For one day Haley Cameron owned the lead at the Canadian university/college golf championship in Ashburn, Ont.
And while the 20-year-old from Kelowna didn’t stay on top for all four rounds, it was a clear indication that her game had taken a considerable step forward in her sophomore tour of duty with the UBC Thunderbirds women’s team.
Cameron finished up in a tie for eighth overall last week at nationals, while the Thunderbirds captured the team title for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
“I felt pretty comfortable going in and it was a nice way to start,” Cameron said of her opening round 75. “I wasn’t able to keep it going, my short game didn’t hold up. It could have been better, but we won the team title and that’s really what counts the most.”
Despite occasional struggles by each every member of the team, the Thunderbirds managed to eke out the Canadian title by a single stroke over the Victoria Vikings.
After watching from the wings as the T-Birds won both the Canadian and NAIA titles in her rookie season last spring, Cameron was thrilled to be a part of the national championship effort in 2011.
“To get to see them win last year was really a good learning experience and great motivation for me to be part of it this year,” she said. “The fact that we won by one this year shows you just how important team play is. None of us were on our game every day and we just grinded it out. You learn how important playing for your team is no matter what kind of a day of tournament you’re having. It was really satisfying.”
Two weeks earlier, the Thunderbirds were unable to repeat as NAIA champs as they finished in sixth place in Greenville, Tenn.
But on an individual basis, Cameron completed the NAIA season in style as she was one of two T-Birds to be named a first-team all-American.
“It was a nice honour,” said Cameron who studies English Literature at UBC. “It kind of shows me I’m headed in the right direction.
Cameron was also one of only two T-Birds to qualify for all 11 events during the 2010-11 season. In the spring regular season, she finished in the top five in three of four tournaments.
Add in a career-best round of one-under par 71 at an NAIA Div. 1 tournament at Northern Arizona this spring, and the KSS grad has her game on the right track.
“Mentally, I think I did make a breakthrough this year,” Cameron said. “I knew I was always capable of shooting in the low to mid-70s. It used to be that a 78 felt really good. Now I feel like I’m at the stage where a 73 or 72 feels good and I’m more capable of doing that. I like where my game is at but I know I’ve got lots of work to do and improvements to make.”
Thunderbirds head coach Chris McDonald has watched Cameron’s progress over her first two seasons of university golf and also likes where the Kelowna product’s game is headed.
“Haley played with some more maturity this season,” said McDonald. “She’s learned what being part of a team is and her role on that team. At the same time, Haley loves to practise her golf and that’s rubbed off on her teammates.
“Being a year stronger and more mature, she can hit the ball a little further and that’s helped her game. Now her focus is being a little more consistent, working on her short game and improving on that.”
In addition to her honing technical skills, McDonald said Cameron’s mental approach to the game is also evolving.
“Even in a lot of the good rounds Haley had this year, she might get off to a tough start but she was able to make a par or birdie quickly and forget about her mistake,” he said. “As a younger player that can be a challenge, keeping it all in perspective. She did a much better job of that this season.”
This summer, Cameron will continue to fine tune her game with appearances at the B.C. women’s amateur championship in Port Alberni and the Canadian women’s amateur in Duncan in late July.
Then in August, Cameron will look to defend her title at the Kelowna Golf and Country Club’s Ladies Invitational.