First published in the Oct. 22 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The South Pasadena High School girls’ golf program is growing.
Last season, 13 girls came out for the team. This season, there were 22. It was enough for the Tigers to field a varsity team as well as a JV team.
“I think for us, COVID actually drove more kids to the program,” said coach Isaac Yamagata. “Because I’m in the process of trying to build a long-term program, we don’t cut kids. If you want to come out, you can play.”
That doesn’t mean the team is without talent, though. After Tuesday’s finals, the Tigers are Rio Hondo League runners-up this season behind Temple City and are sending two players — Lauren Calderon and Lana Yamagata — to the CIF Southern Section individual playoffs.
Calderon qualified for the CIF State Regional Tournament last season and is on a similar path this season. She earned medalist honors in eight of 10 league matches this season and regularly competes in tournaments outside of high school play.
“I got, finally, through a barrier,” Calderon said of reaching the regional tournament. “Last year kind of was eye-opening. I was like, ‘Wow, I can really do this.’ I’m really hoping that my game has improved enough, and I can really show up on those days to get hopefully in the top five. That’s the goal.”
Lana Yamagata is a freshman who was medalist twice this season. She plays plenty of outside tournament golf, which will likely come in handy during the individual playoffs.
Having a talent in both the senior class and the freshman class is a good indication of what the future could look like for the Tigers. There’s also a strong bond between the players, which can be rare in a team sport that emphasizes individual results.
“We’ve been able to come super close and we can trust each other with our lives,” said senior captain Audrey Biggar. “Also just being there for each other. I feel like everyone has bad days, especially in golf. It’s a very difficult sport. So having each other to support each other and encourage each other to do better is very important.”
South Pasadena was able to generate more than $20,000 through fundraising efforts, like the team golf-a-thon in which the Tigers played as many holes as they could in one day. The money raised allowed the program to purchase new bags, multiple uniforms and plan for post-match dinners that help with team bonding.
“We’ve got excess of $25,000 in our team account that we’re going to be able to use for training and things like that,” said Coach Yamagata. “We’re going to be able to develop a winter program, a spring program. And so, the girls who are still interested can continue to play year-round.”
As a team, the Tigers will compete in the CIF-SS Division Team Championships on Nov. 1 and 2. Calderon and Lana Yamagata begin their individual playoff journeys on Oct. 27 at the CIF-SS Individual Regionals. The top 36 players from the event will advance to the individual finals.
Some strong playoff performances could further legitimize South Pasadena girls’ golf and continue to build a passionate program from the ground up.
“A lot of people think of high school golf like, oh, P.E. credits, let’s go do this,” Calderon said. “Like, sure you can think of that, but the goal is hopefully they fall in love with the sport. That’s my goal for anybody coming into the sport and the team.”