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Monday, January 22, 2018

Stasi defeats her 'teammate' Pano in Jones/Doherty final

   I probably would have gotten to this post a day earlier had I not been hit with a severe case of Eagles fever that is overtaking the Philadelphia area.

   I lamented the passing of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship when it was staged for the final time early last fall at The Club of Las Campanas’ Sunrise Course in Santa Fe, N.M.
   Exhibit A in the things I liked about the event was third-place finisher Florida. The three-woman team was comprised of four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, Tara Joy-Connelly, a standout on the Massachusetts amateur scene before relocating to North Palm Beach, and 13-year-old phenom Alexa Pano of Lake Worth.
   With the collegiate golfers in the middle of their fall campaigns, many of the states were represented by teams that included youngsters like Pano with veteran mid-amateurs like Stasi and Joy-Connelly or senior players.
   In one of the post-tournament notebooks the United State Golf Association put together from the State Team Championship, Pano gushed about what a great experience it was for her to compete in the event and be able to learn from the likes of players like Stasi and Joy-Connelly.
   Pano was the defending champion last week in the 86th edition of the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Amateur Championship at Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She had captured the title as a 12-year-old after reaching the semifinals two years ago as an 11-year-old. Clearly, this home-schooled eighth-grader is going places.
   So maybe it was fitting that Pano run into Stasi in the final. Stasi of nearby Oakland Park captured the Jones/Doherty for the second time in her glittering amateur career with a 5 and 4 victory over Pano Friday in the kind of chilly, windy conditions that have prevailed during the Orange Blossom Tour, the moniker attached to the collection of women’s amateur events in South Florida each winter.
   The story of the 39-year-old Stasi, who won the Jones/Doherty title in 2012 as well, is a familiar one to followers of the Philadelphia women’s amateur scene. A South Jersey native and a product of Eastern High School, Stasi, known as Megan Bolger in those days, was a collegiate standout at Tulane and then became, at age 23, the head coach at Mississippi.
   Stasi won seven straight Women’s Golf Association of Philadelphia Match-Play Championships from 1999 to 2005. She snuck in an eighth Philly Women’s Amateur title in 2014 at Wilmington Country Club’s South Course on a summer homecoming trip.
   Stasi married Danny Stasi, founding chef and owner of Shuck n Dive, a New Orleans-style restaurant in Fort Lauderdale in the midst of her serious run on the mid-am scene as she won U.S. Women’s Mid-Am titles in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2012. Stasi helps out around her husband’s restaurant when she’s not competing at the highest levels of women’s amateur golf.
   Pano qualified for match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club before she turned 13. I’m on the record in this blog as hoping she can remain an amateur long enough to represent the United States against Great Britain & Ireland when the Curtis Cup Match is played at my favorite golf course, Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course, in 2022.
    Not sure if she’s interested in the job, but Stasi would make a pretty good U.S. captain back in her home territory for those matches. Just sayin’.
   Pano makes it point to tee it up in the Jones/Doherty because there are so few match-play opportunities for a junior golfer such as herself.
   Pano claimed 1-up victories over perennial U.S. Women’s Mid-Am contender Courtney McKim of Raleigh, N.C. and Wisconsin senior Lexi Harkins of Crystal Lake, Ill. Harkins was a key member of a North Carolina team that elbowed its way into the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring before she transferred to Wisconsin.
   Stasi claimed a 5 and 3 victory over another tough mid-am, Shirley Vaughn of Canton, Ohio and a 3 and 2 victory over Georgia Oboh, a Nigerian junior who is a player on the rise.
   Stasi’s considerable match-play prowess was tested in the semifinals as she squared off with Noelle Maertz, a former collegiate standout at Wagner from Clark, N.J.
   The match was all-square on the par-4 17th hole when Stasi’s shot with a 50-degree wedge from 112 yards away found the bottom of the cup for an eagle and a 1-up lead. She went on to claim a 2-up victory.
   “I knew it was going to be close,” Stasi told the Miami Herald concerning her clutch hole-out for eagle. “I knew I needed to hit it 100 yards.”
   The Jones/Doherty senior title went, for the second straight year, to Lisa Schlesinger of Fort Myers, Fla. Schlesinger claimed a 2 and-1 victory over Terrill Samuel, who lost to fellow Canadian Judith Kyrinis in the final of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur last fall at Waverly Country Club in Portland, Ore., the first all-Canadian match-play final in USGA history.
   Tama Caldabaugh of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. won the senior first-flight crown with a 3 and 2 victory over Jewell Malick of Heath, Texas.
   The senior second-flight title went to Liz Haines, the ageless player from Gladwyne and Merion Golf Club who needed 19 holes to defeat Vilma Sapp of Weston, Fla. in the final. Haines has teed it up in every stop on the Orange Blossom Tour this month, competing in the Harder Hall Invitational in Sebring, Fla. and the South Atlantic Amateur Championship, better known as The SALLY, in Ormond Beach, Fla. before last week’s Jones/Doherty.
   In the third-flight final, Karin-Joyce Tjon of Miami Beach, Fla., claimed a 1-up victory over Deb Mielke.

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