It’s A Young Woman’s Championship

As Number Of Mid-Am Competitors Dwindle, So Do Their Chances Of Winning

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Gladwyne, Pa. – It’s been 30 years since Carol Semple Thompson hoisted the Robert Cox Trophy as champion of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Since then, the game has undergone plenty of changes, especially on the female side.

 

For starters, entries for the Women’s Amateur have risen from 142 in 1973 to a record 814 this year for the competition at Philadelphia Country Club, with a good percentage of those players being under the age of 25.

 

Secondly, Title IX has created enormous scholarship opportunities

Carol Semple Thompson has reached the round of 16 at each of the past two U.S. Women's Amateurs. The 54-year-old from Sewickley, Pa., has won 7 USGA titles. (USGA)

on the collegiate level foryoung women. This, in turn, has spawned better junior programs to the point where circuits such as the American Junior Golf Association offer competitive tournaments on a weekly basis. For instance, 13-year-old Michelle Wie, of Honolulu, Hawaii, has not been home since May 30.

 And certainly Tiger Woods has had a major impact on the game. Woods made golf “cool” for kids and more and more youths have become interested in the game because of his presence.

"He has gotten these girls motivated,” said 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Kathy Hartwiger, 37, and a mother of two young children. “Give him the credit.”

 

Of course, the youthful presence has made winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur a bit more difficult for the career amateurs.

"We’re just outnumbered,” said Robin Burke, 40, who is the last mid-amateur (25 years and older) to advance to the championship match of the Women’s Amateur. She accomplished that in 1997, losing to current LPGA Tour player Silvia Cavalleri. “Our odds are a little greater, but the chances are still there.”

 

Those odds seem a little stacked against the “veterans.” In fact, nobody older than 29 has captured the Women’s Amateur title in the last 50 years. JoAnne Gunderson Carner won the last of her five championships at the age of 29 in 1968 and Barbara McIntire was 29 in 1964. The average age of the last 30 winners is 20.3 years old. At this year’s championship, there are four 13-year-olds in the field, two 14-year-olds, four 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds. Eighteen golfers who played in the Girls’ Junior at Brooklawn Country Club last month are competing at Philadelphia C.C. this week.

 

Out of the 156 players in the field, just 23 are over the age of 24.

 

And in the last 10 years, few mid-amateurs have advanced beyond a couple of rounds in match play.

 

"It’s pretty amazing how well the young players are playing now,” said Burke. “It’s great to see that golf has taken off like that. My daughter is 14 and I wish she would play.”

 

But can a mid-amateur break through and end the young guns’ dominance? “I don’t see why not,” added Burke. “The mid-ams that I know that are playing here are very good players. They are as good as anyone else out here.”

 

Said Hartwiger: “You have to have someone on their game and someone who believes they can do it.”

 

The past two years, Thompson has advanced to the round of 16, while Martha Leach advanced to the quarterfinals in 1996, a year before Burke ’s run to the final. Three years earlier, three-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Sarah Lebrun Ingram reached the round of eight. But Thompson was also the lone mid-amateur on the 2002 USA Curtis Cup team.

 

"Fatigue is a factor, especially for me,” said Thompson, winner of seven USGA titles, including the last four Senior Women’s Amateurs. “I’m kidding myself if I think I’m going to be as fresh as a daisy after 36 holes (of stroke-play qualifying). Maybe a 34-year-old (has it easier), but I’m definitely a dreamer at this point. I just hope to make it match play and win a few rounds.”

 

But despite her age, virtually everyone knows Thompson and her immense accomplishments within the game. She has competed in 94 individual USGA events and 12 Curtis Cups. At the Players’ Dinner on Sunday night, she received a standing ovation after her USGA resumé was read to the attendees.

 

"I was really flattered by that,” said Thompson. “I’m amazed at the number of kids who know who I am.”

 

School spirit: Michigan State takes the honor as the school with the most Women’s Amateur contestants this week with six. It’s actually seven if you count 2002 USA Curtis Cupper Emily Bastel, who graduated in 2002 and currently serves as an assistant coach for the women’s team. The other Spartans in the field this week are Samantha Braschler, Dayna Burleigh, Allison Fouch (2003 Women’s Open participant), Sarah Martin, Amanda McConnell and Heather Rose .

 

Duke has five of its six team members here as well, led by 1998 Girls’ Junior champion and 2002 USA Curtis Cupper Leigh Anne Hardin. She is joined by Virada Nirapathpongporn, Elizabeth Janangelo, Anna Grzebian and Brittany Lang. The lone Blue Devil not here is Niloufar Aazam Zangazeh, who is back in Switzerland .

 

A little older, a little wiser: Three players celebrated birthdays on the first day of the championship: Nicole Hage (Coral Springs, Fla.), who is headed to Auburn University in the fall, turned 18, Kristi Larsen, of El Dorado Hills, Calif., and a senior-to-be at the University of San Francisco turned 21, and local favorite Lisa McGill, of Philadelphia, turned 44.

 

Paula Creamer, of Pleasanton, Calif., turns 17, on Tuesday, while Esther Choe, of La Quinta, Calif., will be 14 on Thursday.

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