Hosch’s drive puts Titans women’s golf team on course

It was mid-August and there was Kathryn Hosch, sending emails and doing her due diligence on the recruiting trail as she is wont to do. She had three players to replace, including reigning Big West Player of the Year Brittany Shin, who suddenly transferred to Oregon. And there was working the recruiting corners with the high school class of 2022.

Yes, it was business almost-as-usual for the Cal State Fullerton women’s golf coach. Business almost-as-usual, save for those pesky contractions.

Yes, contractions.

Hosch was sending out recruiting emails while going into labor with her first child. After all, these players weren’t going to recruit themselves, now, were they?

“The workaholic in me was sending emails while I was having contractions,” she said. “My husband said when we got to five minutes, I was going to the hospital. Well, I’m sending this email and then felt another contraction. I said, ‘I have to go now.’

“My husband says, ‘You’re not bringing your backpack.’ I said I might need it, because everything I have for work is in there.”

On Aug. 15, Hosch gave birth to Brooklyn Grace, a healthy baby girl. She took a few days off, then returned to the grind of restructuring a Titans’ team that lost three players: Shin, the early-graduated Nodoka Honda and Sophia Legaspi, who decided not to play anymore. Three players Hosch didn’t expect to lose were out of the picture.

But remember, Hosch is a workaholic. There’s nothing in the pregnancy handbook from Drs. Spock, Brazelton or any of the other celebrity parenting gurus that precludes walking golf courses while pregnant. Nowhere did it say she couldn’t go to practices or set up Zoom calls with potential recruits.

“We had our back against the wall and we had to get some transfers,” Hosch said. “I normally don’t like relying on transfers because you never know what you’re going to get. They could come with baggage; I mean why are they transferring in the first place? But I got lucky.”

Did she ever. This is how Hosch brought in Finnish standout Elina Saksa and Australian Linley Ooi, two international transfers from collegiate golf powerhouses that gave the Titans immediate credibility.

Given what she unearthed here in terms of talent, perhaps Hosch should recruit while expecting more often. In Saksa, the Titans welcomed in a junior transfer from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was a second-team All-Mountain West pick two years ago. Saksa compiled a strong 73.76 scoring average, led the Rebels in birdies and tied for medalist honors at the Rebels’ home tournament: the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown.

Along the way, Saksa played on the Finnish National Team, helping her country to a Ladies World Amateur Championship in 2018 and herself to the 2016 European Young Masters Championship. She was the 2015 Finnish Under-18 Girls Under-18 Player of the Year and a member of the Finnish Olympic Team.

“She wanted to find a place with a different environment, and she wanted to come to California,” Hosch said. “The funny thing was she was recruited to go to Oregon. They didn’t get her and got Brittany instead.”

And the Titans got a player who paid immediate dividends. Saksa won her first tournament as a Titan, capturing medalist honors at September’s Jackrabbit Invitational in South Dakota. Hosch said she’s established herself as Cal State Fullerton’s No. 1 player going into the spring.

As for Ooi, Hosch rolled the dice, going against every innate instinct. She hadn’t played much at Oklahoma, so there wasn’t much of a stat trail to go on there. Then, Ooi is Australian and that country went into a near-total lockdown during the depths of the pandemic, so she couldn’t work as hard on her game.

Recruiting Ooi here went counterintuitive to every fiber in Hosch’s being. But putting aside the need element for the moment, Hosch saw something in Ooi that fit the team dynamic she always seeks. As much as any coach in the Cal State Fullerton athletic program, Hosch builds her teams on that culture fit. And she wasn’t shy in saying the Titans underperformed last spring because she didn’t like the team dynamic.

“I had no idea what she was scoring, but we took that risk because I had multiple Zoom calls with her and I really liked her vibe,” Hosch said. “She seemed like a team player. Her coach raved about her and I knew we needed that. I felt like we couldn’t lose. Her game is still progressing, but she shot an under-par round in our last tournament and it’s getting there. It’s getting really good with her.

“She’s been the glue to our team. She’s helped create the awesome vibe we have. I haven’t been traveling, but every time I’m around the team, they’re talking about it.”

Saksa and Ooi are juniors. Lisa Djerf and Haruka Koda are seniors, as are Sara Camarena and Kayle Hunn. Given how hard Hosch worked on the recruiting trail, someone has to be the Titans’ prodigy.

That someone is freshman Kayla Sam, another recruiting coup for Hosch, who likened getting the freshman from Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills to “the Ikea commercial lady who runs out of the story yelling, ‘Start the car!’” Sam was recruited by the likes of Baylor and Virginia Tech before hurting her wrist her sophomore year.

That took her off many programs’ radar. But not Hosch’s. She saved Sam’s name in her files and during one bored day decided to text her and see what her plans were. That started a half-year courtship that resulted in Sam committing to the Titans. In turn, that resulted in Sam tying for sixth in her second collegiate tournament: the Golfweek Red Sky Classic in Colorado.

“I know there’s more in her, but for a freshman in her first semester, she’s doing quite well,” Hosch said. “She’s doing well in the classroom, and I would say it’s been a successful first semester for her.”

Hosch could say that about the Titans in general. She leaned heavily on assistant Margo Dionisio and unpaid volunteer assistant Michelle Winkler, a former teaching pro at a Connecticut country club. Dionisio traveled with the Titans this fall, allowing Hosch to stay home with Brooklyn.

“I laughed at the process everyone you talk to tells you when you have a child,” she said. “You’ll get tired, your back will hurt, the usual. But I never really felt tired. I had so much work to do that summer and luckily, I got it done. Once I had Brooklyn, I was able to bounce back physically, but the time it takes to be with a newborn, I probably underestimated.

“I had visions of being a supermom, a super coach and a lady, and I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t going to be the case … But I have to give a lot of credit to our assistants. I’m absolutely loving this. We’re all like 30 years old and coaching golf. We’re co-workers and friends. It’s great.”

Did you know…? In 2016, Kayla Sam won the prestigious Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta National Golf Club. She captured the 12-13 age group, winning the long drive element of the three-discipline competition, which tests junior golfers’ abilities in driving, chipping and putting on a national stage before the Masters.

She said it: Kathryn Hosch, on what it was like to recruit while pregnant — “I’m recruiting for 2022 and I have four seniors to replace, so I had to get out to tournaments. I had so much work to do this summer. I’m out there eight months pregnant and I’m driving around the Junior Worlds in San Diego on a golf cart. I had an edge on the other coaches there because I was able to go from group to group in a cart. It was kind of funny.”

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