SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. | The crowd grew as the round progressed. By the time they got to the short, uphill par-4 seventh, the gallery (and, yes, having one again is a wonderful feeling) was three-deep against the ropes as 17-year-old Megha Ganne surveyed a downhill 10-footer for birdie. When that one fell to get Ganne back to even-par for her round, 4-under for the championship and tied for the U.S. Women’s Open lead, the roar felt like something out of 2019.
“We’ve really worked hard on getting the most out of her game when she doesn’t have her best stuff,” Ganne’s coach Katie Rudolph said of the high school junior from Holmdel, N.J. Rudolph has worked with Ganne for nine years, her only coach since the current No. 3 player in the AJGA Junior Golf Rankings picked up a club as part of the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program. Now, finishing up her spring semester and fretting some calculus homework that’s due on Monday, Ganne has become an international star, garnering headlines at outlets ranging from The Boston Globe to The Times of India.
Megha’s parents –mom Sudha, an endocrinologist with her own practice, and dad Hari, an IT entrepreneur – moved to America from Southern India in the 1990s. They have two daughters, Megha and Sirina, who have both advanced to the finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt at Augusta National, Megha making it four times.
“I’ve come close to beating her,” Sirina, who is 13, said of the friendly competition between the siblings. Megha, of course, dreams of a career as a champion on the LPGA Tour. Sirina wants to be an astrophysicist.
Talk stopped as Megha hit a pitch shot from behind the green at the par-3 eighth hole short and high, leaving herself a delicate 9-footer for par.
Rudolph groaned. “That’s not the final putt you want,” she said.
Then a little voice chimed in. Eight-year-old Ruba Jampa, part of a Girls Golf contingent that had scampered down to see Megha finish, said, “That’s a pretty fast downhill putt that breaks to her right. Megha just has to hit it soft and get it started on the right line.”
All the adults who heard this looked at each other in disbelief. The next generation of the game, it appears, is in good hands.
“I was way more calm (on the first tee today) than yesterday,” Megha said after holing that 9-footer for par to hold a share of the lead. “The first four holes of yesterday I was like kind of jittery and a little bit panicked. But on the tee box today, I had a bit of a cushion so I wasn't as stressed out.”
Her comfort level this year is far better than it was when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open two years ago at the Country Club of Charleston where she said she was so nervous she had trouble marking her golf ball. And she is more adept at playing in high-pressure situations now than she was when she made it to the semifinals of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur and competed in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“Yeah, I think what I learned at the ANWA and a couple other events is, obviously, when you have your ‘A’ game it's really easy to make putts and hit good shots,” she said. “But it's when you don't have that and you're still able to salvage (a score) and not compound mistakes, that's what separates the pros from the amateurs.
“That's what I've been trying to do. And I saw that today a little bit on the front nine. I wasn't really in the spots I wanted to be, so I just remembered that I know how to make up-and-downs. I kept that in mind.”
She got better as the crowd grew and the buzz intensified.
“I love it so much,” she said. “I wish every event I had a gallery watching me. It makes me play better. I love being in the spotlight. It's been really fun.”
When did she gain that level of comfort?
“I would say probably the U.S. Am in 2019,” she said. “That's when I -- yeah, I really liked it.”
Before the words finished coming out of Megha’s mouth, her mother was shaking her head.
“She has always loved the spotlight,” Sudha said. “From the time she was young, she loved drama. She auditioned for a (school) play and tried out for the part of Alice in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ But the drama teacher said, ‘I think you would be much better as the Queen of Hearts.’ She threw herself into that role. She really lived it. That’s always been her way.”
Now, she puts up the occasional dance video on TikTok. But other than that, Megha has no social media presence. When a group of 15-year-olds asked her for her Instagram address, she said, “I’m not on Instagram,” which brought a lot of stunned looks.
“It started off not on purpose,” she said. “I just didn't get into it when everybody else did. And then I went through middle school and high school not having it and I guess I didn't really feel like I was missing out on anything.
“Of late there's so many negative effects that I see on teenagers from social media. It's a distraction, I think. Obviously, it has its positive effects and there are a lot of people who manage it well. But it's not something I want to try to experiment with, at least right now. And yeah, I'm feeling fine without it.”
With no Twitter account, she missed the shoutout from Governor Phil Murphy from New Jersey on Friday.
But she didn’t miss the important moments, like meeting 8-year-old Ruba Jampa, 5-year-old Sara Martinez, 8-year-old Isabel Martinez and 6-year-old Liv Chan.
"I started playing #GirlsGolf when I was 8 years old too, so that's cool."— LPGA*USGA Girls Golf (@LPGAGirlsGolf) June 4, 2021
Megha Ganna inspiring the next generation at the #USWomensOpen 💖#LittleGirlsBIGDreams | #WomenWorthWatching pic.twitter.com/lTzbPOeIoz
Where does all this poise come from in a 17-year-old? Rudolph knows. “The Gannes are a model for how to be a golf family,” the coach said. “I tell all my parents that the measure of a junior golfer’s success is in how much fun they have on the golf course and what the conversation is like in the car ride home. Are you in the kid’s ear about performance? Or are you offering encouragement and reinforcing love? I can tell you, the Gannes do it right.”
And their daughter knows it.
“It all kind of depends on your family,” Megha said. “My parents are really easygoing and not what you would have in mind for typical golf parents. Their number-one goal is for me to just have fun. That's what I'm doing. It doesn't really get too stressful.“It's the game I love playing. So, it's not that hard.”