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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Walker the medalist in U.S. Women's Amateur qualifier at Forsgate

   The last time I saw Brynn Walker was alongside the 10th tee at Rolling Green Golf Club during the opening round of match play in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
   Walker, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion during a brilliant scholastic career at Radnor, was there to support her soon-to-be North Carolina teammate Kelly Whaley, who was in the midst of a battle with Andrea Lee, a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team who was one of the top freshmen in the country this season at Stanford.
   But Walker couldn’t stay. She’s not real good at watching golf. She’s real good at playing golf. And she didn’t have to tell me that the fact that she wasn’t playing golf that day in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green, five miles from her St. Davids home, was just killing her.
   So, she was off to play some golf, or at least practice. Besides, there was a whole career at North Carolina to prepare for, and more U.S. Women’s Amateurs, too.
   Walker will be in the field when the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur tees off Aug. 7 at San Diego Country Club. She made sure of that with an almost routine 1-over-par 72 in a qualifier Wednesday at Forsgate Country Club’s Banks Course in Monroe, N.J. that gave her medalist honors by three shots.
   At least the United States Golf Association didn’t return to Hawk Pointe Golf Club, where last year’s qualifier was held. It wasn’t exactly the golf course’s fault that Mother Nature decided to dump four inches of rain on Hawk Pointe the night before last year’s qualifier.
   Still, I’m not sure declaring every sand trap on the course ground under repair was the right answer, but that’s what they did. It kind of gave a public-course feel to the whole day. Walker shot 77 and wasn’t really close to making it. She had plenty of excuses. But she’s not big on making excuses. She had a bad day, the golf course had a bad day. It was a bad day. Move on.
   Walker started every tournament at North Carolina as a freshman. She had her ups and downs, but she knew they were coming. Whaley, a sophomore, had warned her to take the good with the bad.
   The Tar Heels staged a spectacular rally on the final day of the Athens Regional to earn a trip to Rich Harvest Farms for the NCAA Championship. Walker shot probably the best 80 she’s ever had in spectacularly bad conditions on the opening day at Rich Harvest Farms. Every player who played 18 holes in that became a better player for having done so.
   North Carolina, with one senior in the lineup, missed making the final eight for match play in the team competition by one stinkin’ shot. You think you can look back at 920 shots and figure out somewhere where you could have been a shot or two better? You betcha.
   The Golfstat rankings said the Tar Heels were No. 35 in the country heading into the NCAA Championship. The final standings said top 10.
   But that, like last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier, is in the past.
   At Forsgate, Walker played like the veteran she is, even if she is only 19. She made a birdie at two and a bogey at four to make the turn at even-par. Back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 left her at 2-over, but she birdied the last to finish 1-over.
   Hawk Pointe must have still been in the back of Walker’s mind,  though, because she didn’t hit it any of the Banks Course’s bunkers. Just in case.
   She didn’t birdie any of the three par-5s, which I suspect ticked off a player with her length. But no looking back. Only forward.
   There were 40-some players battling for just four tickets to San Diego Country Club.
   Two more went to Ina Kim, a 32-year-old California native who played collegiately at Northwestern, pretty much put the sticks away for a decade or so, ended up in New York City and shot 4-over 75 to earn a trip back to her home state, and Alix Lowe of Farmingdale, N.Y., a junior at Towson who matched Kim’s 75.
   Valerie Tanguay, a senior at Oklahoma from Canada, survived a four-hole playoff with two others, to get the last berth to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Tanguay carded a 76.
   The first alternate is Kaitlyn Lee, a 15-year-old junior phenom from Scarsdale, N.Y., and the second alternate is Katherine Gravel-Coursol, a Canadian who recently completed her collegiate career at Kansas State. They were the casualties of that 3-for-1 playoff with Tanguay.
   Walker earned a spot in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club the summer before her junior year at Radnor. She told the New Jersey State Golf Association she remembered missing match play, mostly because she took 10 on a hole.
   I remember that story a little. It had something to do with a false front Walker kept challenging and kept seeing the ball roll back down the false front. That’s why she’s such a good player. She learns from her mistakes.
   “I’ve had a lot experience since then,” Walker told the NJSGA website. “The first time I went into the U.S. Amateur, I was tight. It was more about it being a learning experience. I’m more confident going in now. I can just go for it.”
   That was before she won two PIAA championships, before she made deep runs with her pal Madelein Herr in the first two editions of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes and at Streamsong, before she teamed up with Aurora Kan and Ellen Ceresko to help Pennsylvania finish third in the 2015 U.S. Women’s State Team Championship, before she earned a spot in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at the Jersey Shore last summer, before playing against the highest level of amateur competition at North Carolina.
   It will be at least the seventh USGA appearance for Walker, two State Team Championships, two Four-Balls, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2014 Girls’ Junior Championship. All of which makes her more than ready for her second trip to the U.S. Amateur, even if it would have been nicer had that happened last summer at Rolling Green.
   Herr, coming off a solid freshman season herself at Penn State, and a couple of her Nittany Lion teammates, also teed it up at Forsgate.
   Herr and former Pennsbury standout Jackie Rogowicz, who will be a junior at Penn State, each carded a 78. Both qualified for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green. Rogowicz survived a playoff at Hawk Pointe, but failed to advance out of a playoff to make match play at Rolling Green.
   Cara Basso, the 2012 PIAA Class AA champion as a sophomore at Villa Maria Academy, carded an 81.
   By the way, Basso and Rogowicz battled it out in the Women’s Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Howe Cup in a little intra-Penn State tussle a week earlier at Merion Golf Club with Basso claiming the victory by two shots over Rogowicz.
   It looks like it was Day 1 at the West and Day 2 at the East, which has hosted five U.S. Opens, most recently Justin Rose’s 2013 victory. Basso shot 71, I’m guessing at the West, and 4-over 74 at the East for a 145 total. Rogowicz had a 75 on the West and a really strong 2-over 72 on the East for a 147 total.
   Also in the field at Forsgate was Kan, who won the 2010 PIAA Championship as a senior at Chichester before a standout collegiate career at Purdue. Kan shot 80. She made the field at Rolling Green a year ago and survived the playoff to make it into match play before falling in the first round to Kateyln Dambaugh, the left-hander who completed a tremendous four years at South Carolina this spring.
   By the way, if you think I missed Stu Ingraham making birdie on the final hole of his second round of the U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass. in the early morning hours of Saturday to make the cut on the number, think again.
   I’ll try to recap how Stu and the rest of the locals did at the Senior Open in a post Sunday. But check out the leaderboard on the USGA site and see the 57-year-old head of instruction at the M Golf Range in Newtown Square sitting there at 1-over 211, tied for 39th after three rounds along with Tom Watson and Colin Montgomerie. Right where he belongs. Tin Cup indeed.

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