From the moment she spoke to coach Nick Hovden on the phone, Emma Sabbagh was pretty much sold on the University of South Dakota.
One of valley’s top young female golfers of the past three seasons, the 17-year-old from Kelowna this fall committed to the Coyotes’ program in Vermillion, SD for the 2018-19 NCAA season.
“I’ve never hit it off so well just talking to someone, we had a great conversation and that really swayed me,” said Sabbagh, a Grade 12 student at Kelowna Christian School. “I like the way Nick runs the program there.
“The campus and the school are really nice, and the team is so cool. It ended up just being a no-brainer for me, you could say.”
Sabbagh also considered an offer from a small Div. 1 school in New York but opted for USD, a liberal arts school in the southeast corner of the state with an enrollment of more than 10,000 students.
That the Kelowna teenager is pursuing a golf career and education south of the border may have been unthinkable to the Sabbagh family even a few years ago. Living in Cranbrook at the time, Sabbagh admits there wasn’t really anything she liked about the sport.
“My dad had to drag me to the driving range when I was in middle school, and I remember hating it,” Sabbargh said with a laugh. “No one my age played golf in Cranbrook, so that was probably a big reason. It all changed when we moved to Kelowna in Grade 8. There were a lot of other kids playing, I started playing and competing and really started to enjoy it.”
Sabbagh developed her game on the Okanagan’s Zone 2 Junior Tour, reaching a turning point in 2015 when she won the season-ending tournament at Gallagher’s Canyon.
She credits much of her growth as a player to the junior tour, including the efforts and support of coordinator Erich Breitkreuz.
In a 2017 season of ups and downs, one of Sabbagh’s better efforts came at the Future Links event in Fernie where she finished in seventh place. At the B.C. women’s amateur in Vernon, she made the cut and finished 25th in a field of the top players in B.C.
After one more spring and summer of fine tuning her game in the Okanagan, the Kelowna teen looks forward to making the step up to NCAA golf next fall.
“I’m excited in tournaments at that level,” said Sabbagh. “Not a lot of people get the chance to play NCAA, so it’s a pretty cool opportunity.
“(Coach) Nick said ‘we know you’ve been struggling with scores a bit in the summer, but once we get pushing you, the sky is the limit.’ I’m excited to see what I’m capable of.”
While Sabbagh has yet to decide on her courses at USD, she is leaning toward a biology-related program.
She will head to Vermillion, SD late next summer, with the academic year to begin Aug. 20.