Sam Wagner, a former junior phenom who is coming off her sophomore season at Florida, rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt on the last hole to claim medalist honors in the U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier Monday at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.
In a field that included a number of LPGA players who teed it up last weekend in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club’s Bay Course, Wagner’s bomb at the last enabled her to finish a long day in dismal, rainy conditions with rounds of 68 and 69 for a 5-under 137 total over the 6,451-yard, par-71 Hidden Creek layout.
A day later Wagner, an Easton native whose family moved to Florida when she was 11, announced that the U.S. Women’s Open, which will be held July 13 to 16 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., will be her professional debut. Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call in Allentown reported the news, announced by Wagner in a heartfelt farewell to the Florida golf program on Twitter.
Hidden Creek was the site of Chip Lutz’s 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur victory. Lutz, who plays out of LedgeRock Golf Club in Berks County, was named by Global Golf Post as the top male amateur player in the world in 2016.
“It was the biggest putt I’ve ever made under pressure,” Wagner told the New Jersey State Golf Association website concerning the birdie try that gave her the medal at Hidden Creek.
Florida was one of the top teams in the country all year. Such was the talent level for the Gators that Wagner was left out of the lineup for the Southeastern Conference Championship and the NCAA Columbus Regional, both of which Florida won.
Wagner was back in the lineup for the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. as the Gators, ranked No. 5 by Golfstat heading into the tournament, battled back from a slow start in dreadful weather to finish tied for fifth and qualify for match play. Florida was ousted in the quarterfinals by eventual national champion Arizona State, 5-0.
Twice before Wagner was the first alternate for the Women’s Open and she got in two years ago at Lancaster Country Club.
Wagner teamed with her Gator teammate Maria Torres of Puerto Rico, who completed her career in Gainesville this spring, in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball last week at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C. They advanced to the quarterfinals before falling, 1-up, to eventual champions and Furman teammates Alice Chen and Taylor Totland.
The other two qualifying berths at Hidden Creek went to Thidapa Suwannapurn, a five-year LPGA pro from Thailand with earnings in excess of a half-million dollars, and Stephanie Meadow, a native of England who was a four-time All-American at Alabama and is in her third year on the LPGA Tour.
Suwannapurn, who missed most of 2016 while dealing with a back injury, had rounds of 70 and 68 to finish a shot behind Wagner at 4-under 138. She will be playing in her third U.S. Women’s Open.
Meadow emerged from a 3-for-1 playoff with Jackie Stoelting, winner of The Golf Channel’s “Big Break Florida,” and veteran LPGA player Katherine Kirk, a native of Australia, after they finished tied for third at 3-under 139. Meadow, who had rounds of 70 and 69, birdied the second hole of the playoff to eliminate Stoelting and claim the last ticket to Trump National.
Stoelting, the first alternate, closed strongly with a 5-under 67 after an opening-round 72. Kirk, the second alternate, started fast with a 5-under 66, but backed off with a second-round 73.
Suwannapurn, Meadow, Stoelting and Kirk were all in the field at the ShopRite. Only Stoelting survived the 36-hole cut and she finished 74th.
As you would expect, there was a sizable local contingent at Hidden Creek, led by former Mount St. Joseph standout Emily Gimpel, who had rounds of 73 and 74 and finished tied for 23rd at 5-over 147. Gimpel, who played collegiately at Maryland, is on the Symetra Tour.
Former Pennsbury standout Jackie Rogowicz, a junior at Penn State, had rounds of 77 and 73 to finish 31st at 150. Brynn Walker, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion at Radnor coming off a solid freshman season at North Carolina, opened with a 3-over 74, but struggled in the second round with an 80 to finish tied for 35th at 154.
Two-time reigning Pennsylvania Junior champion Kaitlyn Lees, a senior at Agnes Irwin, bounced back from an opening-round 81 with a 76 to finish tied for 45th at 157.
Among some of the others in the field were: Former Coatesville standout Samantha Staudt (81-82—163, tied for 55th), coming off her freshman season at Seton Hall; Conestoga junior Samantha Yao (79-86—165, tied for 58th), the runnerup at the PIAA Class AAA Championship last fall; former Unionville standout Kate Evanko (86-80—166, tied for 60th), who is coming off her freshman season at Georgetown; Aurora Kan (80-97—167, 64th), who won the 2010 PIAA title as a senior at Chichester before going on to star at Purdue; and former Owen J. Roberts standout Madeline Sager (90-85—175), who, like Staudt, was a freshman on the Seton Hall golf team last season.
As I noted in my Philadelphia Junior Tour post earlier this evening, Julieanne Lee, who finished third in the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a junior at Central York last fall, struggled with rounds of 85 and 91 to finish 68th, but got her feet wet in the big leagues of women’s golf.