back into the amateur scene with my boy here,” said Farmer, 29, a Kentuckian who met Terry when they were students at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. “It’s a good change back, now that I’m working and not playing.”

The duo started well, with Farmer making birdie on No. 1 and Terry following suit on No. 3, but the rest of the front nine was a mixed bag for them, and they made the turn at 2-under.

“We felt like we left a few out there, but on the back nine we finally got some momentum,” said Terry, who said they have played other qualifiers but not four-ball. “We just stayed patient. We didn’t get off to as good of a start as we wanted to.”

They heated up on the back nine, with Terry carding a birdie on the par-3 17th and Farmer making birdies on Nos. 10, 13, 15 and 16.

“I hit some good wedge shots, kept my driver straight,” Farmer said. “We were just trying to feed off of each other. He’d make a 20-foot putt, and it was like, we still have a shot at this thing. We honestly thought there was no way we were going to make it through today. We definitely didn’t think we were going to be medalists.”

“This is the first time we’ve made it through,” Terry said.

But medalists they were, finishing one shot ahead of Ryan Faust and Michael McLoughlin and Britton Henel and Cameron McCloskey. Faust and McLoughlin won a playoff to join Terry and Farmer in beating out 68 other golfers and earning a place in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Tournament on May 22-27 at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

All of the golfers had praise for the course at Mountain Falls, hosting its first USGA qualifying event.

“The course is great, just firm enough, just fast enough to make you think about each shot, but not so tough that you couldn’t make some birdies if you hit good shots,” Terry said.

“I thought it was in really good shape,” Blanton added. “The greens were good and, you couldn’t ask for better conditions.”

Janae Leovao was surprised when she first saw the course.

“Driving out here was all desert,” she said. “We didn’t expect this to be a lot of grass. It’s really pretty.”

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