JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At just 17 years of age, and while most of her friends were comparing class schedules and first starting to think about college destinations, Hannah Berman was in Portland, Ore. getting ready for the biggest event of her career; the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. Now a junior on the women's golf team at Jacksonville University, she is taking part in the tournament again, only this time, she will be carrying the bag instead of swinging the club.
The Women's Amateur is the premier event of its kind in the world, pressure-packed enough already, without the kind of emotional roller coaster that Berman was forced to navigate while qualifying. The practice round was cut short by inclement weather, meaning she played the course essentially blind. Despite that, she displayed some of her best putting in a round to that point in her career to make a playoff, before eventually coming up just short.
"I ended up going bogey-double bogey in the [qualifier] playoff and got the first alternate. You hope someone is going to drop out, but who is going to drop out of the U.S. Am, that's insane," she recalled. "I remember crying the whole four-and-a-half-hour trip home."
She was still upset a day later, that is, until she got perhaps the best piece of mail of her life.
"My dad handed me a piece of paper, which was a printed email saying that I was the lowest alternate scorer across the country, so the first person that drops out, I get that spot. The email said that someone dropped out and that I was in, which was such a cool feeling."
Fast forward to this year, when her friend and University of Florida golfer Lauren Waidner asked if she would fill in on her bag for her qualifying round, . Berman jumped at the opportunity to help someone else achieve that same feeling.
"Her qualifier was at the University of Florida home course, and I was around that weekend, but I was not going to play it," said Berman, who continued on to joke about how that the UF course had "tormented" her in the past. She competed in a separate qualifier at Hobe Sound with Waidner repaying the favor by caddying for her round as well, but after Berman came up just short, the opportunity presented itself to stay with Waidner on her journey to the U.S. Amateur.
Berman was originally asked to fill in for Waidner's sister, who was tied up with work, and was valuable in helping her best friend through her own playoff qualifier experience. The two first met on the local golf circuit when they were around 13 or 14. Berman describes Waidner as quiet and unassuming, remarking how that falls in direct contrast to her own outgoing personality, so they did not hit it off right away. After working their way up through the junior and high school golf ranks, both were able to continue their careers at the collegiate level. Then they started playing in events over the summer and winter together to stay sharp, and discovered that their personalities on the course were as similar as they were different off of it.
"Lauren and I are pretty similar, we take the 'less is more' approach to things. We can both tend to get too quick on the course, so my job is to keep her totally distracted from playing golf.
"I am very good at distracting people from what they are doing," she adds with a laugh.
"I just keep regular conversation with her, talk through certain shots if she has a question or picking lines, things that are nice to be able to talk through. My job is really to be a sounding board for her and keep her relaxed out there."
Berman points out that caddying for her friend is not just an opportunity to support her on the course, but also to experience the game through a different lens.
"On the course, as a player, you typically see the negative side, but as a caddy, you're trying to get your player to stay positive, to get them looking at the bright side of things. 'Hey now, that shot might have [stunk], but here is what we're going to do to fix it.' The most important part is kind of being like their cheerleader."
She goes on to explain how her game, and future career thoughts, have been affected by this opportunity.
"I could be a professional caddy one day if I wanted to be, because I go back and forth on [pursuing] professional golf all the time. I think I'm pretty good, and I think Lauren and my other friends would agree," Berman states, before continuing on about how the fresh perspective could help her play on the course this fall.
"When Lauren hits a bad shot, since we are so similar, I see how she reacts and I know how to react or how not to. It is kind of a mirror to how you can improve your own game."
Berman also brings that past experience of having played in the event to the table, and some valuable lessons that she learned the hard way.
"I look back on it and …, I know I played ok, but back then the emotional side of my game was nowhere near where it is now. Back then, I'd hit a bad shot and I'd immediately spiral."
She did not make the cut after a tough first round was followed up by a much improved second one, but looks back on that now with fresh perspective and maturity.
"It was a really good learning opportunity and I wish I was more mentally mature then I was, but that came with playing bigger events and learning what works for me."
Now it is all about imparting those lessons on Waidner, while using their similar temperament on the course to their advantage.
She'll also bring a bit of JU out on the course with her this week, saying that she'll definitely don her JU golf hats to help bring a little publicity to the program. She also is adamant that she wishes to return next as a competitor.
"Oh yeah," she replied with gusto when asked if she plans on competing in the event again herself. "Next summer there will be a qualifier, [there is] usually only one in Florida, but now that so many girls sign up they'll do two, and depending on location and time, I'll pick a qualifier and prepare harder than I even did this summer for it."
The 118th U.S. Women's Amateur Championship is scheduled for August 6-12 at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, Tenn. After two qualifying stroke play rounds, the event shifts to match play starting Wednesday, before paring down to Quarterfinals and Semifinal match play, leading up to 36-hole Championship match on Sunday. FS1 is broadcasting the championship, with coverage starting Wednesday and running through Friday.