After years of planning, the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur tees off Monday at Rolling Green Golf Club as the USGA returns to the classic William Flynn design for the first time since the 1976 U.S. Women’s Open.
It is a fascinating cast of characters as 156 of the best female amateurs in the world will try to add their name to the Cox Trophy.
One player who will not be in the field is 2015 champion Hannah O’Sullivan. Winning that title made the Chandler, Ariz. resident exempt for this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, but it also earned her an exemption into the Ricoh British Women’s Open, which concludes Sunday, and O’Sullivan took that exemption.
It makes sense because the LPGA is where O’Sullivan is headed. The 18-year-old had already announced her intention to pass on her scholarship to attend Southern California and to participate in the LPGA Qualifying School while retaining her amateur status.
She had rounds of 70 and 76 at Woburn Golf Club in England and missed the cut by a shot. O’Sullivan did make the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle earlier this summer.
But it is still likely there will be a future professional major champion in the field at Rolling Green, like, for example, 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Lydia Ko or 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur runnerup Brooke Henderson, just to name a couple of recent examples.
When I covered the 1978 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Sunnybrook Golf Club, it was the amateur swan song for one Beth Daniel, who has a plaque in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The Women’s Amateur used to be a stepping stone toward a pro career for the top collegiate golfers. But lately, the top contenders have been even younger.
When Henderson lost in the 2014 final to Texan Kristen Gillman, who is in the field at Rolling Green, it was a battle of 16-year-olds. O’Sullivan was just 17 when she defeated another high school senior, Sierra Brooks of Sorrento, Fla., 3 and 2, in the scheduled 36-hole final at Portland Country Club a year ago.
Brooks, who plans to play collegiately at Wake Forest, turned 18 earlier this month, but, make no mistake about it, she is one of the grizzled veterans at Rolling Green this week. In addition to her trip to the final at the Women’s Amateur a year ago, Brooks, No. 6 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, is one of seven members of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that fell to Great Britain and Ireland in June and she teed it up at the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle.
I’m just going to guess that taking on a very talented GB&I team before a passionate crowd at Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, Ireland is about as intense a match-play situation as you can find.
Brooks will be joined by U.S. Curtis Cup teammates Mariel Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii, a UCLA recruit who is No. 7 in the world, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif., a Stanford recruit who is No. 19 in the world, Mika Liu of Beverly Hills, Calif., who will join the Stanford program in 2017 and who is No. 20 in the world, Bailey Tardy of Norcross, Ga., a sophomore at the University of Georgia who is No. 9 in the world, Monica Vaughn of Reedsport, Ore., a senior at Arizona State who is No. 13 in the world, and Bethany Wu of Diamond Bar, Calif., a sophomore at UCLA who is No. 16 in the world.
Just to review then, that means Brooks, Galdiano, Lee and Liu will all have played in a Curtis Cup Match on foreign soil before they ever teed it up in a college event.
Lee might have a little bit of a match-play advantage in that she just went toe to toe with South Korea’s Eun Jeong Seong in the U.S. Girls’ Junior final last weekend at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J. All Seong, No. 21 in the world, did was win her second straight U.S. Girls’ Junior title with a 4 and 2 decision over Lee and she’s just 16.
You want a little more foreign intrigue? How about Seong’s fellow South Korean, Hye-Jin Choi. She was the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open, the co-medalist at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and tuned up for Rolling Green by claiming the Canadian Women’s Amateur title, a stroke-play event, Friday. You think she’s ready?
Or how about Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta, the runaway winner of the NCAA individual title as a freshman at Duke last spring who is No. 18 in the world. Then there’s Carta’s Duke teammate, junior Celine Boutier of France, who helped the Blue Demons capture the NCAA team title as a freshman in the spring of 2014 and is No. 24 in the world.
I paid pretty close attention to the college scene last season, partially to familiarize myself with some of the players who might make it to Rolling Green. And there is going to be some talent teeing it up in Springfield Monday.
South Carolina senior Katelyn Dambaugh, Purdue senior August Kim, Stanford senior Casey Danielson, Arkansas sophomore Maria Fassi, Wake Forest sophomore Jennifer Kupcho, Arizona sophomore Haley Moore, Northwestern senior Kacie Komoto, Alabama sophomore Cheyenne Knight and the aforementioned collegiate U.S. Curtis Cuppers, Tardy, Vaughn and Wu. They are all capable of making some noise at Rolling Green this week.
Then there are the locals. There was a whole gang of talented youngsters I got to see progress through the high school ranks in the last decade or so and was always hopeful that at least a couple of them would make the field for a U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green.
Chichester’s Aurora Kan was certainly among that group. She never finished out of the top five at the PIAA Tournament, claiming the title in 2010 as a senior after winning a Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur crown the summer before her senior season. Kan had an outstanding four-year career at Purdue, helping the Boilermakers reach the NCAA Championship as a team in three of those years and making it as individual the one year the team failed to get in.
By my count, this will be the ninth USGA event for the 22-year-old Kan, who helped Pennsylvania take third at last year’s U.S. Women’s State Team Championship. She had a nice run at the 2013 Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston, falling just short of a spot in the quarterfinals.
So it was great to see Kan claim medalist honors in the Women Amateur qualifier at Kenwood Golf & Country Club.
The first alternate at Kenwood, Madelein Herr, who won the District One Class AAA title as a senior at Council Rock North last fall, got into the field at Rolling Green.
In the spring of 2015, Herr, who will play collegiately at Penn State, and her pal, Radnor High’s Brynn Walker, made a memorable run to the semifinals of the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. They fell to O’Sullivan and Robynn Ree and O’Sullivan and Ree lost in the final to Mika Liu and Rinko Mitsunaga. Ree, a sophomore at Southern Cal, and Mitsunaga, a sophomore at Georgia, are also in the field this week.
Also earning a trip to Rolling Green at Kenwood was Kate Evanko, a recent Unionville graduate who is headed for Georgetown.
I took a trip to the Women’s Amateur qualifier at Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington, N.J. hoping to see a local player or two survive the test of 55 players vying for five spots and was rewarded when former Lower Merion standout Alessandra Liu, whose game really blossomed in the last two seasons at William & Mary, and former Pennsbury standout Jackie Rogowicz, a sophomore at Penn State, got in.
Rogowicz was always in the mix during her scholastic career, twice winning the District One title and twice finishing second at the PIAA Tournament.
And you can add to that group of youngsters one of the top mid-amateur players in the country, Meghan Stasi. The 38-year-old Stasi resides in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. these days, but she was known as Meghan Bolger when she was growing up in South Jersey and won seven straight Philadelphia Women’s Amateur titles from 1999 to 2005. She came home two summers ago to add an eighth Philadelphia title to her collection.
Stasi won U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titles in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012. You think she’ll be a tough out if she makes it to match play?
Liu and Rogowicz will tee off early Monday, Liu off the 10th tee at 7:37 a.m. and Rogowicz off No. 1 at 8:54 a.m. Kan starts at No. 10 at 12:41 p.m., Stasi starts at No. 10 at 1:03 p.m., Herr is off No. 10 at 2:31 p.m. and Evanko starts at No. 10 at 2:42 p.m.
You can’t beat the price to watch the top women amateur players in the world play Rolling Green. It’s free. Parking is at Cardinal O’Hara High School, which is just off the Springfield exit of the Blue Route. You can get there pretty easily from the West Chester Pike exit of the Blue Route, too, if you know your way around Delaware County a little.
The qualifying rounds will be Monday and Tuesday with the top 64 players earning berths in match play. There will be 32 first-round matches in two waves Wednesday. Second-round matches will tee off early Thursday with the round of 16 scheduled for Thursday afternoon. If you can sneak out of work early on a Friday, you can catch the quarterfinals, eight tremendous players going toe to toe for the right to reach the semifinals.
The semis will be Saturday with the scheduled 36-hole final Sunday.
And the biggest star of the show just might be Rolling Green, the 6,259-yard, par-71 gem that will challenge every aspect of the top amateur women’s games.
I’m hoping to be there all week with daily blog posts and the occasional Twitter updates (@tmacgolf16). It’s going to be a fun week for golf fans, particularly those who follow the women’s game.