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KINDER, La. -- Depending on how you count the Roman Numerals, The Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship has either six or seven words and 46 letters. That's a lot for the name of a golf tournament. The U.S. Open, by comparison, has three words and nine letters, plus a couple of periods. The Open has two words, seven letters. But the show that Bella McCauley and Suzie Tran put on Monday in the final round of the Begay's 14-18 Girls Division was even more impressive than the tournament title is long.
McCauley began the day tied for the lead with a 36-hole total of 140 (70-70). Only one player in the elite field of 41 players -- there were qualifiers held around the country just to get into this tournament -- had broken 70 during the first two rounds at Koasati Pines at Coushatta, and that was the co-leader, Lydia Swan (69-71). In other words, this was not an easy course.
So when McCauley made an eagle and three birdies on the front nine, and the 17-year-old from Inver Grove Heights followed that with eight pars and another birdie at the 18th hole to cap off a 5-under-par 67, the odds on her winning the tournament should have been heavily in her favor -- except that those odds didn't factor in Suzie Tran.
Tran, a 15-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., who started the day one shot behind the co-leaders, made four birdies on the front nine and added three more on the back on the way to a bogey-free 65. That gave her a 54-hole total of 206 (10 under), and a one-stroke victory over McCauley.
At the end of two rounds, there were eight players packed within four strokes, from 140 to 144. By the end of Monday's third round, there was no one other than McCauley within seven strokes of Tran.
Kaila Elayegh, a ninth-grader from Pacific Palisades, Calif., shot 71 for the third day in a row and finished third at 213. Another ninth-grader, Ellison Lundquist (Furlong, Pa.) followed a pair of 72's with a 71 on Monday, putting her at 215, and she tied Henderson, Nev., sophomore Ali Mullhall for fourth. Mullhall closed with a 73.
As for Swan, a senior from Erie, Pa., she struggled to a 79 and tied for 12th at 219.
McCauley and Tran are both home-schooled, but McCauley plays for the Simley High School golf team and is now a senior. She won the Class AAA championship as a ninth-grader in 2019, but hasn't played in the high school tournament since then. The 2020 tournament was wiped out by Covid 19, and she missed the 2021 tournament because she was playing in the U.S. Women's Open when sectional qualifying for the state tournament was going on. (In the Open, she shot 79-70--149 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and missed the cut by two strokes.)
In McCauley's absence, her younger sister Reese, won the high school championship this spring. Reese, like Bella, was a ninth-grader when she won the AAA (large-school class) title.
Tran, who is the equivalent of a high school sophomore, comes from a family that is similarly precocious. She has already finished in the top five at the Washington State Women's Amateur twice. (She led the tournament in 2019 after a first-round 69 -- when she was 13.) Her older brother Isaac, 19, graduated from North Kitsap High School with AA (Associate of Arts) and AS (Associate of Science) degrees, each being equal to having finished two years of college. And her older sister Quillen, now 21, was taking courses at the University Washington when she was 15.
McCauley got off to a great start. She eagled the 493-yard, par-5 first hole. She was a quick 4 under for the day after birdies at the fourth (360 yards, par 4) and sixth (345, par 4). The 2021 first female to win the Minnesota Golf Champions (in October) bogeyed 343-yard, par-4 eighth, but bounced back with a birdie at the 512-yard, par-5 ninth for an outgoing 32.
You would have expeced that to put her comfortably ahead. But it didn't. Tran matched the 32, with birdies at the third (135 yards, par 3), fourth, seventh (146, par 3) and ninth holes, which kept her within one of McCauley, and she pulled even with a birdie at the 10th (489, par 5). Tran took the lead with a birdie at the 359-yard, par-4 15th. She gave herself a little cushion with her seventh birdie of the day, at the 335-yard, par-4 17th, and she needed it, because McCauley birdied the 470-yard, par-5 18th.
This is the second time McCauley has played well enough to win the Begay tournament, but didn't. Last year, she opened with a 68 and led by five. She added a 72 and a 71 to finish at 5 under par, 211. But Allyn Stephens, a junior from Houston, lit up Koasati Pines with a 65 in the second round, and she birdied four of the last 10 holes on Day 3 for a 69 and won by three shots over McCauley with a 208. That, too, was a two-horse race. No one other than McCauley finished within eight of Stephens.
Stephens was back to defend her title this year, but she never contended, shooting 76 in the first round and ending up in 15th place with a 215.
The other Minnesota girl in the field was Edina junior Kate Burke, who tied for 37th at 236 after a final-round 76.
In the 14-18 Boys Division, Quinn Yost, a senior from Farmington, N.M., birdied four consecutive holes, from the ninth through the 12th, and took a one-shot lead with a birdie at the 16th. Another senior, Rodrigo Barahona of Bradenton, Fla., pulled even with a birdie at the 17th, but Yost settled the issue with a valedictory birdie at the 18th -- and claimed a one-stroke victory with a 54-hole tab of 204. He and Barahona both shot 5-under 67's on Monday.
So did Gainesville (Fla.) junior Ian Lentz. He finished third, two behind Yost at 206.
Sam Udovich, who won the Boys 12-13 Division at the National Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals this spring at Augusta National (he was actually 14, but the national finals were pushed back from last spring because of Covid 19), was also in the field. Now a ninth-grader at St. Croix Lutheran, he had a 76 on Monday and tied for 22nd at 221.
Maple Grove sophomore Ryan Stendahl closed with a 72 and tied for 28th with a 223.
Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship
At Koasati Pines at Coushatta
Girls 14-18 Division
Par 72, 5,968 yards
Final results (high school graduation year in parenthesis)
1. Suzie Tran, Poulsbo, Wash. (2024) 71-70-65--206
2. Bella McCauley, Inver Grove Heights (2022) 70-70-67--207
3. Kalia Elsayegh, Pacific Palisades, Calif. (2025) 71-71-71-213
T4. Ellison Lundquist, Furlong, Pa. (2025) 72-72-71--215
T4. Ali Mulhall, Henderson, Nevada (2024)
T37. Kate Burke, Edina (2023) 82-78-76--236
Boys 14-18 Division
Par 72, 6,937 yards
1. Quinn Yost, Farmington, N.M. (2022) 73-64-67--204
2. Rodrigo Barahona, Bradenton, Fla. (2022) 69-69-67--205
3. Ian Lentz, Gainesville, Fla. (2023) 69-70-67--206
T22. Sam Udovich, Inver Grove Heights (2025) 72-73-76--221
T28. Ryan Stendahl, Maple Grove (2024) 74-77-72--223