North Carolina junior Brynn Walker, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion at Radnor, used a run of four straight back-nine birdies to fire a 5-under-par 67 at the Hackensack Golf Club in Oradell, N.J. Monday to earn medalist honors in a qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
It was the second straight year that Walker, who plays out of St. Davids Golf Club, has been the medalist in a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier in the Garden State. A 1-over 72 at Forsgate Country Club’s Banks Course in Monroe, N.J. a year ago earned her a ticket to San Diego Country Club.
A case of what sounded an awful lot like food poisoning derailed Walker’s chances in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur in Chula Vista, Calif. It was a small miracle she was able to complete two rounds of qualifying, but she failed to earn a spot in match play.
Walker has been in the starting lineup for every tournament North Carolina has played since she arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 2016. It was a disappointing end of the season for the Tar Heels this spring as they finished ninth in a tough San Francisco Regional and failed to earn a trip to the NCAA Championship at Karsten Creek Golf Club.
Monday’s sparkling performance should give Walker some momentum heading into this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, her third, which tees off Aug. 6 at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, Tenn.
“I hit 16 greens and made 28 putts,” Walker told the New Jersey State Golf Association website. “On my ninth hole, No. 18, I sank a 35-foot downhill putt. Putting has always been the best part of my game.
“The greens rolled really nice and fast today. I always look forward to coming back north after my college season ends. I love the courses up here.”
The birdie bomb at nine got Walker to 1-under for her round after she had birdied the 11th and bogeyed the 16th. Then she really got it going on her final nine holes, the front nine at Hackensack, as she rattled off consecutive birdies at five, six, seven and eight.
Joining Walker in Tennessee will be her old scholastic rival, Penn State senior Jackie Rogowicz, a two-time District One champion at Pennsbury. Rogowicz carded a 2-under 70 and finished tied for third with Katherine Zhu, of San Jose, Calif., who will start her college career later this summer at California.
Rogowicz survived a playoff to earn a trip to Rolling Green Golf Club for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur in a qualifier at Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington, N.J. Playing in front of friends and family at Rolling Green, Rogowicz came up short in a playoff to make match play.
Last month Rogowicz earned a spot in the field of the LPGA ShopRite Classic, presented by Acer, at the Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in a Monday qualifier. Playing in her first LPGA event, Rogowicz struggled in the opening round with an 83, but bounced back with a solid 72 in the second round. Rogowicz missed the cut, but gaining that kind of experience is invaluable and may have already started paying dividends this week at Hackensack.
The runnerup to Walker was Arizona senior Bianca Pagdanganan of the Philippines, one of the heroes of the Wildcats’ run to a national championship this spring. Pagdanganan fired a 4-under 68 to earn herself a spot in the field at The Golf Club of Tennessee.
Pagdanganan authored one of the more memorable shots in recent NCAA Championship history when she got a 35-foot downhill slider to fall into the cup for an eagle on the 18th hole that enabled Arizona to catch Baylor and force a playoff for the eighth and final seed in the match-play team competition at Karsten Creek.
The Wildcats won that playoff and proceeded to knock off Pac-12 rivals UCLA, ranked No. 3 by Golfstat, and No. 5 Stanford before beating top-ranked Alabama in the Final Match to capture the title. Oh yeah, and Pagdanganan finished tied for second in the individual chase at Karsten Creek.
Ina Kim-Schaad, a former Northwestern standout who has emerged as a solid mid-amateur after putting the sticks away for a decade or so, outlasted Jennifer Cleary, the talented Tower Hill junior from Wilmington, Del., on the sixth hole of what started as a 3-for-1 playoff for the final ticket to The Golf Club of Tennessee.
Kim-Schaad, Cleary and Harvard-bound Anina Ku of Basking Ridge, N.J. finished tied for fifth, each posting a 1-under 71. Ku was eliminated on the first hole of the playoff and is the second alternate. Kim-Schaad and Cleary battled on on a day when the thermometer hovered around the 100-degree mark before the 16-year-old Cleary finally had to settle for first-alternate status.
Three of Rogowicz’s teammates on Denise St. Pierre’s Penn State team were also at Hackensack with fellow senior Cara Basso, the 2012 PIAA Class AA champion as a sophomore at Villa Maria Academy, coming up a little short with a 1-over 73.
Basso earned a bid to the NCAA Madison Regional as an individual after a solid spring for the Nittany Lions that included a tie for fourth in the Big Ten Championship at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville, Ohio.
Megan McLean, a junior at Penn State who starred scholastically at Voorhees High, carded a 75. And junior Madelein Herr, the District One Class AAA champion as a senior at Council Rock North, carded a 79.
Two of the more prominent entries on Walker’s USGA resume include the two U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championships in which she teamed with Herr. They reached the semifinals in the inaugural Women’s Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes in 2015 and made it to the quarterfinals the following year at Streamsong.
Recent Agnes Irwin graduate Kaitlyn Lees, coming off her third win in the Pennsylvania Junior Girls’ Championship at Hershey Country Club’s East Course, had a solid showing with a 2-over 74. The Dartmouth-bound Lees was the first alternate coming out of a qualifier last summer at Kenwood Golf & Country Club in Bethesda, Md., but never got the call. Hopefully, Cleary will have a little better luck in that same position this summer.
Cleary’s teammate on a Delaware team that finished second in the final edition of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship last fall at The Club at Las Campanas’ Sunrise Course in Santa Fe, N.M., Archmere Academy junior Phoebe Brinker, joined Penn State’s McLean in the group at 3-over 75.
Cleary’s Tower Hill teammate, sophomore Rylie Heflin, an Avondale resident, carded a 76.