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Monday, July 9, 2018

Houston's Harm, Auburn's Rebula capture Britain's amateur championships

   The strength of the Division I women’s golf scene was on display in last month’s Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship at Hillside Golf Club in Southport, England as Leonie Harm, a senior at Houston, became the first player from Germany to capture the title in the event’s 125-year history.
   Harm had to run a gauntlet of Big Ten players, finishing it off with a 3 and 2 victory over  Northwestern’s Stephanie Lau in in the final, to claim one of the most prestigious titles in women’s amateur golf.
   The 20-year-old Harm knocked off the Big Ten champion, Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee, a senior from Canada, in the semifinals to earn her shot at the title. Lee finished tied for fifth in the individual standings in the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club this spring. In the quarterfinals, Harm had to take out a Hoosier, Indiana sophomore Priscilla Schmid, who holds dual citizenship in Switzerland and Uruguay, 4 and 3.
   Lau, a senior from Fullerton, Calif., has been a key player for a Northwestern program that has become a perennial national power. The Wildcats have been one of the eight teams to reach match play in the NCAA Championship each of the last two springs and made it all the way to the Final Match in 2017 at Rich Harvest Farms, not far from Northwestern’s Chicago home in Sugar Grove, Ill., before they finally fell to Arizona State.
   Lau knocked off the local favorite, Holly Muse, an 18-year-old from Liverpool, 5 and 4, in the other semifinal.
   In the title match, Harm grabbed a 2-up lead by winning the third and fifth holes with pars. Lau bounced back by taking five and six with birdies, but bogeys at the seventh and ninth holes again put her in a 2-down hole.
   Harm extended her advantage to 3-up by winning the 10th hole. Her lead was trimmed to 2-up when Lau won the 14th hole, but Harm closed out the match by holing an eight-footer for par to win the 16th hole.
   Harm, who moved from No. 33 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking to 19th after the win, earns the Pam Barton Memorial Salver while Lau takes home The Diana Fishwick Cup.
   The toughest part of Harm’s road to the Ladies’ British Open Amateur title might have come in the first two rounds of match play when she survived a pair of challenges that went to extra holes.
   In the opening round, Harm edged Spain’s Teresa Diez Moliner, a sophomore at Augusta, on the 19th hole and then needed 20 holes to get past Swedish phenom Frida Kinhault, a star recruit at Florida State, in the second round.
   Harm then cruised to a 6 and 5 win over countrywoman Aline Krauter, who will join the powerhouse Stanford program later this summer, in the third round before embarking on the Big 10 portion of her journey.
   Another German, Ava Bergner, coming off an outstanding freshman campaign at North Carolina, survived what appears to have been a bulky 13-for-six playoff to get into match play after carding a 3-over 147 total in qualifying.
   Seeded 64th, Bergner proceeded to knock off top-seeded Swede Elin Esborn, a redshirt sophomore at Florida, in 20 holes in the opening round of match play.
   Esborn shared medalist honors in qualifying with another German woman, Esther Henseleit, and Frenchwoman Elodie Chpaelet, a redshirt junior at Lamar, as they were the only players to finish under par for two rounds at Hillside at 1-under 143.
   Esborn added a solid 2-under 70 to her opening-round 73, Henseleit opened with a 70 and added a 73 and Chapelet fired a sizzling 4-under 68 in the opening round before sliding back with a 75.
Harm and Lau were among the group tied for 11th in qualifying, the eventual finalists each landing on 3-over 147.
   A week earlier another American collegian with some serious golf bloodlines, South African Jovan Rebula, a junior at Auburn, captured The Amateur Championship with a 3 and 2 victory over Ireland’s Robin Dawson in the scheduled 36-hole final at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club in Scotland.
   Rebula is the nephew of two-time – as the Royal & Ancient website calls it – Champion Golfer of the Year Ernie Els. That means he’s won the British Open twice, but you knew that.
   Rebula also was a key player on an Auburn team that rode the momentum of a dramatic victory over cross-state rival Alabama in the Southeast Conference’s match-play final all the way to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship before the Tigers were finally halted by eventual national champion Oklahoma State playing on its home course, Karsten Creek Golf Club.
   Rebula, the first South African to claim The Amateur Championship since Bobby Cole did it in 1966 at Carnoustie, got the jump on Dawson, the No. 10 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), by making a birdie on the par-5 sixth hole and never trailed.
   Rebula took advantage of bogeys by Dawson, coming off a victory in the Irish Open Amateur Championship at Royal County Down in May, on the next two holes to build a 3-up lead. Dawson eventually cut his deficit to just 1-down after the morning 18 holes.
   But Rebula quickly rebuilt his 3-up advantage and then took command of the match by winning the 26th hole and then draining a 25-foot birdie putt on the 27th hole to take a 5-up lead with nine holes remaining.
   Rebula opened his match-play journey with a 2 and 1 win over Billy McKenzie of England. He pulled out a couple of close wins in the next two rounds, needing 19 holes to edge countryman Malcolm Mitchell and going an extra hole again in a tight round-of-16 victory over Ben Hutchinson of England.
   Rebula claimed a 2 and 1 win over Tom Sloman of England in the quarterfinals and then rolled into the final on the strength of a 6 and 4 victory over another Englishman, Mitch Waite.
The other semifinal was an all-Irish affair as Dawson advanced to the final with a 3 and 2 victory over countryman Connor Parcell.
   The qualifying medalist was another South African, teen Wilco Nienaber, who opened with a 4-under 66 at the nearby Murcar Links Golf Club and adding a 4-under 67 at Royal Aberdeen for an 8-under 133 total. Nienaber reportedly plans to play college golf in the United States and is being enthusiastically pursued by several top programs.
  Nienaber finished two shots ahead of Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian who helped Oklahoma State capture the NCAA Championship (including a 4 and 3 win over Auburn’s Rebula in the Cowboys’ semifinal win). Hovland, No. 4 in the WAGR, opened with a 70 at Royal Aberdeen and added a 5-under 65 at Murcar Links for a 6-under 135 total.
   Just as was the case with the finalists in the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship, Rebula and Dawson, the ultimate finalists, landed on the same number in qualifying as they were among the group tied for 11th at 3-over 144.

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