April 28, 2023
SINGAPORE – Nerves have ruined national golfer Hailey Loh’s chances of success not once but twice during tournament play-offs in 2022.
A third attempt, this time at the NCAA Western Athletic Conference Women’s Golf Championship, saw her finally emerging victorious as she beat her rivals to top the 60-strong field at the Semiahmoo Country Club in Blaine, Washington, on Tuesday.
With her triumph, the 20-year-old also made history by becoming the first Singaporean golfer to win an individual title at a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) conference championship.
Loh, who is a junior at California Baptist University, said: “I was hitting fairways and greens in regulation but, honestly, I did not expect to win and I only knew I had the chance to win on the last hole. The best five schools (in the region) competed in this tournament, so I would say it’s pretty big.”
With a three-day overall score of two-over 218, Loh had finished in a four-way tie for first place amid challenging conditions.
Holding her nerve, she drained a 20-footer for birdie on the first play-off hole to force another one after watching Jennifer Herbst – who was from team championship winners Sam Houston State University – sink her birdie putt.
On the second play-off hole, Herbst found the bunker and could only make bogey while Loh made a comfortable par to seal the win.
It was a milestone victory for Loh, who made it third time lucky after losing both of her previous play-offs in 2022. At the May 12-23 Hanoi SEA Games, she lost a bronze-medal decider to the Philippines’ Rianne Mikhaela Malixi Aala in the team event while she was beaten in a play-off for victory at another conference tournament in October.
“I just felt very scared and was honestly dreading the play-offs. After losing both of my previous play-offs, I struggled with performance anxiety,” she said.
“But I kept my composure and at the first play-off hole, I knew I had to make birdie to stay in it.
“It was a 20-footer up the hill and I just gave it all I got… it was the best feeling ever when it went in.
“At the second hole, I faced a downhill slider and knew I just had to two-putt for the win. Those clutch putts felt really good.”
With her victory at the championship – which featured 12 Division 1 teams – Loh qualified for the NCAA regional tournament from May 8 to 10, which is a qualifier for the national championships.
But she will forgo that opportunity so that she can compete at the May 5-17 SEA Games in Cambodia.
In 2022, Loh finished sixth in the individual event in Hanoi and the women’s team narrowly missed out on bronze after losing to the Philippines.
She added: “I made a prior commitment to the national team and I have to prioritise the team ahead of my individual interests. I have unfinished business at the SEA Games.
“Based on last year’s results, I do think I have a decent chance at medalling in the individual event, hopefully gold.”
Loh will first need to beat good friend and 2023 Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific champion Eila Galitsky.
The duo met at the Hanoi Games and the 16-year-old Thai has since gone from strength to strength, finishing tied-28th on her Major debut at the recent Chevron Championship, where she was the lowest-scoring amateur at one-over 289.
Congratulations to 2023 @WAAPGolf Champion Eila Galitsky on being the lowest-scoring amateur at the @Chevron_Golf 👏 pic.twitter.com/YL7ZQQwRdA
— The R&A (@RandA) April 24, 2023
Loh, who is aiming to emulate compatriot Amanda Tan by playing on the Epson Tour after graduating in 2024, is relishing the opportunity to face off with Galitsky in the team event.
Loh added: “Bringing this momentum I have, I believe I can give her a run for her money in matchplay if given the chance to, and do Singapore proud at the SEA Games.”
CBU’s Hailey Loh is the 2023 @WACsports Women’s Golf Individual Champion! She defeated three opponents in a deciding playoff showdown!#LanceUp⚔️ pic.twitter.com/QBxB3pa28Q
— California Baptist Women's Golf (@CBUwomensgolf) April 26, 2023