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Astor Trophy: Junior golf team up for national glory

Mary Parsons was part of her second opening ceremony of the month in Team Canada colours on Tuesday. The first led to the mixed team bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Emily Zhu, left, and Mary Parsons hope to lead Team Canada to victory at the Astor Trophy tournament this week at Royal Colwood Golf Club.

Mary Parsons was part of her second opening ceremony of the month in Team Canada colours on Tuesday. The first led to the mixed team bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Where it goes in the Astor Trophy, formerly the Commonwealth women’s championship, will be decided this week at Royal Colwood.

The 20-year-old golfer’s whirlwind month also included the CP Canadian Open last week in Aurora, Ont.

“I’ve travelled a lot this summer, so it’s good to be playing so close to home,” said the Delta golfer.

“I am always proud to play while wearing the Maple Leaf.”

The quadrennial Astor Trophy brings together the best junior golfers, playing for their national sides, from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Great Britain/Ireland.

Formerly the Commonwealth women’s championship, it changed its name when Ireland was added to the roster in 2007.

This is the fourth time Canada has hosted, following Marine Drive in 1999, Glendale in Edmonton in 1983 and Hamilton, Ont., in 1967.

Canada has won twice — in 1987 at Christchurch, New Zealand, and in 1979 at Lake Karrinyup, Australia.

Australia is the defending champion. Britain has won the most titles with eight followed by Australia with five, Canada with two and Ireland with a co-title shared in 2011 as part of the British team.

Canada’s team at Royal Colwood is headed by 2018 B.C. women’s amateur champion Parsons, an NCAA Indiana University Hoosiers junior. Joining Parsons on Team Canada is Noémie Paré of Victoriaville, Que., Emily Zhu of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Brooke Rivers of Brampton, Ont.

The team represents the future of Canadian golf. Rivers is only 14 and is already listed in the international amateur rankings. Zhu, stationed at the Golf Canada national training centre on Bear Mountain, is 15 and this summer won the 2019 Canadian junior championship held in Lethbridge, Alta.

“This is sort of my adopted hometown,” said Zhu, who knows Royal Colwood well from playing it as part of the centralized national junior team program, which uses the two Bear Mountain courses, Royal Colwood and Victoria Golf Club.

“I’m proud to represent Canada, especially in our home country.”

Zhu noted opportunities to be part of a team are rare in an individual sport: “It’s different being part of a team because you can rely on each other.”

Parsons concurred: “Golf is an individual sport. There is a different sort of energy when it turns into a team environment, when you have four performers all after a common cause.”

Parsons came up before Golf Canada national team centralization on the Bear was introduced, so the Mayfair Lakes member is not as familiar with Royal Colwood.

“It’s a challenging course that calls for a lot of different shots,” said Parsons.

“We have to be strategic and follow our game plan, which is to keep it in the fairway and away from spots blocked by the trees.”

The format consists of foursome alternating shots in the morning followed by four games of individual match-play in the afternoon with one team receiving a bye each afternoon. The five days of competition begin today and conclude Sunday. Admission is free and fans are welcome.

The Canadian team is coached by the Bear Mountain national training centre-based women’s junior national team head coach Matt Wilson.

“We are building a sense of team and shared focus,” said Wilson.

“This is most of our players’ [all except Parsons] first experience in something like this. It’s cool for them that it comes in such an historic tournament.”

Many of Canada’s top female golfers have represented the nation in this event. The late Margaret Todd of Victoria captained Canada in the 1963 Commonwealth championships at Royal Melbourne in Australia. Other Island golfers to have played in the tournament include Naomi Ko of Victoria and the late LPGA pro Dawn Coe-Jones of Lake Cowichan in her amateur days. Notables on the Canadian team have included Lorie Kane, Marlene Streit and E.J. Eathorne.

International players of note in the Astor Trophy competition have included LPGA pro and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Scotswoman Catriona Matthew of Great Britain, who also captained Europe in the 2019 Solheim Cup.

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