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Giles relishes top-level junior golf odyssey

Daniele Giles is getting a mini education in what's it like to be a touring golf professional.

A different stop each week. Living out of a suitcase. Unfamiliar golf courses. Very strong competition.

School's out for the summer, but Giles, a senior-to-be at Crater High, is in the midst of a crash course available to precious few junior players.

Last week, it was San Diego and the IMG Academy Junior World tournament.

This week, it's Tulsa, Okla., and the U.S. Girls Junior championship.

Next week, it'll be Cheyenne, Wyo., where she'll be one of four girls representing Oregon in the U.S. Junior America's Cup.

She left the Rogue Valley on July 9 and won't return until Thursday.

“It's pretty different, not getting to be home for at least a little bit,” says Giles, who this week played two rounds of stroke-play qualifying at the national championship for junior girls but didn't make it into the match-play field of 64. “But it's really cool seeing new places I haven't been before. I haven't been able to go on this long of a golf trip before.”

Giles, who in the spring became the first Crater golfer to win a state crown when she tied for the Class 5A honor, earned her way to the elite summer circuit.

She advanced through qualifiers to the IMG World and the Girls Junior — equivalent to the boys Junior Amateur — and was hand-picked for the Oregon team in the America's Cup, a long-running, multi-state team competition.

In the IMG World at Torrey Pines Golf Course, there were three rounds of stroke play, followed by a cut to the top 40 for the final round.

Giles didn't make it to the finals, but — as she did this week in the Girls Junior — showed resolve after substandard early play to finish strong.

She had an inkling of the challenge she faced because of the qualifying tournaments. But her eyes widened when she arrived.

“I thought, 'Wow, there are some great players here,'” she says.

As formidable as the fields were, nervousness might have been her most dangerous foe.

And it won a couple rounds, particularly in San Diego.

“That was pretty much the biggest tournament I'd been in up to that point,” says Giles. “It was kind of like a shocking experience, but not in a bad way. It was just all new to me. There were a lot of college coaches there. I didn't realize there'd be that many and that's part of why I didn't do too well. I was kind of intimidated by that, I think.”

In the first round, she bogeyed all but the sixth hole on the front nine and wound up with an 86 on the par-72 course.

She fared a little better on Day 2, shooting 84, then finished with a 75, birdieing three of her final seven holes in a final-nine 35.

Giles was well off the cut line but was pleased with her finish.

In the Girls Junior this week, she had a solid front nine in the opening round Monday at Tulsa Country Club, shooting 1 over. But she ballooned on her second nine, in part because of oppressive heat, and shot an 11-over 81.

The temperature was in the upper 90s and felt considerably hotter.

Giles didn't drink enough water, she says, and fatigue invaded her body.

When she was on the 16th green, a horn called the players off the course because lightning was in the area.

“I got lucky,” says Giles. “I probably would have passed out if I played any longer. The next day, I really tried to take care of myself. It's just unfortunate what happened on the first day.”

She bounced back with a 72 Tuesday, playing the final 14 holes in 1 under. In a field of 156, only 38 had better second-round scores.

“It leaves a way better feeling,” she says. “Even though I didn’t make the cut in either tournament, it leaves you with, ‘OK, maybe the college coaches see that you just had a couple bad days.”

Getting used to the course helped, says Giles, but taming her nerves was crucial.

“It's just a matter of getting able to deal with the nerves, and especially at this new level,” she says. “It's totally different. Both tournaments I was nervous; you could tell, obviously, by the scores. The second day I tried to find a way to handle those nerves and pull it together.

"My mental game has changed so much. I've become stronger mentally as a player after all these tournaments. That's the biggest part of it, actually."

Giles has stayed for the duration of the Girls Junior — the finals are today — and will soon depart for Wyoming.

She's taken in the action and practiced about four hours a day, most of the time spent on her bread-and-butter, putting and chipping.

“Coming off the last day at the U.S. Junior, I feel pretty confident going to Cheyenne,” she says. “My putting is where it should be; my long game isn’t exactly where I want it to be, but my short game is good enough to where I think I can hold up."

There will be registration, orientation, practice and ceremonies, followed by play Tuesday through Thursday.

Then, finally, Giles comes home.

“I’ll probably take a couple days off,” she says. “That’s probably the best thing to do, give my mind and body a break.”

And when she looks back on these three weeks?

“One of the greatest experiences,” she says. “I would not trade it.”

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com

Giles