Augusta University makes first trip to NCAA Championship thanks to strong play of freshman Mirabel Ting, whose father died not long after she arrived on campus

Malaysia’s Mirabel Ting celebrated her 17th birthday shortly after she arrived at Augusta University. Her father, Thomas, believed she was mature enough to handle all that comes with moving across the world to chase a dream.

Mirabel couldn’t possibly imagine, however, just how much she’d grow as a college freshman, in ways no teenager should have to face.

Augusta coach Caroline Haase-Hegg can still hear her players saying, “Coach, Coach,” in the van as they drove to Statesboro, Georgia, last October for Georgia Southern’s home event. Haase-Hegg looked back to see a devastated Ting, who’d just received word from home that her father had died from a massive heart attack.

“It was horrible,” said Haase-Hegg. “We were right about to Statesboro, and I didn’t know what to do. Do we turn around; do we keep going?”

She called Georgia Southern coach, Mimi Burke, who, like Haase-Hegg, has Purdue roots. They drove to Burke’s home, sat together as a team and cried.

At first, Mirabel insisted that she wanted to play in the tournament. It’s what her dad would’ve wanted, she thought. But by the next morning, she’d come around to the idea that she needed to get home. They drove back to Augusta to collect her things and put her on a plane at the Atlanta airport.

“At that point, I didn’t know if I’d see Mirabel again, to be honest” said Haase-Hegg.

Ting came back a few weeks later and tried to assimilate back into college life, but it proved too much. She returned to Malaysia for a second time to grieve.

“My only concern was Mirabel’s health,” said Haase-Hegg. “She was in a really dark place. I had no idea what was going to happen.”

Thomas first brought Mirabel to the course when she was 3 years old as a tag-along with her older brother. She grabbed her brother’s driver, which stood taller than her, closed her eyes and took a swing. The ball flew 50 yards.

“My dad was like, ‘This girl can play,’ ” said Mirabel.

Back home in Malaysia, Mirabel knew her father would want her to finish her degree before turning profesisonal. It was a tough decision, leaving her mother alone to pursue college life in Augusta, Georgia, but Mirabel returned to campus with a renewed sense of focus and peace.

“Whenever I played bad, (my dad) would just ask me what happened and what goes wrong,” said Mirabel. “He would always say that I didn’t practice enough.

“I literally told myself when I got right back to Augusta – I need to work even harder, double the training that I did before. I woke up for workouts and then straight to practice – go to school and go back to practice again.”

That no-quit mentality, she said, comes from dad, and it paid off handsomely.

In her first college start that spring, Mirabel won in a playoff at the Moon Golf Invitational after carding rounds of 69-69-65.

“It was completely insane for me, shooting 13 under,” said Mirabel, who dedicated the victory to her father.

Augusta punched their ticket to the national championship after the Athens regional of the 2023 NCAA Division I women’s golf championships at the UGA Golf Course in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (Tony Walsh/UGAAA)

Haase-Hegg said Mirabel might be the best iron player she’s ever seen, high praise from a coach who has worked with several LPGA players over the years. A straight hitter who drives it well and holes putts under pressure, Haase-Hegg said Mirabel loves the game and keeps it simple.

“Even when things were going badly in her life, she’d still go out on the golf course and ho-hum it for a 68,” said Haase-Hegg.

Mirabel hasn’t finished outside the top 15 in seven starts this semester. At the NCAA Athens Regional, she shot 6 under on the back nine and closed with two birdies to lift Augusta into the fifth and final spot, giving the Jaguars their first trip to the NCAA Championship.

Haase-Hegg said Mirabel puts the team before herself. If some of her teammates are struggling with a drill, she’s the first to start shagging balls and cheer them on.

The Jaguars have five top-3 finishes this spring, including a victory at the Southland Conference Championship. Last month, Ting was named the Southland Conference Women’s Golf Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. She’s currently 15th in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

Before Augusta headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, this week they gathered at Bodega Ultima with about 100 supporters from the community to celebrate an important milestone for the program.

The NCAA Championship gets underway on Friday at Grayhawk Golf Club with the first of four stroke-play rounds. Thirty teams will be cut to 15 after 54 holes. On Monday, an individual champion will be crowned and eight teams will advance to match play.

Haase-Hegg still has her own college coach and former boss, retired Purdue coach Devon Brouse, listed as one of the favorites on her phone. He’s usually out gardening when she calls. She’s leaned on him often this year, recalling the hardships that have molded and strengthened.

“That’s what I see in Mirabel – she’s come out stronger,” said Haase-Hegg. “She’s more resilient. She’s got a perspective to life that not many 17-year-olds have.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek