Palisades Resident Wins U.S. Kids Golf Championship
By SARAH STOCKMAN
Palisadian Kaila Elsayegh won the Girls Age 11 Division of the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship on August 4 in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Kaila shot 69-67, eight under par, to win the rain-shortened tournament by two strokes ahead of Eila Galitsky of Thailand and Avery Zweig of McKinney, Texas. One hundred and eighteen 11-year-old girls competed.
This was Kaila’s third time playing in the tournament. She placed 22nd out of 102 competitors last year.
She attributes this year’s success to being more relaxed. “Last year I was a little overworked,” Kaila said. “This tournament we were in the Philippines for two weeks prior.”
This year’s course was more challenging than previous years, made harder by bouts of torrential rain that altered the course throughout the day.
“The greens were incredibly difficult,” Kaila said. “It was a lot of rain.”
The weather was so bad that the second day of the tournament was ultimately cancelled. Kaila had teed off at 7 a.m. and completed her round, but only the first and third days counted toward her final score.
On day one, Kaila shot a three-under-par 69, and she did even better on day three, shooting a 67 that featured rare eagles on holes 13 and 16.
“On hole 13 (a par 5), they decided to move the tee box, which changed the angle of the driver shot,” Kaila said. “It became a much more difficult shot because several trees were blocking the direction to the green.”
Kaila’s drive landed her near more trees. “On my second shot, I was able to fade the ball around the tree (curving my ball to the right after passing the tree), and it landed about 7 feet from the hole.” She made the putt.
“This was a very important hole because my eagle put me one stroke ahead of the second place player and two strokes ahead of the third place competitor,” Kaila said.
Her second eagle came as a complete surprise to her because she thought she had messed up the par-4 hole with her drive.
“I decided to hit my three wood to be safe and not pass the green. However, apparently my adrenaline must have been on overdrive since I shot a perfectly straight shot at the flag. I watched the ball land on the green, then roll and disappear. From the angle that we were standing, it appeared that I had shot it well past the green.”
Frustrated, Kaila walked to the green but found that her ball was only 3 feet from the hole. “I had a short putt for eagle, which I made. This was a crucial hole since now with two holes left in the competition, I was beating my competitors by two and five strokes.”
During the tournament, Kaila’s father, Dr. Ashraf Elsayegh, served as her caddy. Kaila would not let him shave his beard for the entire time just in case it changed the outcome of her game.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Dr. Elsayegh said. “Teresa [Kaila’s mother] couldn’t watch the last nine holes.”
In September, Kaila begins sixth grade at the Village School. Despite being a highly ranked junior golfer, she considers school her first priority.
“In April and May [of this year] we had a lot of big projects in school [and] I had to put a pause on golf,” she said. “School takes priority.”
During the school year, Kaila practices three days during the school week for at least two hours and between three and four hours on the weekends, usually at Mountaingate in the Sepulveda Pass.
Kaila turns 12 in October, which means that golfing gets that much harder. “Twelve years old is when college recruiters start scouting out players,” she said. “It’s also when you start playing in amateur USGA [United States Golf Association] tournaments.”
Kaila’s goal is to get recruited to play golf in college and then play professional after college.
The golf season runs through spring, summer, and fall. During the winter Kaila plays basketball on a club team and at the Village School. She’s a shooting guard.
She lives in the Highlands with her mother, Dr. Teresa Merced, an internal medicine specialist at UCLA, and her father, a pulmonologist at Cedars-Sinai. She also has a 5-year-old brother, Matthew, who does not yet like playing golf.