Malak Bouraeda recites the anecdote as part of family lore, although she was too young to remember it. Her parents grew up competing in various sports – tennis, soccer, basketball, softball – but they decided to give golf a try when the game’s popularity exploded in the early 2000s, thanks to Tiger Woods.
Little Malak accompanied her parents to a course in St. Louis, Mo., at age 2½, and quickly grasped the object of the game.
“The way they tell it, I picked up a ball, went over and dropped it in the hole,” said Bouraeda. “They figured this must be what she wants to do.”
Nineteen years later, having gravitated to golf above other sports, Bouraeda completed a momentous week by graduating from the University of Colorado on May 6 and earning a spot in the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica on May 10. She topped a field of 36 competitors at Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster, Colo., and is competing in her first USGA individual championship this week at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club.
“It was my eighth time trying to qualify for either the U.S. Girls’ Junior, the Women’s Amateur or the Women’s Open,” said Bouraeda, 21, who shot 71-72 to prevail by one stroke over fellow amateur Sky Sudberry and Epson Tour player Maria Fernanda Lira, of Mexico. “My Dad had come from Dubai [where he works] for graduation and he was on the bag, so that made it even more meaningful.”
Bouraeda finds inspiration from her mother, Rhonda Gammill Bouraeda, who grew up in Mountain Home, Ark., and played basketball and softball growing up. She met Malak’s father, Zack Bouraeda, after Zack emigrated to the U.S. from Morocco to play tennis at Missouri State University.
“As they tell it, they were one of the early success stories of online dating,” said Bouraeda with a laugh.
Rhonda battled Crohn’s disease, a chronic illness that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, for much of Malak’s early life, and she became partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke when Malak was 8.
“She was the smartest person I’ve ever known,” said Bouraeda of her mother, who was a schoolteacher. “Despite being sick, she was her high school valedictorian, and she loved to learn. I think I have inherited her level of curiosity. She fought for a very long time, but she lost her battle in 2011. I just try to play for her and encompass her fighting mentality and try not to give up.”
Bouraeda had missed out in USGA qualifiers by one stroke on a few occasions, including a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier just before her freshman year at Colorado, also at Walnut Creek.
“I was terrified – that’s the only word I can use to describe it – that I was going to miss out by one again,” she said after a late stumble in Round 2 of the May 10 qualifier. “This was a nice way to turn around the memories on that course, a little bit of redemption, if you will.”
Bouraeda, who moved to Texas from St. Louis with her family at age 10, competed in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., with former high school teammate Serena Shah (who plays at Southern Methodist), but they missed the cut for match play by two strokes. When Bouraeda qualified for this week’s championship, she became the fourth recent member of the Colorado women’s golf program to do so, joining Jessica Wallace (2014), Jenny Coleman (2015, 2021) and Robyn Choi (2017, 2018).
Bouraeda is also thought to be the first player with ties to Morocco to compete in a U.S. Women’s Open. Zack Bouraeda’s father was a professional soccer player who competed for the Moroccan National Team, and Zack grew up in Morocco before attending school in France, then the U.S. Malak competed for Morocco in 2019 at the Lavaux Ladies Championship in Switzerland, and she will also represent the country in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship Aug. 24-27 in Paris.
“Golf is growing pretty fast over there right now, which is exciting to see,” said Bouraeda of the North African nation that has about 45 courses, many of them built in the last 15 years.
Maha Haddioui of Casablanca, who played at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., has competed on the Ladies European Tour since 2013 and is the first Arab woman to earn playing privileges on that tour.
After she plays for Morocco in the WATC, Bouraeda will return to Boulder to pursue her master’s degree in corporate communications and will compete for the Buffaloes again, using an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the shortened COVID-19 year of 2019-20. Bouraeda led the team in scoring average as a junior (74.05), and she has a trio of top-five finishes in her career.
This week at Pine Needles, as in her college career, she sees her mental approach as being the key to success. She isn’t as starstruck as some amateurs might be, noting that she competed against several current LPGA players in the Pac-12.
“The weeks I have done well, it was from taking out the expectations and just playing,” said Bouraeda, whose uncle, Brent Edens, the superintendent at Big Creek Golf & Country Club in Mountain Home, Ark., will caddie for her. “Just making sure I stay within myself and handle the task at hand, not focus too much on results, that’s when I’ve seen my best success.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.