An Ivy education in golf

Christine Cho’s everyday life is anything but calm and serene.

A junior majoring in economics at Harvard University, the 2008 Crescenta Valley High graduate's academic workload is exhaustive and her summers offer her little opportunity to recharge, as she just spent two months in Japan completing an internship.

Fortunately for Cho, who has been one of the top members of the Crimson women's golf team since her freshman year, an escape from the daily grind is only as far as the next round.

“Especially when things are really busy at school, just to be able to go away on the weekends and play a tournament and be away from campus and all you have to focus on is golf, it's really nice,” Cho says. "Even with all the pressure and the competition that comes with it, it helps a lot with dealing with school stress."

But while she always welcomes the chance to lose herself in the sport she loves, when Cho picks up a club, it's not just for relaxation.

As the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and a major factor in the 2009-10 season that saw Harvard win all four of its spring season tournaments, Cho has successfully been able to balance a hectic a slate of responsibilities with a sport that demands a clear mind and relaxed, measured concentration under pressure, not to mention countless hours of practice.

"[Her success] speaks to her and what kind of a person and player she is," Harvard Coach Kevin Rhoads says, "because to get through Harvard or any other Ivy League school with the real world looming and what they're doing with their summertimes, like working jobs or internships, it gets harder and harder to continue to compete. "It's her mentality and it's her attitude, it's her technical game, which is really, really sound. It's just all the things that have gotten her the accolades she's received up until this point and continue to sustain her even through some demanding situations."

From her promising prep years at Crescenta Valley, capped by a turn as All-Area Girls' Golfer of the Year as a senior in 2007, to her third season at Harvard, which kicked off Sept. 19 with a 10th-place finish at the Princeton Invitational, where the team placed sixth, Cho has been nothing if not consistent.

Cho found immediate success as a freshman at Harvard, tying for first place in her first collegiate outing and finishing her outstanding season as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Her sophomore season saw a run of continued success, as Cho was named the league's player of the year and finished eighth in the league championships to place in the top-10 there for the second year in a row.

"With freshman year and how I played and being able to be Rookie Of the Year, it wasn't really pressure to do well the following year, but definitely, I felt happy to get that award," Cho said. "I wanted to try my best to keep up that play for my sophomore year. To do well in my sophomore year felt really good, too, but I didn't really think about it that much, though.

"I did have a lot of people around me saying, ‘Oh, wow, you're the Rookie of the Year, you need to keep it up for your sophomore year, what are you going to do? The competition's getting tougher, so you have defend your reputation,' and all that stuff," Cho said. "But it was just focusing on the same things that I usually do. Luckily I had similar results."

And, that was no accident, as Cho has taken the same approach on the golf course since all her freshman success and hasn't let expectations or past results change her perspective.

"The success she's had has helped her confidence, but the wonderful thing is you would never know it," says senior teammate Mia Kabasakalis, who is Cho's roommate on the road. "It hasn't gone to her head."

Complimenting her level head and calm nerves is Cho's strong technical game, highlighted by her renowned prowess on the greens, for which she received the program's Short Game Award.

"Her short game is incredible," Kabasakalis says. "She just has a feel for the cup around the greens."

But Rhoads cautions against overlooking the whole picture of her game.

"I think it's easy to say [her short game] is a strength because it is — she's as good as we've had on our team," Rhoads says. "It gets put on display a little bit more because she's not on the long side with regards to the players in women's golf -- and that's no statement on what her technique is like and what she's like -- she's small in physical stature, but she's not a short hitter because of technical flaws.

"To the contrary, she's extremely strong technically in all parts of her game, so I think that's a reason why she's continued to do well and be so consistent in good weather and bad weather because all the things she can control, she seems to do extremely well."

If Cho could change anything about her sophomore season, it would likely be the ending. Harvard entered the Ivy Championship at historic Baltusrol Golf Club with designs on capturing its third straight title.

But Cho, whose best round was a four-over-par 76 on the second day, and her teammates got off to slow start and never fully recovered, settling for a third-place finish.

"It was definitely disappointing not to be able to win the championship after having such a strong season [as a team]," Cho says. "But it was a good reminder that we really can't take anything for granted and definitely a lot of motivation for this year to try and get back the title."

"It won't be easy for Harvard, nor for Cho, to retain spots atop a league that has been restocked with young talent. The top seven finishers at the Princeton Invitational were all freshmen, serving notice that the ante has been upped for this season.

"I think she's going to be great [this year], but the league is really improving," Kabasakalis says. "What we've done in the past, we're going to have to do better, but I have total confidence in her abilities."

Rhoads says much of Cho's chances of maintaining her current pace will depend on her ability to balance an ever-growing set of responsibilities, including schoolwork and continuing to grow as a leader of the team.

And, Cho is aware of the challenge, she's just not about to let it get her down.

"It is definitely very challenging, especially because with golf, you need to practice and it takes up so much of your day,"Cho says. "We really have to make sure we stay on top of things [academically], and be really efficient with our time. It's challenging, but it's really good for you at the same time.

"Our motto at school is academics first and golf second. But it's a pretty close second."

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