Danielle Ranallo is playing the best golf of her life. Surviving a week's worth of grueling match-play events might have something to do with that.
Ranallo, the star of the West Linn High School golf team for the last four years, didn't just survive her matches during last week's Oregon Junior Match Play Championships. She almost won the girls 15-to-17 year-old division.
Playing at the OGA Course in Woodburn, Ranallo breezed through her first three matches of the tournament, winning each by a lopsided margin. That set up a championship final against Erica Omlid of Springfield.
Ranallo won the first hole but it was the only time she led for the entire match. After three-putting a pair of par-5s, 'when I basically gave her two holes,' Ranallo said, the West Linn star found herself 3-down with four holes to play.
'I knew it was crunch time then,' she said.
And Ranallo responded accordingly when she holed her approach shot for an eagle on No. 15 to trim Omlid's lead to two holes.
'That was pretty good,' Ranallo said nonchalantly.
Then, after the two players halved No. 16, Ranallo was forced to win the 17th or the match would end there. Once again the West Linn golfer stepped up when she rolled in a 20-foot from the fringe to win that hole.
Going to No. 18, Ranallo was admittedly 'very nervous.' In fact, she had to wait two minutes before hitting her tee shot to allow her nerves to calm. After hitting a good drive, Ranallo nearly holed her approach shot and then nearly sank a long, difficult putt. Two close calls weren't close enough, though, and the two players wound up halving the hole, which gave Omlid a 1-up victory.
'I came on so strong … so to lose was really disappointing,' Ranallo said.
However, considering how well she played the rest of the week, it was hard to be too disappointed. In fact, Portland State golf coach Felicia Johnston, who will be Ranallo's coach next year, told the West Linn star after the match, 'You're only allowed to feel bad for yourself for two minutes.'
Even with the loss to Omlid, Ranallo had to feel good about her week. In the first match of the tournament, she beat Catherine Bigelow 7 and 6, meaning the match was over after the 12th hole. Then in the quarterfinals, Ranallo beat good friend Avery Sills of Portland 5 and 3; and in the semis she beat another good friend, Molly Black of Bend, 5 and 4.
'I felt I played great,' Ranallo said of her week-long run. 'I'm twice the golfer I was before last week, because match play is just so hard on you.'
Despite being 'bummed' for a while after losing the final to Omlid, Ranallo admitted that 'I think I learned more from losing (the title match) than I would have by winning.'
Ranallo obviously dealt with the tournament pressure pretty well. In fact, there were several occasions when she was able to make a big shot under pressure.
'I made at least one 30-foot putt in every match,' she said. 'It showed that I can make a big putt when I need to.'
A key to Ranallo's putting prowess probably could be traced to her decision to switch to a long, pendulum-style putter about three weeks ago.
'It's really been good for me,' she said.
She's also improved her distance slightly off of the tee and is now hitting the ball close to 240 yards on the average. She's also improved her greenside chipping.
'I don't worry about getting up and down any more,' she said.
The key match in the tournament for Ranallo was her semifinal victory over Black. That gave the West Linn senior just enough points to claim the fourth and final spot on Oregon's team in the Junior America's Cup competition, which will be held July 24-27 in Tucson, Ariz. Omlid and Black also made the team, as did Kendra Little of Eugene.
Ranallo was well aware of position in the point standings, which put even more pressure on her in the match against Black.
'It was nerve-wracking knowing I was that close,' she said.
Ranallo also came close to qualifying for the Junior World Championships, which will be held this month in San Diego. In fact, she couldn't have come any closer to qualifying.
Only three players from Oregon qualified for the tournament and Ranallo finished in a three-way tie for the second spot along with Black and Omlid. To break the tie, a one-hole playoff was held and Black eagled the hole while Omlid birdied it. Ranallo only managed a par after her tee shot clipped a tree along the edge of the fairway.
'And it was a hole that I had birdied earlier,' Ranallo said.
Even though she failed to make the world junior tournament, Ranallo still will be plenty busy for the rest of the summer. She plans to play in the Oregon Women's Stroke Play Championship and the Oregon Juniors Stroke Play Championship. Plus, she will compete in the Bob Allard Memorial tournament at Rose City Golf Course.
Her biggest tournament, though, will be at the Safeway Open at Langdon Farms in Aurora. The winner of that tourney will qualify for the LPGA's Safeway Classic at Columbia Edgewater. To prepare for the event, Ranallo has been playing Langdon Farms' blue tees, which normally play at a distance of 6,500 yards. She'll certainly feel at home on that course.
'I feel fine there because I work there,' she said.