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High school senior goes low in debut of Women’s Porter Cup

When the idea of a Women’s Porter Cup first made its way to the drawing board, organizers figured it an endeavor they would cultivate over time. After all, the initial men’s Porter Cup, held in 1959, was played with a field of 40, with most of the players hailing from Western New York and Southern Ontario. The growth was slow but steady. Reputations for excellence aren’t created overnight.

Or are they?

The inaugural women’s Porter Cup debuted at Niagara Falls Country Club on Wednesday and immediately oozed legitimacy. Five in the field of 39 came in under par, led by the 6-under 65 fired by Casie Cathrea, a player we can expect to hear from for many years to come.

Cathrea is a high school senior from Livermore, Calif., who holds down the No. 6 spot in the GolfWeek Girls Junior rankings. At 13, she was a Monday qualifier for the CVS/pharmacy LPGA Championship. Scholarship offers abounded. She made a verbal commitment to the University of Texas in the fall of her junior year, but rethought the decision and less than a month later opted for Oklahoma State.

Last month, she medaled at the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier held at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif. That means she’ll play the Porter Cup, fly back home for high school graduation and then head even farther east for the U.S. Women’s Open, June 27-30 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton.

When her father, Harry, urged her to play the Porter Cup, Cathrea responded, “That’s for guys.” Dad explained they had added a women’s event and they put it on the schedule.

Cathrea played her practice round in wet conditions Tuesday and then hit the NFCC layout for keeps with but a cursory knowledge. She figured it set up well for her in that it’s similar to courses she plays near San Francisco. But she didn’t want to fall into the same trap that snared her last year at Oklahoma State’s Karsten Creek.

“I learned the hard way last year at Karsten Creek not to take a course for granted in the practice round because I shot I think like 81 my first round and I’m, ‘OK, I didn’t shoot that in the practice round.’ Yeah, I tried not to take it for granted today.”

In searching for pars, she found six birdies as a hot putter buried a wealth of 15-18 footers.

“I actually left a couple out there,” she said. “I left one short on 15, short on 16, short on 17. But it was pretty steady the whole time.”

Cathrea holds a three-shot advantage over Krista Puisite, a native of Latvia and a Texas State senior. Tied for third at 69 are Iowa State senior Prima Thammaraks of Thailand and Oklahoma senior Emily Collins of Colleyville, Texas. Samantha Troyanovich, a Tulane grad from Grosse Point Shores, Mich., shot 70.

Thammaraks came in two groups ahead of Cathrea and ventured a guess that 5 under might win the tournament. And it might, although Cathrea seems to have upped the bar on initial projections.

“I’m just going to come out tomorrow and act like I’m going to shoot par again,” Cathrea said. “I don’t have any expectations for this week.”

Michigan sophomore Cat Peters of Clarence topped the local contingent with a 74, followed by Vanderbilt senior Rene Sobolewski of Buffalo at 75.

The 54-hole tournament resumes at 10 a.m. today with the final threesome of Cathrea, Thammaraks and Puisite scheduled to go off at noon. And, although it’s a tournament in its nascence, the Women’s Porter Cup already looks like validation’s at hand.

“I thought, Niagara Falls, that’s really nice, so I wanted to come out here and see what it’s like,” Thammaraks said. “The history of the tournament is a really long one for the men’s. And I think for me to be a part of it, especially for the first one for the women, I think it’s a really big honor.”