Girls' Golf: Abdulghany not one to settle

Alyaa Abdulghany has heard plenty of compliments about her game and her great potential in golf. She'll smile and say, "thank you," but in no way does that indicate she is content with the praise.

"People will say that I'm good when I'm out there, but I'm not sure about that," said Abdulghany, Corona del Mar High's freshman phenom. "I know I just want to do better than what I did that day or the day before."

It's this type of drive that keeps those compliments coming and several accolades too.

Her motivation keeps her on track to achieve her goals: for this year to reach the CIF state championship; after high school to play in college and put herself in position to turn pro.

Remember that name, it's pronounced Ah-lee-yuh Ahb-dool-gon-ee.

"She's a phenomenal talent," CdM Coach Mike Starkweather said of Abdulghany, who competes in the CIF/WSCGA Southern State Regional Championship Thursday at The Golf Club at Rancho California, in Murrieta. "She has magnificent ball striking skills. She's very consistent and works very hard. She's praised by the golfing community. Everyone thinks she just plays marvelous golf and I have to agree completely."

Abdulghany, 14, has been achieving big-time feats in her first year with the Sea Kings. Her latest impressive performance came Nov. 7, when she shot two-over-par 73 at Talega Golf Club to qualify for Thursday's event. As the lone Newport-Mesa player to advance, she finished tied for 17th among individuals competing and was among the 28 to move on to the regional championship.

It's been part of a remarkable run. She medaled at the CIF Southern Section Southern Division Team Championships Oct. 31, when she shot three-under 67 at Costa Mesa Country Club's Mesa Linda course.

She finished fourth (70-73-143) in the Pacific Coast League finals at Dos Lagos Golf Course in Corona on Oct. 23, which got her into the CIF Southern Section individual championship/WSCGA qualifying tournament.

"I am putting more focus on each event each week," said Abdulghany, who will need to be one of the top nine individuals not on a top-three team to advance to the CIF State Championships at Quail Lodge in Carmel on Wednesday. "I know how important it is to move on ... I just really want to do my best and shoot the best score and hope to make it to state for next Wednesday."

Abdulghany has been able to thrive in her first high school postseason from playing in tournaments on the Southern California PGA junior circuit. She also recently won her first Toyota Cup title at Cross Creek Golf Club in Temecula.

You could say her year has been stunning, but it hasn't been surprising to some.

"I expected her to do this," said Alan Ochiai, Abdulghany's coach and a teaching pro at Oak Creek in Irvine. "She's very steady. She doesn't get rattled in competition. She's very determined. I'm not surprised by this at all."

Ochiai, a PGA Master professional, is not surprised because he has seen Abdulghany's tireless work ethic.

"She's absolutely the hardest worker I've ever worked with in over the 25 years I've been coaching," said Ochiai, who has been working with Abdulghany for the past three years. "She is very strong mentally and she's technically very sound … I'm sure she'll do well to get into college, if she continues to play and practice and live up to her potential. She can be as good as she wants to be."

Ochiai also said that when it comes to practicing and working on her game, "she's usually the one to leave."

In that sense, Abdulghany can be a bit of a perfectionist. While she strives for greatness, she can't ever be accepting of mediocrity.

"After school I practice until it gets dark," Abdulghany said. "If I didn't do good enough in practice, I go somewhere where there is light and keep practicing."

Abdulghany maintains a busy schedule with junior tournaments, high school matches and practicing at Oak Creek. For some this has been the path for becoming a burnout. But Ochiai sees no such fate mainly because Abdulghany has parents who are extremely supportive, Ochiai said.

"They are positive and supportive in every way," Ochiai said of Abdulghany's father, Abdul, and mother, Rohaya. "It's actually refreshing."

Ochiai said the parenting reminds him of Tiger Woods' mother. Ochiai knew Tiger's family back when he was a junior player and saw that the mother was also positive and not pushy in any way, he said.

Abdulghany's parents encouraged her to pursue golf even though they both did not play as much. Rohaya actually never liked golf until her daughter, her only child, began to take off in the sport.

When Alyaa was 8, she asked her parents to take her to the driving range at Rancho San Joaquin after they kept driving past it.

"I tried to tell her," Rohaya said. "'I'm Asian. We stay indoors. You don't want to be in the sun.' But she said, 'let me try just one time.' I got her a cheap Nike club and we took her there. She's never stopped playing ever since.

"We always strive to support her. She's our only child. We try to make golf fun. Golf can be competitive. We don't want to push her too much. We know she really wants it. Our job is being supportive and being there for her."

Rohaya said Starkweather has also been very supportive and he's a reason Alyaa has been playing so well. Alyaa has fit in quite nicely on the CdM team, which also features sophomore standout Amy Matsuoka. The duo has formed what has been Starkweather's best one-two punch in his longtime career with the Sea Kings.

Golf is more of an individual sport, and Alyaa can be very competitive. She says that she is friends with Matsuoka, even in competition.

"We both represent CdM well," Alyaa said.

Alyaa plans to continue representing in Murrieta.

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