The most intriguing pro prospect on Arizona’s campus doesn’t shoot a basketball, catch a football or bat third in Jay Johnson’s lineup.
Haley Moore’s average score during her UA freshman golf season was 72.7. She was 17 years old.
As an Arizona freshman, 20-year-old Annika Sorenstam averaged 74.1.
Last week, Moore won the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate Championship, a showdown that included No. 1 Stanford and No. 3 Florida. About an hour later, Sorenstam tweeted, “Congrats Haley.”
Moore awoke early two days later on a chilly, windy morning and was the only person putting at the Randolph Golf Complex at 8:30 a.m. It is a mirror of what Sorenstam did in her two Arizona seasons when she became a first-person-on-the-range devotee at the Randolph practice area.
Sorenstam won the NCAA championship as a 1991 Arizona freshman. Moore tied for second as a freshman in 2016.
Is that taking the Moore vs. Sorenstam comparison too far?
UA coach Laura Ianello, who was teammates with Arizona’s 2001 and 2002 NCAA Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa, has more insight on that subject than anyone.
“Haley’s just starting her third semester in college and she is a kid who absolutely loves golf, loves the competition,” she says. “Haley is out for blood, and it’s rare to find that. One in every 50 recruits we come across has that killer instinct. When you find someone with that passion, and that ability, it’s something special.”
Off the course, Moore is modest, bordering on shy. Ianello says Moore was “sometimes intimidated” as a 17-year-old freshman, but has conquered those fears.
Conquered? Over six tournaments this season, Moore has a 70.5 scoring average and is a cumulative 26 under par.
She is ranked No.5 among American women’s amateurs.
How did this happen? How did the daughter of two former Ohio State athletes — her father, Tom, was a Buckeyes lineman and her mother, Michele, played tennis for OSU — become so good?
She started at age 5 on the San Diego muni courses and wouldn’t let go. Her instructors included immortal golf teacher Jim Flick and Harry Rudolph, who helped the UA men win the 1992 NCAA championship.
Moore chose to leave the San Diego-area San Pasqual High in the middle of her senior year to join the Wildcats’ lineup. Five months later, she shot 68-70-74-68 to finish second in the national finals.
No one told her that it wasn’t possible, especially in a conference that now has the nation’s Nos. 1, 2, 7, 10 and 20-ranked women’s teams.
“After my first tournament at Arizona, I knew the competition was much better,” Moore said. “I knew I had to improve my practice and my training and really step it up. I had to turn my weaknesses into strengths — my course management and short-putting — and now I’m seeing progress.”
And it’s not just Moore. Arizona is really good again in women’s golf. Ianello’s lineup of Moore, Salpointe Catholic grad Krystal Quihuis, sophomore Gigi Stoll and seniors Jessica Vasilic and Wanasa Zhou retains the core of the 2015 Pac-12 championship team.
The Wildcats will stage the 2017 Pac-12 championships at Sewailo Golf Course in late April, and Stanford All-American Andrea Lee, who is ranked No. 1 in college golf, will likely be favored to win.
Or will it be Moore on her home turf?
“Haley is so naturally gifted,” says Ianello. “She has unbelievable hand-eye coordination, something you’d see in a pro baseball or football player.”
If Moore walked into the PGA Superstore and asked the technicians to measure her swing dynamics, they would wonder if their software was working properly.
Her average drive is about 275 yards. She has hit 83 percent of the fairways in UA competition this year. Most players on the LPGA Tour don’t do that.
“Her club-head speed is way above normal,” Ianello says. “She is probably one of the five longest hitters off the tee in women’s golf. When you have those statistics — that long and that accurate — you’re deadly. She can hit a wedge when most of her competitors are hitting 7-irons.”
Before Moore’s win in New Orleans last week, she overcame the tension manifest in winning for the first time. Late in the day, when Ianello asked if Moore wanted to know how she stood on the leaderboard, Moore said no.
“I was able to just concentrate on golf, not winning,” she said. “Afterward, my teammates demolished me with water, just soaking me. I was just so happy. I’ve got a lot to learn, but I’m getting there.”