SPRINGFIELD – It is such a different ball game at an event like the U.S. Women’s Amateur when the qualifying ends and match play begins.
It’s a completely different mindset and a completely different dynamic. Momentum flips from one player to the other with a swing of a club, with a ball sliding into the cup or lipping out. Muni He, a 17-year-old from China, is a classic example. Her Wednesday at Rolling Green Golf Club began at 7:15 a.m. when she dropped in a 22-foot birdie putt on the tough, par-4 11th hole at the 6,259-yard, par-71 William Flynn design to prevail from among five players for the final spot in the match-play draw.
He’s Wednesday at Rolling Green concluded some six hours later when a 32-foot snake at the par-4 fourth hole found the hole to give her a victory over qualifying medalist Mariel Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii on the 22nd hole of their opening-round match. Just like that, Galdiano, a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team who put together a flawless 6-under 65 in the second round of qualifying to grab medalist honors, was gone.
Galdiano is headed for UCLA while He is still a year away from joining the Southern California program, so there’s a pretty good chance their paths will cross again. But He wasn’t backing down from anybody, qualifying medal or no qualifying medal. Because in match play, as He proved once again, anything can happen.
And this wasn’t about somebody playing poorly. When Galdiano bogeyed the par-3 14th hole to square the match, it was the first bogey recorded by either player. He grabbed a 1-up lead when she won the 17th with a par, but Galdiano knocked in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to send the match to extra holes.
He connected on her second huge putt of the day, a 25-footer for par on the second extra hole to extend the match. And then she finished off Galdiano when her long birdie putt at the fourth, the 22nd of the match, dropped in.
“My goal is really just to roll it near the hole because it’s not an easy putt,” He said of her thought process. “It’s a pretty slopey putt and a very decent break, but I just kind of had a target in mind and putted it toward there and let it roll near the hole. It just happened go in.”
Not that it gets any easier for He. She advances to the second round of match play and a date with Italian Virginia Elena Carta, the NCAA champion as a freshman at Duke last spring who cruised to a 5 and 4 victory over Georgia sophomore Rinko Mitsunaga of Roswell, Ga.
That match kicks off the morning session Thursday at 7:30 a.m. The 16 players who survive the second round will meet in the round of 16 Thursday afternoon. Those matches will be featured on FS1 from 3 to 6 p.m.
Former Chichester star Aurora Kan, whose spot in match play was hard-earned as she made a par on the first hole of the same playoff He was involved in with darkness falling on Rolling Green Tuesday evening, faced a tough first-round opponent in South Carolina senior Katelyn Dambaugh, the runnerup to UCLA’s Bronte Law in the race for the Annika Award that goes to the top player in Division I. The left-hander from Goose Creek, S.C. is No. 12 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Kan hadn’t been playing much at this level since graduating from Purdue a year ago and at times the rust showed. Dambaugh quickly rolled to a 5-up advantage, winning the first and second holes with pars, the fourth with a birdie and the fifth and sixth with pars.
But Kan, the 2010 Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur and PIAA champion, has always been a competitor and she battled her way back into the match with consecutive wins at the ninth, 10th and 11th holes, all with pars.
Kan was just 2-down and sitting in the middle of the 12th fairway while Dambaugh’s drive found the grass just above a bunker on the right side. Kan’s approach finished in the middle of the green, 30 feet from the hole. But then Dambaugh launched a high shot that landed on the green, rolled past the pin, then caught the slope perfectly and finished four feet from the cup.
A great player hitting a great shot at just the right time is another part of the match-play dynamic. Kan hit a fantastic putt that caught the lip and spun out. Dambaugh did not miss her birdie putt, restoring her lead to 3-up.
“She hit it a great shot there,” Kan said. “I hit a really good putt on a good line, it just didn’t fall.”
Kan again battled back, winning the 13th with a par to cut the deficit to 2-down again. But she would get no closer.
Kan’s tee shot at the par-3 14th found the bunker left of the green and Dambaugh won the hole with a par after a gorgeous chip from the rough over the green. Kan was over the green at the 15th, but it didn’t matter much. Dambaugh drove it in the fairway and stuck her approach 10 feet away and converted the birdie try to end the match, 4 and 3.
It sets up one of the marquee matchups of the second round as Dambaugh will take on Kristen Gillman of Austin, Texas, the Alabama recruit who won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Nassau Country Club. Gillman rolled to a 5 and 4 victory over Annika Clark of Highlands, Texas. That one tees off at 8:30 a.m.
For her part, Kan seemed to enjoy her return to golf on a national stage. She’ll start her new job at Vanguard a week later than originally planned, but she’ll tee it up at the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur at Saucon Valley Country Club next week.
“Some friends from the area came out to support me today,” Kan said. “I’m not the kind of person who acknowledges people out there. I’m in the zone for the most part. But it’s always great to play golf in Pennsylvania, there’s so much golf history at each course.”
Caught one more match at Rolling Green in the afternoon Wednesday. It featured Andrea Lee, another U.S. Curtis Cup team member and runnerup in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship a couple of weeks ago at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., and North Carolina sophomore Kelly Whaley, the daughter of Suzy Whaley, who is only a couple of steps away from ascending to the position of president of the PGA.
Whaley was locked a tense battle with Lee, who will join the college ranks at Stanford later this month, and was just 1-down heading to the ninth tee.
That’s when Lee’s putter suddenly went white hot. She drained a really tough downhill 20-footer for birdie at the par-5 ninth, then rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe in front of the par-3 10th, a 12-footer for birdie after playing the slope to perfection on her approach to the par-4 12th and then an 18-footer for birdie at the par-4 13th to close out the match, 5 and 4.
Sometimes in match play, a really good player just goes off. Whaley never knew what hit her.
A couple more second-round matches worth catching Thursday morning includes one pitting Mexico’s Maria Fassi, a sophomore at Arkansas, and France’s Celine Boutier, a junior at Duke, and another with South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi, the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle, going up against UCLA sophomore Bethany Wu, another member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team from Diamond Bar, Calif. The Fassi-Boutier match tees off at 9 a.m. with Choi and Wu getting under way a half-hour later at 9:30 a.m.
It’s match play and it’s totally unpredictable.