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Golf: Ramirez in control, six shots clear of challengers

UTEP golfer Naomi Ramirez follows a tee shot during her second round of the New Mexico/West Texas Amateur Championship at Santa Ana Golf Club. She leads by six shots after 36 holes. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Thanks to a strong back nine Saturday, Mexico’s Naomi Ramirez surged into the lead of the New Mexico/West Texas Women’s Amateur Golf Championship at Santa Ana Golf Club.

But the native of Juarez, who just finished her freshman season at UTEP, almost didn’t get a chance to play.

“I heard of this tournament from some golf friends that played in the men’s tournament,” she said. “At first I couldn’t get in because my handicap was with the Golf Federation of Mexico, but because I’m pretty much a local from El Paso, I sent them an email and fortunately I got in. It’s a great tournament. I like the courses.”

At the turn Saturday, Ramirez was neck and neck with playing partners Ashlee Garrett and Jessica Osden. But the latter two faded, while Ramirez picked up her pace to finish with the tournament’s best round so far, a 1-over 73.

Heading into Sunday’s final round, also at Santa Ana GC, Ramirez sits at 4-over 148 and holds a 6-stroke lead over Garrett, Flavia Torres and Samantha Surrette. Garrett and Surrette, meanwhile, are tied for the lead of the Albuquerque Women’s Championship in the combined tournament.

“I started off a little rough,” Ramirez said. “I was having some trouble with my driver most of the round.”

After a 3-over front nine, however, she found her game.

“On the back, I just wanted to go a little more steady, then finish off really good,” Ramirez said.

She carded three birdies, including dropping a 15-foot putt on No. 14, and came up just short of a birdie on the closing hole.

And playing in the tournament is a good way to prepare for the upcoming college season, Ramirez said.

“I think any tournament, any time you go out on the course, it’s a good prep for college golf,” she said. “I think this is great. The yardages are pretty much the same as college golf. We’re giving each other a good time. Hopefully, getting it (Sunday) will be a good way to start my year.”

By contrast, Albuquerque’s Surrette said she’s been playing in the tournament for more than two decades and several years ago tied for first before losing in a playoff.

“I had a good round (of 75),” she said. “I putted really good. I only had 29 putts so I rolled the ball really good. The greens are great right now. Of course, Santa Ana is always in great shape.”

A former University of New Mexico softball player who was a member of the 1984 Albuquerque softball team that won the Little League World Series, Surrette is more of a golf dabbler, playing twice a week.

“I don’t go to the range before I play,” she said. “I don’t practice before I play. I swing the club a couple of times and head out to the tee. I’m not a big practicer. I just head out and play and that’s how I’m going to play (Sunday). It’s just another day of golf. Hopefully I’ll play well.”

Torres, a former Kirtland Central High School golf coach, said this is her first tournament back after taking about 10 years off to have two children.

“I feel like I played a lot better, it just didn’t show up on the scoreboard,” said Torres, who shot 77 in each round. “I chipped and putted really well, but none of my birdie shots went in. But what can you do, it’s golf. It was a lot of fun. I had a great group of girls. It was awesome.”

Whether she is able to make up the ground on Ramirez or not, Torres said she’s happy with the way things are going.

“My thinking going into this whole thing was obviously just to see where I’m at as a player and secondly, just have fun,” she said. “This is really an enjoyable environment. I just wanted to have fun and do well. And hopefully my kiddos will be inspired to pick up a club soon because I want to eventually be their hero.”

Garrett, the first-round leader, shot 80 Saturday after her opening 74.