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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Southern California isn't kind to local contingent in U.S. Women's Amateur



   San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif. didn’t seem to fit for the local contingent that headed west for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
   When the dust cleared from two rounds of qualifying for match play Tuesday – well, actually it hasn’t completely cleared since five players will return to the course at 10 a.m. our time Wednesday to sort out the last four spots in match play with two players eliminated from a group of 11 vying for the last eight spots – the cut fell at 6-over-par 150 over the 6,423-yard, par-72 San Diego Country Club layout.
   Some just missed, most notably four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur and eight-time Women’s Golf Association of Philadelphia Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, who finished at 7-over 151. Stasi, a South Jersey native who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., added a 5-over 77 to her opening-round 74.
   Before I left for an overnight shift at the U.S. Traffic Network, I thought Mia Kness, who captured the PIAA Class AAA championship as a senior at Peters Township last fall, was going to make it. But Kness gave away four shots late in her round with a double bogey and a pair of bogeys.
Kness, who will start her freshman season at Seton Hall in a few weeks, ended up with a 77 after opening with a 75 for an 8-over 152 total that was two shots out of the large group that played off for the last eight berths in match play.
   Others weren’t so close to making it, most notably the player who won the two PIAA Class AAA titles preceding Kness’ 2016 crown, Radnor High product Brynn Walker.
   Walker, who was in the starting lineup every step of the way as a freshman for a North Carolina team that missed making match play in the NCAA Championship by one shot, knew she had to try to make something happen after opening with a 5-over 77. And that’s a tough way to have to play a course set up by the USGA for a national championship.
   When Walker made a bogey at two, a bogey at four and a double bogey at five, she had no chance. She ultimately signed for an 81, which left her at 158. She’ll go back to North Carolina and get better because that’s what she’s always done. As Walker once told me, nobody expects more of Walker than she does of herself.
   Maddie Sager, who as a senior at Owen J. Roberts was the runnerup to Walker in the 2015 PIAA Class Championship, improved three shots from her opening-round 83 with an 80 to finish with a 163 total.
   I don’t think Sager’s expectations were as high as say, Walker’s were in southern California, but the experience of being there will make her a better player when she returns for her sophomore season at Seton Hall. And no doubt happy to have a player of Kness’ talents joining the team.
    One of the best teams in college golf last season was Stanford, the Cardinal coming up just short of a spot in the final of the NCAA Championship when Pac-12 rival Arizona State, the eventual champion, edged them in the semifinals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
   The Cardinal had three players finish among the top 11 in qualifying, including medalist Shannon Aubert, a senior from Stuart, Fla. via France. Aubert, who will be a senior this season, ripped off eight birdies in Tuesday’s second round for a 6-under 66, which, combined with her opening-round 69, gave her a 9-under 135 total.
   It was just two shots off the qualifying record set by Mariel Galdiano a year ago at Rolling Green Golf Club. I got to witness most of Galdiano’s second round, a brilliant 6-under 65, that gave her a 133 total, which was 9-under for the par-71 William Flynn gem in Springfield, Delaware County.
The best freshman in the country last year was Stanford’s Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif. She finished tied for seventh in qualifying, adding a 69 to her opening-round 73 for a 2-under 142.
   Lee was the only American among the eight quarterfinalists at Rolling Green last summer. She lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Eun Jeong Seong of South Korea, who had also defeated Lee in the final of the U.S. Girls’ Junior a couple of weeks earlier at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
   The overriding impression I got of Lee in a brief interview after her loss to Seong was that she does not like to lose. Period. She’s probably still pretty ticked about the way Stanford’s season ended. Look out for her in match play.
   Maybe the most talented freshman in the country last spring was Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela, a teammate of Aubert’s and Lee’s in Palo Alto. She finished tied for 11th in qualifying, adding a 1-over 73 to her opening-round 70 for a 1-under 143 total.
   Julianne Alvarez of New Zealand, one of the heroes of Washington’s stunning run to the NCAA championship in the spring of 2016, was the runnerup to Aubert in qualifying. Alvarez, who will be a junior for the Huskies this season, fired a 68 Tuesday after opening with a 71 and finished four shots behind Aubert at 5-under 139.
   Holly Moore, a junior at Arizona and a local from Escondido, Calif., shared third place in qualifying with Stephanie Lau, a junior at Northwestern from Fullerton, Calif.
Moore had a share of the opening-round lead with a 5-under 67, but fell back with a 1-over 73 for a 4-under 140 total.
   Lau was part of Northwestern team that seemed to relish the bad weather that plagued Rich Harvest Farms for the NCAA Championship, earning medalist honors and making it to the final before falling to Arizona State. She carded a 4-under 68 Tuesday after opening with a 72 to share third with Moore at 4-under.
   If Lee wasn’t the best freshman in the country last year, then Alabama’s Kristen Gillman was. The 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion – as a 16-year-old – from Austin Texas, had shared the opening-round lead with Moore after a surgical 67. She struggled to a 76 Tuesday, but still finished in that group tied for 11th at 1-under 143 that included Valenzuela.
   Also in that group at 143 is last year’s medalist, Galdiano of Pearl City, Hawaii. Coming off a solid freshman season at UCLA, Galdiano carded a 3-under 69 Tuesday after opening with a 74. Galdiano’s opening-round opponent will be none other than the runnerup to Galdiano in qualifying at Rolling Green, Lucy Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif. She shot 7-under 135 in qualifying at Rolling Green as a 13-year-old a year ago. It will be a fascinating matchup.
   Also in that group tied for 11th in qualifying is Alexa Pano, the 12-year-old from Lake Worth, Fla. who I’m looking forward to seeing play for the United States in 2022 Curtis Cup at Merion Golf Club.
   Just kidding. Well, sort of, but she’s only 12, so it could happen. But she doesn’t play like a 12-year-old. She added an even-par 72 to her opening-round 71.
   Two players who squared off in the semifinals at Rolling Green finished in the top 20 in qualifying. Italy’s Virginia Elena Carta, who lost on the 36th hole in the final to Seong, overcame the same kind of dizzy spells that plagued her in last year’s final to post a 3-under 69 Tuesday and finished tied for 20th at 1-over 145.
   Yuka Saso of the Philippines, who fell to Carta, 2 and 1, as a 15-year-old in the semifinals at Rolling Green, had a 1-under 71 Tuesday and finished tied for 18th at even-par 144.




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