Members of the Coronado girls golf team know their dreams for a Sunrise Region title and Division I state championship hinge on improving their short game.
At a late August practice, players were working toward their goal, practicing putting, chipping and sand play. Coach Joe Sawaia was working with his team in small groups at a sand trap at Anthem Country Club, encouraging the girls to widen their stance, open their clubface and shorten their stroke, getting more loft on their green-side shots.
“We put a lot of emphasis on the short game,” Sawaia said. “The girls need to keep the ball in front of them and out of trouble because the short game is where they are going to score.
“We do a lot of short-game competitions among the team. We also are working on techniques, different shots around the green and a lot of putting.”
Coronado’s lofty goals are not just a pipe dream. In 2012, the Cougars lost the Sunrise Region tournament to Green Valley by four strokes. The Gators lost their two top golfers from last season — Alex Kaui and Sarah Thomas — to graduation. Coronado also finished third in the state tournament, ahead of rival Green Valley.
Coronado returns its top four golfers in seniors Ciara Clark and Olivia Greenwald, and juniors Bella Martinez and Natalie Yamamoto. In high school team play, the four best scores are used to calculate the team’s total score.
Yamamoto finished fourth in the Division I state tournament last year. Her average scores last season were in the mid- to high-70s.
“Overall Natalie just needs to be more consistent. She has no weakness,” Sawaia said. “She has the ability to score better by hitting a few more fairways and being more efficient around the greens. If she can do that, she’ll take her game to the next level.”
To take that next step, Yamamoto has been working with coaches at Butch Harmon School of Golf and playing in local and national tournaments.
“I’ve been working to improve my short game, because that is definitely the most important part of the game,” she said. “I need to focus more, stay mentally strong and just practice every day to prepare myself.”
Greenwald, who finished sixth in the state tournament, provides the power for the Cougars. She said she averages 250 to 290 yards on her drives.
“Olivia’s strength is her distance. She is a really strong player,” Sawaia said. “With any junior golfer, she’s made great strides with her strong game. She needs to improve her iron play and her short game overall. She has made some strides with her putting and short game.”
Greenwald, who also takes lessons at Butch Harmon School of Golf, spent the summer playing in American Junior Golf Association tournaments.
“I’m very excited for this year,” Greenwald said. “We can succeed this year and definitely take state by the reins.”
Clark, who only started playing golf seriously her freshman year of high school, is excited about the Cougars’ chances to overtake perennial region power Green Valley and win a state title in 2013. Clark has improved steadily since her freshman season, crediting Sawaia for helping her cut 20 strokes off her score. She is now shooting in the 70s.
The Cougars have not won a region title since 2006 and never have won an individual or team state championship in girls golf.
“I’m definitely excited about the upcoming season, and I’m super confident that we can win state this year,” Clark said.