La Velle E. Neal III
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Isabella McCauley's training includes six days of golf a week, sometimes spending as long as seven hours playing a round followed by work on the practice range.

McCauley, a junior at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights, has her own crew of prep golfers to play with when it's time to work on her game. It includes her sister, Reese, a freshman at Simley who bombs drives off the tee; Sam Udovich of St. Croix Lutheran Academy, who won the drive, chip and putt competition in April during Masters week in Augusta, Ga.; and two players from Cretin-Derham Hall, Miles Bollinger, son of former Vikings quarterback Brooks Bollinger, and Joe Honsa.

"We have a lot of competitive rounds," said McCauley, a member at Southview Country Club, "then I go to the range and I work on stuff. I spend a lot of time hitting balls and rehitting putts."

How competitive are the rounds? The crew is still stung by a recent outing in which Reese beat the boys and her older sister.

"Yeah," Isabella McCauley said with a sheepish grin. "We don't like to talk about that."

The dedication to her craft should have been on display this weekend with her Simley teammates at the state high school sectionals, but McCauley kind of messed that up.

On Saturday, McCauley, 17, and her family flew to California to prepare for the U.S. Women's Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. McCauley finished second in a qualifying tournament at Somerset Country Club in Mendota Heights to qualify for the tournament. She was out of the picture through nine holes during the final round until an eagle on the 12th hole kicked off a rally that ended with a par on 18 to secure the spot.

"It's something that you dream about in your practices when you're standing over a seven-footer on the practice green," she said. "I've got to make this to make the U.S. Open. To actually have that happen was really cool."

For that, she gets to stand with the LPGA greats in a major. McCauley will be one of 20 amateurs in the field this week, with the youngest competitor just 14 years old.

She's been practicing ever since landing in San Francisco. On Sunday, she played the 18th hole with Michelle Wie-West. On Monday, she played with Sarah Burnham, who won the qualifying event at Somerset. On Tuesday, she played with Amy Olson, who played at North Dakota State and tied for second place in last year's U.S. Women's Open.

McCauley's goals are reasonable: Make the cut and soak it all in.

Making the cut will be the biggest challenge. McCauley has played in junior tournaments on courses that are about 5,700 yards. The Olympic course is 6,486 yards. She feels she's fairly accurate off the tee but will have to adjust to the length while keeping the ball in the fairway. Temperatures are expected to be in the 50s all week, so she is anticipating that the ball won't carry as far as usual. She has been playing longer distances in preparation for the Open.

Enjoying the event will be easier to accomplish. She has nothing to lose but plenty to gain from the experience.

"I think, for me, it's just to see their lifestyle a little bit," said McCauley, who has verbally committed to play for the Gophers. "Obviously, they are on the road all time, so just getting advice in terms of what that looks like and also just what separates a good player from a great, elite player."

Her parents are with her in San Francisco. Her uncle, Mike, will be on the bag. A few members from Southview will be in attendance as well.

“It's something that you dream about in your practices when you're standing over a seven-footer on the practice green. I've got to make this to make the U.S. Open. To actually have that happen was really cool.”
Isabella McCauley

With state high school golf sectionals this weekend, her crew will cheer for her from afar. McCauley led Simley to a third-place finish at state in 2019 while winning the individual title by 10 strokes her freshman season. She wants Reese to follow her example.

"I told Reese she has no choice, she has to stay here," big sister said with a chuckle. "She has to carry on the McCauley name."