Aliea Clark’s summer hasn’t been filled with many breaks so far.
The incoming freshman member of the UCLA women’s golf team participated in the Women’s Western Golf Association National Amateur Championship from June 23-28, the Yani Tseng Invitational from June 29-July 1, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Qualifier on July 7.
Clark finished in the top eight of 144 in the WWGA National Amateur Championship, tied for 19th out of 72 in the Yani Tseng Invitational, and tied for 19th out of 96 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Qualifier, where she finished just two points shy of reaching the qualifying round.
Last week at the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship, Clark finished tied for 49th out of 120.
Clark has grown accustomed to an intense summer golf schedule over the past few years, in which she worked toward becoming a collegiate golfer.
“Originally I started playing (golf) just with my parents, but I thought it was fun,” Clark said. “I found out you could play in college, (and I) thought that was pretty cool. … I didn’t think that I could go to such an amazing golf school as UCLA.”
She began playing locally in competitive tournaments since she was nine and branched out to national tournaments by the time she was 12. But it was during Clark’s high school years, when she started playing in more summer tournaments, that she started to really improve.
“I used to play pretty well like the first couple days of the tournament, and (then) get tired in like day three, day four,” Clark said. “So I focused a lot more on fitness and nutrition, and I have done shorter but more intense practice sessions.”
Due to her increased amount of tournament experience, along with her new fitness and training habits, Clark said that she developed more endurance and mental strength as a golfer.
After several strong performances in American Junior Golf Association tournaments in 2013 – many of which take place during the summer months – Clark caught the attention of UCLA women’s golf coach Carrie Forsyth.
“I’d seen Aliea play quite a bit on the AJGA junior golf circuit, and she always stood out,” Forsyth said. “She was a good player, she had such a bubbly personality and everything. And so we continued to follow her.”
“She was such a good student. … We figured she was probably going to go (to an) Ivy League school,” Forsyth said.
Last November, following a summer in which she had two top-five finishes on the AJGA circuit, Clark signed with UCLA, passing up chances to play golf at some other schools on the east coast, including Harvard. Now, Clark hopes to make an impact in the collegiate ranks as soon as possible, starting with the Bruins’ first team tournament this September.
But as much as Clark has accomplished both this summer and last summer, she knows that she will have to continue to improve in order to earn playing time in her freshman year at UCLA.
“Going onto a team as strong as the one at UCLA, my goal for now would be to just play well in qualifier and qualify for tournaments every week,” Clark said. “My primary goal is just to get taken to (the first team) tournament.”
In most tournaments, only five golfers from a school are are allowed to participate. Last year, with just seven players on the UCLA women’s golf roster, every golfer on the team was able to participate in at least one tournament. This year, playing time might be a little more difficult to come by, as all players but one return from last year’s team, which finished third in the nation. In addition, two more incoming freshmen have been added to the roster, and Clark will have to compete with them as well.
Forsyth said she does not believe UCLA’s already talent-heavy roster will keep Clark from getting playing time, and sees Clark making an impact during her upcoming freshman season.
“Aliea doesn’t have as many wins as a lot of players that we’ve recruited and what not, but I don’t think that that necessarily tells the whole story,” Forsyth said. “I think that she’s the kind of player that’s really going to come into her own in college. … Her potential is really unlimited.”
For now, Clark will continue to build on her golf resume before the UCLA team season begins this fall, as she will participate in three more tournaments over the next month. Following the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship, she will participate in the Women’s TRANS Amateur from July 29-August 1 and then the California Women’s Amateur Championship from August 5-8.
Although Aliea wants to perform well in her individual tournaments this summer, her overarching and long-term goal is team success at UCLA.
“Winning an NCAA championship … that’s kind of the ultimate goal,” Clark said. “111? Let’s go for 112!”
Compiled by Matthew Joye, Bruin Sports senior staff