Amador Valley High girls’ golf coach Neil Bello can’t say enough good things about Dons' phenom Jaclyn LaHa, who competed as an amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Although LaHa missed the cut by four shots in the June 3 to 6 major championship, she finished a stroke ahead of former Open champion Michelle Wie West and tied with four-time LPGA winner Nelly Korda. Her driving and ball striking turned heads.
“She played extremely well on a tremendously difficult course with some of the best in the world,” said Bello. “Won’t be her last. She is the real deal.”
LaHa, who just turned 16, finished at 11-over par for two rounds as the second-youngest player in the field. She went toe-to-toe with San Jose native Christina Kim, known for her flamboyant style, for two days, almost beating her. The junior-to-be at Amador Valley completed her efforts in a grand style by draining a three-foot birdie putt on hole No. 8.
She figures to land at a top college golfing program and also has a winning personality. Bello affectionately calls her “Jac Cool.”
“Jaclyn is classy and smart and has a fantastic attitude and carries herself with poise and confidence,” Bello said. “Awesome kid, not just golfer.”
LaHa earned the second and final qualifying spot for the U.S. Women’s Open, on May 3, with a 7-under 137 total in Novato. That included a 5-under 67 in the afternoon round. She hit 26 greens straight in regulation at the qualifier, not missing a green until her 27th hole. This year, LaHa finished fifth in the Ping Heather Farr Classic and sixth in the Diamond Resorts Annika Invitational. She has been coached full-time in recent years by Kevin Chen, head pro at The Club at Castlewood. Her childhood coach previously was current San Jose State women’s golf coach Dana Dormann.
Chen accompanied LaHa at The Olympic Club Monday through Wednesday last week and for a few additional practice rounds. He marveled at LaHa’s composure in her first try against pros.
“It was a wonderful first experience for her,” Chen said. “I think she wasn’t nervous at all; she was ready for the competition. I thought she would actually be much better off than her end result, but obviously the course conditions were very challenging. Her game has been really trending for the last six months to the year … She’s been playing some great golf recently.”
According to Chen, LaHa hits the ball almost as long as all of the LPGA Tour pros, she’s very consistent off the tee, and she is a really good mid-iron player as well.
“I’ve told her she hits it probably better than of the tour players out there, and she’s kind of starting to believe it,” said Chen.
LaHa is also a part of a powerful Amador Valley girls’ squad, which boasted two other sophomore sensations this past season in Nikita Jadhav and Keira Howard, along with four strong seniors in Rachel Shaw, Charlotte Ryoo, Kate Lim and Brooke Yi, all of whom are heading to college golf. LaHa shot a league record 6-under 30 at The Club at Ruby Hill, and Howard shot a 32 there.
The sophomore trio helped the Dons surge to new heights.
“These girls with Jaclyn are the best sophomore powerhouse triad that’s ever come through at the sophomore year,” Bello said, noting that the team was averaging five-player scores in the low 180s.
The Dons coach felt his team was very capable of winning a state championship this year but was denied the opportunity because of the COVID-19 situation. There were no official league, North Coast Section or California Interscholastic Federation championships due to the pandemic.
“Those girls didn’t get a chance to showcase in the state championship, which was a shame,” Bello said.
But the Dons did have a ball-striking star at The Olympic Club, and that was ‘Jac Cool.'