Wilson Finds Clarity, Makes History at U.S. Women’s Am
What Annabel Wilson needed was clarity.
The rising senior on the UCLA women's golf team stood on the tee box of the 17th hole in the match play quarterfinals of the 122nd U.S. Women's Amateur at Chambers Bay looking to achieve history.
Coming off victories on the 15th and 16th holes, Wilson needed to halve the 123-yard, par-3 hole to become the 10th Bruin in program history to appear in a U.S. Women's Amateur semifinal.
The wind started to pick up the Friday afternoon of the quarterfinal, however, blowing right to left in the direction of the wispy rough.
"It was the windiest the course played," Wilson said. "We needed to discuss all the options."
The collective "we" Wilson referred to was herself and caddy Keith Johnson.
Wilson arrived at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington just a day before meeting Johnson at the driving range for their Sunday practice round. She pulled out an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper and on it listed her objectives for the day.
"How far am I carrying the golf ball?"
"What flags can I shoot at?"
"What flags can I shoot away from?"
Luckily for Wilson, it was Johnson's name that was matched with hers in the caddy lottery draft. Johnson, who had been caddying at Chambers Bay since its opening in 2007, was a veteran to the caddy game, learning the trade as a teenager in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Wilson gave Johnson and his course knowledge an open invitation to her game.
"(Wilson) told me right away that she wanted me to get involved in her green reading," Johnson said. "She let me know she wanted me to get involved in the shot selection."
UCLA women's golf head coach Carrie Forsyth stated Wilson's commitment to her shot selection was a shortcoming of hers a year ago.
Ever since a youth, Wilson has needed confirmation in her game whether it be searching her bag for the right club or scanning the slope of a green to judge the right amount of oompf for her follow through.
Forsyth knows this well having been on her bag for several of her college tournaments.
"Literally just saying out loud makes it clear and makes you committed to (the shot). It's simple as that," Wilson said. Speaking it out rather internally. That helps with my clarity in what I'm going to do. So, whenever I play tournaments in college, I make the most of it when (head coach Carrie Forsyth) or (associate head coach Alicia Um Holmes) are by to tell them what I'm going to do and them to confirm (the choice)."
And when nobody's around, Wilson whispers herself for that extra vote of confidence.
A sure-minded caddy such as Johnson was exactly what Wilson needed.
"When I met Keith and was listening to him talk to (Wilson) I was like, 'This guy is perfect,'" Forsyth said. "She needs somebody to say, '65 yards. Hit it at that spot. Hit towards that bush on that hill.'
"And she'd look at him and say, 'Are you sure?' And he'd say, 'Sixty-five.' (Johnson was) very concise, making the decision and being clear about it."
Following the practice round, the duo studied the yardage on each of Wilson's clubs at the driving range where they achieved a mutual clarity of Wilson's game. It was a recipe for success for the week ahead.
"After knowing what that data was, we would talk about the club," Johnson said. "She said, 'Easy seven (iron) or hard eight (iron)?' And we both looked at each other and we knew it was an easy seven."
The two were joined at the hip walking up to the first hole of stroke play Monday morning and jockeyed back and forth all tournament to reach the best game plan.
The dialogue between the two was concise, confident and loud, and the results of those conversations had Wilson sniffing not only UCLA history, but also Irish lore.
"I'm sure you could hear it on the broadcast. That was the whole week pretty much," Wilson laughed.
Back to the 17th.
Wilson's opponent, Catherine Rao from Princeton, hit a wayward tee shot left of the green and into the tall grass.
"All I needed was a par to do the job."
After consulting with Johnson, Wilson's shot landed on the green, more than 20 feet from the pin. However, Rao conceded the hole, giving Wilson a 3&1 victory, and the Lurgan, Ireland native the distinction as the first Irishwoman to reach a U.S. Women's Amateur semifinal in the event's 122-year history.
"I could definitely feel their support from the start," Wilson said. "I always love representing my country. It's very special to do it and then to do well is amazing. Getting messages during and after it's nice to know I'm doing them proud."
Wilson, who competed in just four events her junior season in 2021-22, stated she had been tinkering with her golf game leading into the biggest annual women's amateur golf event in the world.
Those changes paid off as Wilson did not trail any of her opponents leading into the semifinal, grabbing huge victories in the round of 64 (5&4), round of 32 (4&3) and round of 16 (3&2).
"It's nice to get a bit of momentum going into the year," Wilson said. "I tried making a few changes and it's nice to see that it's paying off. I felt like my long game was improving as the week went on and I want to bring that on for the next season."
Wilson bowed out to Canada's Monet Chun on the 17th hole in the semifinal and began her walk to the clubhouse. One of the many little wide-eyed girls inspired by Wilson and of the rest of the field of 156 approached the Bruin as she passed and asked for a signed golf ball.
Without hesitation, Wilson said, "Love, I would love to sign that for you.'"
Wilson reflected upon the time Suzann Pettersen took the time to sign everybody's ball at the Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle northwest of Dublin when she was just nine years old.
"Whenever anybody asks, I make sure to do it and make their day," Wilson said. "There was a lot of little young kids doing the scoring or just watching. And that was nice to see."
Wilson joins Kay Cockerill ('86, '87), Yvonne Choe ('00), Jane Park ('03, '04), Mariajo Uribe ('07), Erynne Lee ('08), Tiffany Lua ('09), Alison Lee ('14), Beth Wu ('15) and Lilia Vu ('17) as the only Bruins to reach the semifinal on the biggest stage.
Forsyth said her quarterfinalist finish at the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championships in 1991 is one of the crowning achievements from her playing career, "and certainly this will be for Annabel."
Now, Wilson heads into her final season in Westwood in 2022-23 with clarity and a reinvigorated competitive spirit.
"Mentally, it's nice to have that in the back of your mind what you're doing is working," Wilson said. "It's nice to know I'm still passionate to want to win these big tournaments."