"Wait! What?" an astonished Isabella McCauley said.
Capping a year of surprise, McCauley, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the state, was named the Star Tribune All-Metro Girls' Athlete of the Year.
"This is insane," the Simley junior said. "Oh, my gosh. I am honored."
At age 17, McCauley became the youngest girls' player in state history to compete in the U.S. Women's Open in the first week of June. After dominating the high school ranks, she finished second in an Open qualifying tournament — the top two advanced to the event — at Somerset Country Club in Mendota Heights.
"It was super cool being able to play in the Open," McCauley said. "The first tee was daunting. I was definitely shaking. That was probably the most nervous I have been."
McCauley qualified a month earlier when she finished one shot ahead of Lindy Duncan, a pro player who has earned more than $1 million on the LPGA Tour. Shooting a 1-under 143, she finished one shot behind Sarah Burnham, who took medalist honors.
McCauley had a strong finish on the second day of the qualifying tournament to reach the Open. She played the final seven holes in 3-under. She eagled No. 12 with a 52-yard chip, birdied Nos. 15 and 17, and bogeyed No. 13.
"It never crossed my mind that I would make it," McCauley said. "I thought I was out of it until that eagle. That put a little pep in my step."
It put her among 150 of the world's best golfers converging on The Olympic Club in San Francisco for the Open. She prepared for the event by practicing with the likes of tour players Amy Olson and Michelle Wie.
"One of my biggest takeaways was the learning experience," McCauley said. "How they go about golf at such a high level and what life is like on the tour."
It also provided McCauley with a valuable lesson about her game. She was even-par through the first eight holes in the opening round before faltering and finishing with a 9-over 80.
"I thought I had gotten through the hardest stretch in those first eight holes," McCauley said. "I struggled a little bit the rest of the way."
She bounced back with a 1-under 70 the second day, one of only 20 golfers to finish under par that round.
"It was really encouraging to be able to bounce back," McCauley said. "I didn't know if I had that in me because I haven't been in that position. I had never played a course or event like this where I could compare it to something else."
McCauley finished tied for 75th place and missed making the cut by two strokes. She wound up fifth among 31 amateurs in the field.
"Her drive to practice and the way that she goes about it is just truly amazing to watch," Simley coach Kyle Golden said. "She is really very selfless and encouraging. I simply admire her."
McCauley won the Class 3A individual state championship two years ago with a record-tying, 9-under 135 en route to a 10-stroke victory at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids. She did not get a chance to repeat as champion in 2020 owing to the pandemic. This year, section qualifying conflicted with the Open.
"It's a moment I will always remember and cherish," McCauley said.
She has committed to the Gophers for college. After that?
"I would love to go professional," she said. "That's the dream."