As Mitzi Hernandez swung her 7-iron and sent her ball sailing toward the ninth hole at the Fleming Golf Course in San Francisco’s Harding Park last week, neither she, nor anybody else, could have predicted where the ball would end up.
Hernandez couldn’t find her ball on the green. That’s because her shot was better than that. To her total surprise, she’d nailed her first career hole-in-one. Hernandez’s highlight play on the final hole tied her for the lowest score of the day at 40 and helped the Cougars earn a 207-224 win over Capuchino High School on Thursday.
Half Moon Bay Principal John Nazar said in his 15 years of coaching experience, he had never seen a hole-in-one, nor shot one himself. In fact, the National Hole in One Registry suggests the average golfer records an ace only once in 12,000 rounds of golf.
But then it’s been that kind of season for the Cougars. With three consecutive victories over Capuchino, El Camino and South San Francisco, the Half Moon Bay girls varsity golf team boasts a 4-1 record with two matches left in league play.
The Cougars are coached by Arron Paulino, who’s been with the team since its inception in 2017. The team practices Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Ocean View Driving Range and the Half Moon Bay Golf Links.
The team is largely made up of Latina girls who first played golf through the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside. Paulino, an assistant golf professional at the Golf Links, was quick to credit Virginia Perry, president of the Boys and Girls Club, for helping instill a girls’ golf culture in 2014. That’s when Perry noticed how few girls were on the high school team, which at the time was coed. She decided to take action and helped develop a partnership between the Boys and Girls Club and the Golf Links that allowed students to use the course weekly.
“If it weren’t for her, and her go-at-it attitude building the team, none of this would have happened,” Paulino said.
Some of those girls continued to play in high school. As their numbers grew, the girls launched their own team in 2017 with 12 players. There are many nuanced details to golf, and Paulino enjoys seeing his players learn the subtle moves the sport demands. Scorecards, club choice, and reading each hole are just some of the many aspects players must keep in mind.
With half of the team’s 10 players graduating this year, Paulino knows he has a big transition in the future. For now, he likes his team’s attitude during their winning streak. The Cougars are led by senior Daniella Benito, who is having a breakout season in her third year with the team.
“All of a sudden, she became our No. 1,” Paulino said. “I’m really proud of her for that, because she really put in a lot of effort, even put in time at the driving range out of practice. She’s not a par golfer, but in my eyes, she’s better than most for taking up the game three years ago.”