05 March 2021: On a routine day at work, Katie Rudolph is making speeches and dodging through small crowds of eager children finding their feet around her program with the First Tee of Metropolitan New York. But it was at a Girls Golf program where Katie was invited to speak, that she first spotted Megha Ganne. Rudolph found herself transfixed by the silken swing of the seven-year-old girl from Holmdel, New Jersey. It was love at first sight. Almost instinctively, Rudolph started to look for her parents.
Hari and Sudha Ganne are first generation migrants to the United States. The father enjoyed golf and carried his daughters, Megha Ganne and younger sister Sirina to the course with him. Eventually, both girls took to the sweet sounds of metal meeting the resin on the dimpled ball. And their journey took them to First Tee, a program that aims to empower children, nourishing their personal growth through the medium of golf. In some ways, nature’s surreal magnetism was drawing together a set of kindred spirits on a promising journey toward excellence.
Megha has come a long way from those early days. At 17, she is just as tall as her endearing mentor, sitting atop the AJGA rankings among best American juniors. She is a four-time finalist in the annual Drive, Chip & Putt event for children at the Augusta National Golf Club. And her invitation to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur has been kept sealed in a nice warm cover since the beginning of last year. While coronavirus deprived the amateurs an opportunity to play at Augusta last year, Megha is all set to compete against 84 others from the 31st of March this year.
“I think Katie is definitely like a third parent (she prefers to be cool aunt); my parents are really close to her as well and I have a tight knit team around me” said Megha. “She found me on the range at a Girls Golf program and invited me to attend one of their sessions. Katie is the main reason that I stayed on with the First Tee ever since.” It has been a relationship that has helped both girl and woman grow.
“Megha has definitely pushed me to be better. We have a lot of trust and it is important for me to ensure that she isn’t missing out on the best coaching out there because of our relationship,” admitted Rudolph. “Megha has been one of the reasons why I have kept up with everything that I need to develop her game and I have no doubt that it has made me a better coach.”
One of the things you would notice with Megha is her self-confidence. She is clear in her thoughts and crisp with the translation. Most importantly, the values and attitude that distinguish the First Tee program seem to drip through a conversation with the young lady. Both at the US Women’s Amateur and the US Women’s Open – yes, she has already played both events – the golfer from New Jersey has shown why she is rated so highly by observers of the game.
The gutsy girl, just 15 at the time, shot a pair of 73s to advance into match play. She pulled all stops to win three of four matches on the 18th hole or in extra time to reach the semi-finals. Playing against Albane Valenzuela, Ganne found herself two down and running out of holes. But she produced an eagle and two birdies, including one on the 18th hole to hunt her opponent down. The 21-year-old Valenzuela managed to eke victory on the 19th hole, but not before Ganne made a massive impression.
“The semi-finals were by far one of my favourite memories. It was a point at which everything changed for me,” explained Megha. “In a sense, the US Women’s Amateur showed me that I could do well on the big stages of golf.It was no longer about being happy just to be at an event. I could focus more on shooting low scores and doing well.”
She may even have felt all of those emotions a couple of months’ earlier in 2019. Megha was among a group of 26 amateurs that were in the field for the US Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston. Just keeping the ball straight off the tee can be a daunting task, stepping onto one of the biggest stages in golf. The nerves tend to act up and the muscles tighten, just a tad.
Unsurprisingly, she got off to a rocky start. Megha leaked six strokes in the first four holes and conceded two more on the par-3 sixth hole. Eight-over can sink the best of professionals, but the young woman refused to be blown away by the turbulence. In an impressive turnaround, the young golfer made four birdies through the remaining 30 holes, facing the situation with a game face. In the end it wasn’t enough to make the cut, but it was yet another valuable lesson on her journey into golf.
Max Homa spoke about the advice he received soon after he missed a three-foot putt on the 72nd hole to fall into a playoff with Tony Finau. “Forgive quickly,” told Lacey Croom, and it was all Homa needed to come back and win the title on the second playoff hole.
It is a philosophy that Megha finds incredibly helpful to her evolution as a golfer. “I tend to replay the good shots in mind over and over again, building memory. The human brain itself remembers bad things stronger than good things, and that is what we need to reverse,” explained Megha. “Katie has helped me with it. She is one of the most positive people I know, reinforcing the good parts of the game rather than focus what went wrong. And that has a big impact on how I think on a golf course.”
While the pandemic may have disrupted golf to an extent, it has helped Megha redouble her efforts on the golf course. Online school opened up an opportunity to increase her training regimen, which perhaps explains some of her recent success. She had five third place finishes on junior golf tour last year and played six events in 2020, compared to nine in the previous year. In June last year, even before she could begin her junior year in high school, Megha was offered a place at Stanford, an elite school with a top-flight golf program.
“Coach Walker and Maddy are both spectacular. I also know most of the golfers there, we are already friends,” she said. “So I was just very happy to receive an invitation to join the team.” That is something she can look forward to do in 2022.
As it is Katie believes that Megha is already a golfer with laser sharp irons and an air tight short game. Some of that has to do with the trust between the two women. “I just had to learn to get my trajectory right as Katie decided to stand right in the path of my ball flight,” said Megha.
“I trust her abilities. Besides, I had to teach her to play well under pressure,” and standing in the path of the ball flight was Katie’s idea of piling on the pressure on her young student. Being in the North East can also be challenging since golf is nearly impossible outdoors. But Katie and Megha have drills and routines indoors that keep them in tune with the game and prevent the young woman from sliding away from the game.
In a year’s time though the young woman is going to move to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue her education and grow her game. Megha means a cloud, and one reckons the lessons from First Tee and those that will come from Stanford could catapult her into an orbit well beyond the clouds.