Women’s Golf champ Tammy Panich, 19, took a roundabout way to become GCC’s biggest golf star ever and has bolstered Vaquero credibility and respect in the eyes of Oakmont Country Club in Glendale.
While practicing at the golf program’s prize Oakmont habitat on a sunny Oct. 12, Panich recounted some of the events leading up to her 71, two-under-par, first-place finish in a tournament Oct. 11 at Marshall Canyon Golf Course in La Verne.
“That was my big day,” said social science major Panich, referring to the win while rounding a few practice swings at the sixth hole of Oakmont.
Golf has made Panich a Glendale News-Press headliner since August when it was predicted that, despite her recent appendectomy, the two-time All-Area member would guide the Lady Vaqs to a strong showing this season.
A woman with long, iron legs, Panich was born in Monterey Park to Thai parents and then grew up in Thailand before coming back to L.A. She attended John Muir Elementary, Wilson Middle School, Glendale High, and Cal State Northridge before arriving at GCC.
Panich started golfing five years ago when her father got her to join the co-ed Tregnan Golf Academy for kids 7 through 18 at Griffith Park. “I didn’t like it at first, but my dad forced me to. Then after getting really good at it and starting to win tournaments, I started to like the competition. I guess I really like winning,” she said planting her tee in the ground and taking a moment to size up the landscape.
Vaquero players are very privileged to have access to such a fine course. “Oakmont has now made us their team,” said Vaquero golf coach Greg Osbourne, a GCC alumnus who made All-American at California Lutheran University and still competes in the PGA.
“This is the best country club in Southern California and we get to play here for free?” Osbourne said with grin. Oakmont members pay more than $40,000 each to join, plus between $800 and $1,500 monthly dues depending on the type of membership. If a member wants to bring a friend onto the course, it’s an additional $95.
“It wasn’t easy. [Oakmont] didn’t want us here,” the coach continued, “but they accepted us after seeing the quality of player I brought in, and after seeing us be winners. We’ve been able to build a Division One program at the junior college level, and Tammy was a huge part of that,” he said proudly.
“When we first came here we were just run-of-the-mill,” the coach said. “Tammy comes here-it brings credibility. Now she’s number one in the league; she’s going to be player of the year of the league; she’s going to go to the regionals; and she could win the state.”
GCC was extremely fortunate to get Panich. Everybody said there was no way she would come to Glendale, to which coach Osbourne said, “Hey, if you don’t believe in your own program, who will?”
Panich decided she wasn’t happy with the Cal State Northridge golf team and situation. She had to show up at 6 a.m. six-days-a-week and often stay until 9 p.m. Now attending a school closer to home, she has more time for friends and her father, who is an integral part of her success as golf star. “It’s fun knowing that I get to practice here [at Oakmont] and I’m going to be a better player.”
“She’s put our girls’ program on the map,” said Osbourne, who started coaching the men’s team three years ago and who just took over the women’s team, recruiting and building a champion golf program.
“I went and got the best player in the area and it wasn’t easy. I had to convince her; I talked to her father; and now, she’s fantastic,” he said watching Panich launch a missile from the tee box.
Panich said her father, who is her role model, teaches her a lot of things about life: “Work hard at something you want to accomplish,” he has always told her. “Nothing’s going to be given to you if you don’t work at it because life is hard. Life is tough.”
“My putting is really good, and I need to work on my long game,” said Panich pulling out a 52-degree wedge to tackle a 50-yard chip shot to make it the rest of the way to the green.
Much of her versatility and ability to improve every facet of her technique has come from listening to her coach: “Proper angle equals proper accuracy. Relax and be consistent. It’s all balance and knowing the distance. If you’re using the right iron with the proper angle, the ball will go the proper distance with the proper accuracy.
“If you try to swing and you don’t understand that angle of the club, you’re going to scoop up. A fundamentally sound swing is really very simple. People make it way too difficult.”
Panich then putted the ball into the hole for par and headed to the next tee. Her short-term goal is to land a full scholarship at a four-year university and her long term goal is to play at the professional level.
“She’s always looking on the brighter side of things,” said her practice partner for the day, Clint Bowman. “It’s all about practice – she puts in a lot of practice for this.” Bowman was looking forward to his second season with the men’s team in spring 2011.
“Actually, I’m not an athlete,” said Panich clobbering one from the back tee, “I don’t like running, I don’t like exercising. I thought, ‘Oh, it’s golf – you don’t really have to be fit.’ But actually, it’s a lot harder than that, so I have to start working out to get better.”
Panich was number one for four seasons on the Glendale High boys’ team where she got used to teeing off from a longer distance. In women’s competitions, she always starts from the women’s tee. “Not so good . too high,” she said scoffing at her sky ball that went barely 200 yards.
Since leading the Lady Vaqs to a first-place team finish in La Verne Oct. 11, Panich tied for first-place again on Oct. 18 at Robinson Ranch Golf Course in Canyon Country. This time, she scored a 78. Even her sniffles, due to the cold and the rain, couldn’t knock her off her game.
Unfortunately, only three members of the Vaquero ladies team participated, so GCC’s team score didn’t count. Four players are needed to qualify.
The wet, frigid conditions “got a lot of people in trouble,” said teammate Diana Hernandez referring to the drizzle-soaked course. Usually a drive will roll at least 10 ten more yards after it hits the ground. But in the rain, “it hits the wet ground and it just sticks – it doesn’t roll,” she said. “Then you have the issue of slipping when you’re hitting the ball, losing your balance, and dealing with wet feet and wet grips.”
Robinson Ranch is a breathtaking course but with very narrow fairways and lateral hazards left and right, “so you really have to put it straight to be in a good position,” said Hernandez, who scored a disappointing 97.
As for Panich, she didn’t have a particularly good round because of a couple of bogeys, which is unusual for her. But tying for first with a 78 is not bad considering the difficult conditions.
Hernandez said that Panich always demonstrates good sportsmanship: “Tammy is clearly our best player, but she’s very humble about it. When she gives advice, for example, she has a way of putting herself at your level – in my case at a beginner’s level. She doesn’t act like she knows more than you, but she clearly does.”
Panich knows how to laugh but also how to be serious and encourage her fellow golfers. “Tammy is a lot of fun and a great teammate,” said Hernandez, “because at the end of the day when you’ve shot a horrible score for yourself and you’re upset, she’s the one to remind you that golf is just a game. She’ll say, ‘Let it go, and just go out there and have fun the next time – and continue to improve.'”
“One thing I do know is that Tammy can go far if she wants to. She can become a really great golf player,” said Hernandez.
Some things surely do happen for a reason.
Panich will lead the Lady Vaqs to the WSC finals at Olivas Links in Ventura on Oct. 31.