When Catherine Allen married her husband, Tom, 20 years ago, he had two big hobbies - golfing and fishing.
"I had no interest in fishing," the Sudden Valley resident said in a phone interview from Northern California. "We decided to golf together. Now we make it a date to golf together at least once a week, and it's fun to have that time together."
Allen, who said she's always been pretty quick to pick up sports, now finds herself about to play for a United States Golf Association championship for the sixth time since she picked up the game, as she is in San Martin, Calif., for the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Championship, which will run Saturday through Thursday, Sept. 21-26, at the CordeValle Golf Club.
Allen was one of six golfers to punch her ticket at a July 30 qualifier at Willamette Valley Country Club in Canby, Ore., by shooting an 81.
Now she'll face off against the nation's top 132 women's amateur golfers who have turned 50.
"It's pretty amazing company to be playing with," said Allen, 53. "It's always special playing in a national championship like this. ... It's some pretty heavy stuff."
One of the golfers Allen will be playing alongside is Hall of Famer Carol Semple Thompson, who has won the Senior Women's Amateur four times. Thompson is one of nine players in the field that have combined to previously win 16 Senior Women's Amateur titles, including defending champion Ellen Port. In fact, the field includes 15 USGA champions and 12 runners-up.
But Allen certainly isn't feeling out of her league.
"In a qualifying tournament, you only have to worry about being competitive for one day," she said. "This is a bit longer, but I feel like I can play with these girls."
Allen has certainly proved worthy.
Four times she's played in the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links - the national championship for women who play on public golf courses - in 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. She also was one of three women's golfers to represent the state at the USGA Women's State Team Championships in 2009.
And if that weren't enough, Allen won four straight Washington State Women's Public Links Association titles, capped off by her 2009 win at Lake Padden Golf Course.
But what excites her most about this week's tournament is she'll be playing with golfers her same age.
"At the time (she played in the Public Links), I was in my 40s," Allen said. "Most of the girls were college students or younger. One year I played against Michelle Wie - I think she was 14 at the time. I can't compete with somebody like Michelle Wie at any age. This one, I feel like I'm on equal footing. I'm not saying I'm going to go out and win it, but I feel I can do well."
The tournament opens Saturday and Sunday with two rounds of stroke-play competition to cut the field down to 64 for match-play competition Monday through Thursday.
Allen said she already feels at home on the course that will measure between 5,894 and 5,968 yards. The club will be hosting its first USGA championship, but the PGA Tour's Frys.com Open will be played there later this month and the U.S. Women's Open will visit in 2016.
"It's amazing," Allen said. "The course is tough. It's a little bit hilly, but I like it. ... I've always felt at home in Northern California. I like that it's drier and warmer than what we get in Bellingham. I think I probably should have grown up here. I think somebody transplanted me at the wrong time."
Allen grew up in Tacoma and moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University and ended up staying.
She works as a middle school special education substitute teacher in the Burlington-Edison School District, though she said she's "been playing hooky the past month," so that she could prepare for the tournament and plans to head back to teaching in October.
She said she hopes her students can learn from her experiences at the tournament.
"In particular, the girls - I hope they see that it's OK for girls to be involved in sports and how important it is to have goals," Allen said. "I think it's important for girls to understand that anything is possible if you can set a goal and work hard to get there. That's what I try to teach my students is to make a commitment and to be passionate about reaching it. My passion right now, just happens to be golf."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
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