Area women to play for a national golf title. Why ‘it’s everyone’s favorite tournament’

Marissa Mar qualified for the United States Women’s Mid-Amateur in her first year of eligibility.
Marissa Mar qualified for the United States Women’s Mid-Amateur in her first year of eligibility. Courtesy

Daniela Okino, Marissa Mar and Kelly Wilson will compete for a national golf championship starting Saturday in Houston.

Each was beating balls this past Monday in preparation, right?

Not exactly.

Okino put in a full day as a pharmacist, Mar was still at work at 7:30 p.m. in her corporate development job and Wilson spent the day at the beach on vacation with her family in Hawaii.

That’s the beauty of the United States Women’s Mid-Amateur, which provides players 25 and older a chance to compete for a national title at a time in their life when golf isn’t a be-all and end-all.

Okino and Mar, both 25, qualified for the Mid-Am in their first year of eligibility. This will be the eighth Mid-Am for Wilson, 44.

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Kelly Wilson

Daniela Okino

“The cool thing about the Mid-Am, there’s so much variety in who’s playing,” Wilson said. “There are good young players getting back into golf after getting their careers going and good players in their 60s.

“There’s a great vibe. Everyone is super intense on the course, but after the round everyone is in the bar having drinks and commiserating about the day. There is a social element that’s super fun to be around. It’s everyone’s favorite tournament.”

The U.S. Women’s Amateur is dominated by college players with pro aspirations. The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is limited to players 50 and older. The Mid-Am, one of 13 United States Golf Association national championships, hits a sweet spot for players such as Okino, Mar and Wilson who still have lots of game, love to compete but have moved past the time in their lives when putting a little white ball in a little round hole isn’t the top priority.

Okino and Mar played on the St. Francis High School golf team together for four years, helping the Troubadours finish a school-best third in the state tournament in 2009.

Okino declined a scholarship offer to play golf for UC Davis to pursue a six-year doctoral degree in pharmacy at Pacific. She has worked as a pharmacist for the state of California for a year, overseeing the packaging of medication in Sacramento for prison inmates statewide.

She said the decision to place academic pursuits ahead of college golf was the right one. It crystallized when then-UCD coach Anne Walker asked her if she planned to play pro golf.

“I said, ‘I don’t think I do,’ ” Okino said. “Her asking me a simple question helped make my decision.”

Mar played for four years at Stanford, one of the elite programs in the nation. She captained the Cardinal to the Pacific-12 Conference championship her senior season. While many of her peers pursued pro golf, that wasn’t for her.

“I had a reasonably solid college career, so trying pro golf wasn’t out of the question,” Mar said. “But being completely honest with myself with what I wanted to do with my life, it was having a job and playing golf on the weekends.”

She earned a degree in economics and analyzes potential mergers and acquisitions for Square in San Francisco.

Wilson started playing golf at 30 after being bitten by the bug at the driving range while on a date with her now husband. She sells real estate in El Dorado Hills and is the mother of 5-year-old son.

Okino said she hits balls at the Bing Maloney driving range four afternoons a week and generally plays 18 holes over a weekend. Mar belongs to Olympic Club, where her practice and playing is almost exclusively limited to weekends. Wilson said she hits balls for an hour on most mornings at Cameron Park after dropping her son off at school and then plays nine holes with the little bugger several afternoons a week.

Three players, three distinct paths that lead to Houston’s Champions Golf Club. Stroke-play qualifying is Saturday and Sunday for 132 players, followed by match play for the low 64. The winner gets a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open for the first time, not that Okino, Mar and Wilson are thinking that far ahead.

“I’m very much a recreational golfer now,” Mar said. “but I still love to compete. That will never change. This is a great outlet. I’m excited to meet a bunch of new people and play this game for the rest of my life.”

Granite Bay qualifies for state

Sienna Lyford shot a 3-under-par 70 at Sierra View to lead Granite Bay to a second-place finish at Monday’s Northern California high school girls championship.

Valley Christian of San Jose won with a 383 total. Granite Bay shot a 387, while Dougherty Valley and Carondelet each shot 388. Dougherty Valley won the sixth-player tiebreaker to earn the third and final state berth.

The state berth is Granite Bay’s first. The state championship is Nov. 21 at Poppy Hills.

McClatchy’s Kayla Diaz (74) advanced to state as an individual.

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526.

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