Golf: Thiravong wins 2020 Greater Rockford Women's Classic

Rochelle Township High School senior Megan Thiravong holds her trophy after winning the 2020 Greater Rockford Women's Classic at Aldeen Golf Club on Sunday. Above is Megan with her father Chico Thiravong. (Courtesy photo)

RTHS senior defeats all three match-play opponents in Championship Flight

ROCKFORD — Rochelle senior Megan Thiravong was underwhelmed with her qualifying-round performance in the 2020 Greater Rockford Women’s Classic this past weekend. Thiravong wasn’t expecting to make the Championship Flight, but after earning the No. 5 overall seed, the Lady Hub standout went to work against some of the best golfers in the area.

Thiravong, who won the A Flight of the Greater Rockford Women's Classic two years ago, qualified fifth in the Championship Flight after an 81 in the opening round at Ingersoll last weekend. Thiravong’s bracket run wouldn’t be easy, as she needed to upset three higher seeds to win the championship, all three players being former tournament champions.

Unnerved and motivated to shine against players she called her role models, Thiravong dominated the Championship Flight, winning three consecutive match-play rounds to claim the 2020 title. Facing No. 2 seed Hui Chong Dofflemyer in the finals, Thiravong went 15-for-17 on greens in regulation and played the whole round without a three-putt to win 2&1.

"It was an honor to play with some of my golf mentors and idols these past two weeks,” Thiravong said. “I have looked up to all the ladies competing in the Greater Rockford Women’s Classic, especially Jessica Slattery, Natalie Hooper and Hui Chong Dofflemyer. These three players all have phenomenal personal strengths engraved into their routine and are role models for younger players like myself on and off the course.”

Thiravong opened bracket play with a first-round match against the No. 4 seed Slattery, winning 2 up to advance to the semifinals and face the No. 1 seed Hooper, a four-time state qualifier from Rockford Lutheran who currently plays for Western Illinois University. While Thiravong wasn’t confident in her qualifying-round performance, her mental toughness and her ability to find the greens fueled her victory over Slattery in the championship bracket.

“I was struggling in all aspects of my game and couldn’t seem to smooth out the mistakes during the qualifying round,” Thiravong said. “I knew I had the potential to play my best and defeat my opponents… I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by digging in my heels and packing in the pressure on the course. My keys to victory in the first round were keeping calm and trying my best to stay on the green. Ingersoll is very difficult to play without hitting straight and throwing a lot of backspin on approach shots, and in combination with Slattery’s wicked short game, I knew I had to hit my ball on the green to keep up.”

Hooper and Thiravong went down to the wire in the semifinal round at Sandy Hollow on Saturday. After Hooper tied the match with a par on the 17th hole, Thiravong won the 18th hole with an easy two-putt to claim the match 1 up and reach the finals on Sunday. The semifinal match was never separated by more than one stroke, with Thiravong gaining the first lead after five holes before Hooper took the sixth and seventh holes to surge ahead. After halving the next five holes, Thiravong won the 13th and 14th holes to reclaim the lead.

“While playing Sandy Hollow against Natalie, my key to victory was playing my own game and staying relaxed,” Thiravong said. “Because Natalie could crush her ball much farther than mine, it was clear that I should play my game rather than trying to keep up with her long shots… To win any competition, a player must first have confidence in himself or herself, the motivation to improve and the ambitious mentality to say, ‘I will win this tournament.’”

On Sunday, Thiravong started strong against the No. 2 seed Dofflemyer, taking a two-hole advantage into the final three holes and hanging on to win the first Championship Flight at the Greater Rockford Women’s Classic of her career. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season has already been a prosperous one for Thiravong, who won the Ogle County Junior Championship and the Rockford Junior Tournament at Ingersoll earlier this summer.

“At Aldeen, golfers need to know where they want to hit and precisely execute that exact shot in order to play well and keep up with the competition,” Thiravong said. “Hui Chong does exactly that. She knows where to hit, how to complete it and when to pack in the pressure extremely well. In the end, it was keeping a level head and seeking out every open shot I could for a lead in the competition… Confidence is a mindset built from years of practice and competition against players much stronger than I am. Therefore, the win at Aldeen is just one stepping stone in my life to becoming the best golfer and competitor I can be.”

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