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Castrale starts the adoptions
Nicole Castrale made seven consecutive putts before intentionally missing the eighth, simply because she had to go.
"She told us, "You guys won't leave until I miss,"' said Isabelle Colaiezzi, a third grader at St. Thomas More in Allentown.
Clad in a "Castrale's Crew" T-shirt and clutching an autographed golf ball, Colaiezzi was among the students from St. Thomas More and Saint Elizabeth Regional School at Saucon Valley Country Club on Tuesday as the "Adopt A Player" initiative was introduced for the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. Castrale, the first player to be "adopted," also was there to meet the kids who will help form her fan club next July.
"The kids were all so cute," she said. "It's a great experience not only for them but also for me to be a role model for the kids."
The "Adopt A Player" program will be the first of its kind in professional golf and an extension of the USGA's "Catch the Spirit" initiative, which seeks to introduce kids to golf. Children under 17 will be admitted free (with a paying adult) to the tournament, and grandstand front rows will be reserved for them.
In addition, there will be clinics, an inside-the-ropes tour and a kids-only tent (dubbed the KidsHouse Hospitality Tent) near the 15th tee.
The "Adopt A Player" program will be limited to third- and fourth-graders from area schools. The USGA Women's Open staff will pair participating schools with players, who will become pen pals during the 2008-09 school year.
A lesson plan incorporating the program into schools' curricula is being written, and participating students will follow their players during the tournament. Organizers have received commitments from three players (Castrale, Christina Kim and Becky Morgan) and hope to sign a total of 15-20. Castrale said Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel are interested in participating as well.
"It's a fantastic idea to get kids engaged, and Nicole looks like she'll be a very good ambassador for it," said Brigid Shanley Lamb, a member of the USGA Executive Committee.
Griffin said a memory involving her son Kyle sparked the idea. Her husband Bill was visiting former Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill (they knew each other from their basketball days at Lehigh) and brought Kyle with him.
There, Kyle sat in an empty locker room getting basketball tips from Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. Kyle Griffin, now a freshman guard at La Salle University, still talks about the visit.
"The way to get to my heart is through my kids," Mimi Griffin said. "It occurred to me, how do we create a connection between the kids and the players? These women [on the LPGA Tour] are great with kids. They know where their bread is buttered. They haven't forgotten that."
Castrale came to Saucon Valley after attending Tuesday morning's bell-ringing ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange. She is playing in this week's Sybase Classic in Clifton, N.J., hoping to energize a season she said "hasn't started as well as I would have liked." Castrale, 28, won her first LPGA Tour event last year at the Ginn Tribute Hosted by ANNIKA.
Before returning to Clifton, Castrale took questions from, and pictures with, her new fan club and gave a putting lesson on Saucon's practice green. She also received a goodbye hug from Colaiezzi and three of her classmates -- Kate Hoey, Frankie Baloh and Jake Patridge.
"We love that she took time and drove in to meet us, and it makes us feel special," Colaiezzi said. "After what we saw today, I want to try to play the game."
Residence: Palm Springs, Calif.
Turned pro: 2002
LPGA Tour wins: 1 (2007 Ginn Tribute Hosted by ANNIKA)
Career-low round: 64
Career earnings: $1.34 million
Highlights: Earned first career victory at Ginn Tribute, defeating Lorena Ochoa in a one-hole playoff.
Sank winning putt in singles competition for U.S. team at 2007 Solheim Cup.
Two top-15 finishes in nine events this season.