National Finalists Draw on Family and Familiarity at Chambers Bay

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Kasey Maralack looked at the results board, smiled widely and turned to embrace her father.

She is going back to Augusta National Golf Club.

For the fourth and final time, Maralack, of Snoqualmie, Wash., felt the rush of winning a Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier. At Chambers Bay Golf Club on Sunday, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, Maralack topped the Girls 14-15 division.

"I'm really excited to be going back for a third year in a row," said Maralack, who first qualified as a 9-year-old. "It's a really great experience there."

Sunday began cool and overcast, but by midday ­– with the occasional train rumbling past and several flocks of geese honking overhead before landing in the nearby water – the sun had warmed the temperature to a comfortable 72 degrees. The day had turned cold again by the time the final division was decided.

While Maralack remained calm and consistent throughout the competition, that wasn't the case for her father David.

"It's so nerve wracking," he said. "It's like winning the lottery every time. All of these girls are so good and can win this thing. It's just putting it all together at the same time."

Maralack placed second in each category to finish with 148 points, eight better than both Riley Yang of San Jose, Calif., and Saanvi Kotti, of Folsom, Calif.

"I try not to focus on what could happen, and just take it one shot at a time," Maralack said. "You can't overthink in this sport or you'll be in trouble."

Maralack wasn't the only player who earned a return trip to the hallowed home of the Masters Tournament.

Howard Shu, of Saratoga, Calif., won the Boys 14-15 division to earn his second trip to Augusta.

Shu fought off shaky hands and nerves over his final putt to earn a place in the National Finals for the first time since 2017. His past success should come in handy next spring.

"It's really helpful when you've experienced it before," he said.

Shu scored 55 points to top the drive skill competition and was consistent across all three skills tests. He was the only player on Sunday to score at least 50 points in every category, and that helped him stave off a charge from Canadian Stewart Walker on the putting green.

“I was shaking a little bit on the putts,” Shu said. “I just try to think about every shot like it’s the same.”

Walker, of Whistler, British Columbia, sank his first two putts, but Shu won when his final putt came to rest within a foot of the hole.

"I'm proud of myself for getting it close," he said. "I knew I had to have a good 30-footer to win."

Shu notched the first victory in what turned out to be a great day for players who traveled north from California. Five of the eight qualifiers at Chambers Bay call the Golden State home.

Loden Chen of Palo Alto, Calif., winner of the Boys 7-9 division, and Brady Barrington of Kingsburg, Calif., winner of the Boys 10-11 division, also fell into that category. Kate Ly represented Portland, Ore., in winning the Girls 10-11 division.

The only perfect score of the day came from Katelyn Chang of San Jose, Calif. She sank putts of three, 15 and 30 feet for the maximum 75 points in the putting skills competition. That lifted her from a tie for fourth all the way to the top of the Girls 12-13 division.

“I didn’t really think I had a shot [to win the division], so I just wanted to make all the putts,” she said. “I’m really excited.”

Ethan Lien, of Cupertino, Calif., placed in the top two in every category of the Boys 12-13 division to punch his ticket to Augusta. Winning his division was especially sweet for Lien because his friend, Aiden Tiet of Pleasanton, Calif., finished third.

The pair shared smiles, handshakes and hugs while heading to the awards ceremony.

“It’s going to be pretty special for him, I know,” said Tiet, who qualified for the 2019 National Finals.

Lien was meticulous in his putting, taking extra time to measure and line up his shot. That attention to detail helped him finish tied for second in that category and win the division by 10 points.

“It felt like winning the Masters,” he said.

That feeling of pure joy also shone on the face of Frank Zhang, who taught his 8-year-old granddaughter Anna Wu how to play golf. Zhang, standing with several family members who made the trip from Victoria, British Columbia, wiped away tears of happiness when the results were posted in the Girls 7-9 division.

“We practice almost every day,” he said. “Even in the winter, we practice in the garage.”

While her family members beamed with pride, Wu admitted that she was so jittery she nearly cried while putting.

“Competition makes me really, really nervous,” she said.

Despite the nerves, Wu fared well, placing second in driving and chipping and tied for second in putting to win her division.

“This is very, very special for us,” Zhang said.

More special, perhaps, because it was a day the family shared.