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14 year old girl enters US Open qualification

There are times when Carmen Bandea sounds like a typical 14-year-old girl. She was giddy, for instance, when her mother landed tickets to the new ``Star Wars'' flick.

Those times are rare.

Bandea is a rising tennis player who hopes to turn pro in the fall. She excelled at swimming almost as soon as she jumped in the water. She's an accomplished pianist and singer. She plans to write a children's book.

Now -- what the heck? -- she'd like to play golf in the U.S. Open.

The men's Open, that is.

``I'm going to try it now to get some experience, so when I'm older I can go on and play with the men,'' she said.

Bandea was one of only three female players who entered qualifying for the men's Open, and certainly faced the longest odds. It's unlikely she'll advance beyond the local level, which already claimed 15-year-old phenom Michelle Wie and LPGA Tour professional Isabelle Beisiegel.

Undeterred, Bandea planned to be on the course early Monday at Planterra Ridge outside Atlanta, competing against 137 males in an 18-hole local qualifier. If she manages to be among the top finishers, there's still a 36-hole sectional to get through before they hand out June tee times at Pinehurst.

``Even if she gets through, there's no way she would qualify at the regional,'' said her mother, Becky Bandea. ``But this has made it fun for her, and I like her to have fun.''

This is more than a game, however. Carmen has a personal trainer and a scholarship to IMG's prestigious David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Florida, not to mention regular sessions with the tennis coach at Emory University.

The Bandeas, who live in suburban Duluth, brush off the notion Carmen is taking on too much, too soon -- at the expense of a normal childhood.

``Absolutely not,'' said Carmen, who is home-schooled. ``I love doing everything. If I have a day off, it drives me crazy because I have nothing to do. I like to be busy. Let's say I have a week off, which happened two weeks ago when I had shin splints. I go crazy. I can't sleep. I end up overworking when I come back. I have to do something.''

The 5-foot-8 Bandea has the makings of a golf game that could hold up against the men, averaging about 280 yards off the tee.

``It's easier for me to play those courses,'' she said. ``When I play the women's courses, I rarely take out the driver. Those courses are not suited for me because I can't take it out. On the men's courses, I do.''

But Bandea's short game -- especially putting -- still has a ways to go. She also tried out for the U.S. Women's Open at a local last week, but a 5-over 78 left her three strokes behind the final qualifier.

``That morning I didn't have anything to eat and I wasn't drinking like I should,'' she said. ``I ran out of gas. Sometimes, I make stupid decisions.''

Becky Bandea said her daughter has always wanted to be the best.

``We put her on the swim team when she was 6 years old,'' the mother recalled. ``She had never been in a swimming pool in her life. In three weeks, she was No. 1 in the state in her age group.''

Bandea likes playing golf with the guys because it gives her a chance to pair up with someone cute. She was especially eager to check out her two playing partners Monday.

``She's very mature in some ways, but in some ways she's very immature,'' her mother said. ``She's kind of acting her age right now.''

The LPGA Tour won't allow a player to turn pro until 18, though Bandea's father has talked with officials about the possibility of waiving the rule for Carmen.

It may not matter.

``I absolutely love playing tennis. Golf comes after that,'' Carmen said. ``I like going at a high pace, and golf is definitely not a high pace. It definitely gets a little boring at times.''

There's nothing boring about trying out for the U.S. Open at 14, but Bandea was downright blase about her quest to make history.

``I don't even feel like I have a tournament on Monday,'' she said. ``It's kind of weird. My highlight for the week is going to 'Star Wars.'''

 

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