Changkija's late-arriving talent making golf world take notice
Sandra Changkija wasn’t quite on the golfing radar as a high school player in Florida.
Only playing in a handful of American Junior Golf Association events, Changkija finished eighth at the Jerry Pate/Andrews Institute Southern Junior in 2007.
Wake Forest was a possibility but Changkija admitted to waiting around too long and actually not quite knowing how the recruiting process worked. She visited Lubbock, Texas, and Texas Tech, but the Big 12 school wasn’t what she was looking for.
A co-worker at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando steered her toward Florida Southern, the 2007 Division II women’s champion. But there wasn’t a spot there, either.
And then Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale entered the picture.
The rest, as they say, is history.
On Friday, Changkija was named the Sunshine State Conference’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. In nine starts, she earned medalist honors four times and did not finish outside the top five. She added her second consecutive SSC individual title on April 19.
“It was kind of a last-minute decision but I have no regrets,” said Changkija, who averages a DII best 73.08 per round this season. “My freshman year wasn’t easy but I knew I had made the right decision. Coach [Kevin] Marsh and [Amanda] Brown have been great.
Now a senior, Changkija’s collegiate career is entering its final stages. Nova Southeastern, winners of the past two Division II women’s championships tees it up May 1-3 at the South Regional on Florida Southern’s home course at Lakeland’s Eaglebrook Golf Club. The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying squads will head to Michigan for the DII Championships, May 11-14.
“I’ve been thinking about it since August,” said Changkija, who graduated with a degree in Business Management last March. “It’s kind of sad but we all have to move on.”
Changkija hopes 2011 turns out similar to a spectacular 2010 campaign.
The accomplishments included:
• A third consecutive NGCA Player of the Year honor.
• Named NGCA DII First Team All-American for the third time.
• Named SSC Female Athlete of the Year.
• Five wins in seven tournaments in the spring including rallying from a four-shot deficit in the final round to win the DII individual title. She averaged 72.13 over her 31 rounds in the spring. She won two of four starts on the fall schedule.
But topping the list for Changkija was qualifying for the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. In a field of 86 that included LPGA, collegiate and amateur golfers, Changkija earned the fifth and final spot after winning a three-way playoff.
“I was really having some swing issues [last July],” said Changkija. “I put a band-aid on it and went to play but my swing wasn’t right. I lined up to hit it down the left side of the fairway but it went straight. Looking back it was a great experience. I was able to play some rounds with some really good players and realized that if I play my game [and] don’t beat myself I can play at that next level.”
Changkija’s only three-putt of her two rounds (76-80) came on that first hole of the tournament. She averaged 1.72 putts-per-hole and 256 yards off the tee. Her 156 total was only three shots off the cut line.
As usual, Changkija went back to work. Gym first thing in the morning; golf course by 10:30 and practicing – depending on the wind – until 5 or 6 o’clock.
“I really enjoy being on the golf course,” she said. “The view and the variety of shots you can hit at Grand Cypress keeps you working on different things. I really want to hit a fade consistently. I want to be able to work the ball better, hit certain shots when I need to. You don’t want to have to scramble, but there’s something to getting out of trouble by having to hit a tough shot.”
Simply said, Changkija loves all things golf.
The next three weeks could be special for this senior.
“The thing that impresses me the most about Sandra is each tournament, people expect her to win,” said Nova SE head coach Kevin Marsh. “Though I feel that is unfair, Sandra has taken on the challenge and is in the process of completing one of the most impressive careers in women’s collegiate golf.”
So, that player, Sandra Changkija, who wasn’t on very many radars?
She is expected to contend for a second consecutive DII individual title and spearhead a team in search of a third consecutive team championship.
And don’t bet against a few more appearances in the U.S. Open or in a tournament near you on the LPGA Tour.
The top player in women’s DII golf is certainly not alone.
The Sharks have won five consecutive tournaments and have four of the top 15 players according to Golfstat’s ratings.
Changkija, at 72.33, leads the DII pack with sophomore Abby Gittings (75.2) and senior Taylor Collins (74.66) ranked fourth and fifth, respectively. Senior Nicole Whitmore (76.95) is No. 13. Collins was fourth at the SSC tournament, just four shots behind her teammate.
Florida Southern has all five players ranked inside the top 20 led by No. 2 Melanie Audette (74.98) and No. 7 Marianne Andersson (75.13). Audette tied for fourth, 15 strokes behind Changkija at the 2010 DII Championships in Mesa, Ariz.
Nova was 40 shots better than second place Rollins in 2010. Florida Southern was third, 41 shots back. The Mocs have finished no worse than third in 11 starts in 2010-11 with five victories. They were four shots behind the Sharks at the SSC Championships.