'Surreal' experience, Drolson says
Kaitlin Drolson has for years admiringly watched women's golfing great Lorena Ochoa climb to the top of her game.
Earlier this month, however, the former Torrey Pines High School golfing sensation watched the world's top-ranked golfer amid vastly different circumstances.
Drolson wasn't scouting the mechanics of Ochoa's powerful swing from her living room TV, or behind the ropes at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
This time, Drolson wasn't just a fan; she was the competition.
The 2008 Torrey Pines grad, who now plays at Pepperdine University of Malibu, admits she had to pinch herself as she hit off a driving range tee next to Ochoa in hours leading up to the 2009 Women's U.S. Open, held July 9-12 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.
"I talked to (Ochoa) for a few minutes, and she was really nice," Drolson said. "It was a surreal experience."
Drolson, 19, qualified for one of the world's most prestigious tournaments by placing fourth at the June 14-15 U.S. Golf Association's sectional qualifying match at Pasatiempo Golf Course in Santa Cruz.
She more than held her own at the U.S. Open, shooting an 81 on the first day and a 73 the next day on the par-71 course, missing the cut by three strokes. Drolson birdied the par-5 12th hole both days. She had just three bogies the second day.
Drolson shot a combined 147 on the two-day qualifying event on the par-70 Pasatiempo course.
"This was a big step for me to take," Drolson said of what going to the U.S. Open means to her career. "It was an amazing experience, and I got a lot of recognition for that."
Her visit to Bethlehem is the culmination of a long list of impressive accomplishments.
Drolson, who has honed her skills with the San Diego Junior Golf Association since she was 10, had a distinguished prep career at Torrey Pines, leading the Falcons to a state title her freshman year in 2004. Her teammates that year included standouts Allison Goodman and Angela King. Goodman recently concluded her collegiate golfing career at UC Berkeley. King plays at Stanford.
She was a three-time All-San Diego Section first-team selection.
"That was such a great team," Drolson said of the 2004 Falcons. "(Goodman and King) were great teammates to grow up with and great people, too. Learning golf through them really helped me."
Drolson has made an immediate impact at Pepperdine, where she was a first-team all West Coast Conference selection as a freshman, averaging 75.3 strokes in 30 rounds.
Drolson credits former Falcons coach John Olive with helping her embrace the team aspect of golf, a sport that is inherently individual-oriented.
"I felt like I was playing for something bigger than myself for the first time," she said.
Olive described Drolson as a vivacious team leader and intense competitor whose enthusiasm for the game rubbed off on her teammates.
"She was very popular and outgoing, but when it came to golf, she was very serious," Olive said.
Drolson established herself as one of the state's best golfers her sophomore year, shooting an unheard of 6-under-par 30 on a nine-hole course at Rancho Bernardo Inn.
"That was a really big confidence booster for me," she said.