Monday Notebook: Women's Amateur A Homecoming For Two Contestants

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. – There's no question the biggest gallery of the day at the 104th U.S. Women's Amateur on Monday belonged to 14-year-old phenom Michelle Wie. Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the next big thing in women's golf.

 

But a large group of people also were following the last group off the first tee in the morning wave of the first round of stroke-play qualifying at The Kahkwa Club.

 

Actually, two players in that group drew plenty of local interest: Becky Berzonski and Bridget Dwyer. Berzonski, who lives in North East, Pa., is the only “local” resident in the field of 156, while Dwyer has deep roots in this northwest Pennsylvania city.

Even though Dwyer grew up and still lives in Kailua, Hawaii, her father and family all are from Erie. Her uncle, Bob Dwyer, is a Kahkwa member and her father, Jack, caddied at the Donald Ross-designed course 50 years ago.

 

So it was ironic that two players with Erie roots wound up grouped together for the stroke play portion of the championship.

 

“We had a lively crowd,” said Dwyer, a recent UCLA graduate who shot 6-over-par 78 on the 6,325-yard, par-72 layout. “It was fun.”

 

As the 21-year-old Berzonski left the ninth green and headed toward No. 10 tee, she was greeted by a local fan. Al l the television stations were getting footage of the local girl who is entering her senior season at North Carolina-Wilmington.

 

“It was kind of nice to see the people out there today,” said Berzonski after signing for a 76. “I definitely felt [the pressure] on the first few holes. It took me a few holes to just get into the groove of things. I finally started swinging better and got more comfortable with my game.”

 

Her round included just one birdie, a chip-in at the 16th hole.

 

“That was a nice boost,” added Berzonski, a first-time Women's Amateur contestant. “I could not drop a putt today. I can chip them in I guess.”

 

The best part of the week is not having to go back to a hotel after competing. She just heads for her grandmother's house in Erie. “It's really neat to come home after the tournament and just relax at the house,” she said.

 

Even though she has played Kahkwa some 20 times over the years, Berzonski did get some local advice from Dr. Frank Taylor, a member. He gave her tips on the tricky greens as well as hitting different shots around the course. Her stepfather, Gary Palmer, caddied in the practice rounds, with her father, John, taking over on Monday after making the three-hour drive from Johnstown, Pa. John caddied at the club in his youth. On Tuesday, Berzonski's pro is coming from Columbus, Ohio.

 

“Just to get here is such an honor,” she said. “To be in Erie is just great. It really tops off the summer.”

 

Dwyer was hoping one more member of her family would be in her gallery. In April, her grandmother passed away, which happened to be the last time the 23-year-old had been back in Erie.

 

“She was really planning on me coming,” said Dwyer, who plans to turn pro next week. “I know she's watching me from above.”

 

Nevertheless, it's been a special week for the Dwyer family. It's been a chance to catch up on old times and see many friends and relatives. In terms of the Kahkwa Club, Dwyer remembers coming here as a child, but it wasn't to play golf.

 

“We would go to the pool,” she said. “We would have grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries. This is why we really came [to the club].”

 

This week, she is staying with her uncle Bob and getting the chance to eat some home-cooked meals instead dining out or eating room service.

 

“It's nice to eat healthy,” said Dwyer. “When you are staying in a hotel you tend to eat a lot of [junk]. It's great to have some healthy salad made by my hands.”

 

Route 66

 

Another stroke-play grouping at the Women's Amateur had an interesting twist. Brittany Lincicome, an 18-year-old from Seminole, Fla., played with 55-year-old Carol Semple Thompson, a seven-time USGA champion.

Thompson and Lincicome share a USGA record as having the lowest 18-hole score by an amateur in a Women's Open at 66. Lincicome posted hers in July at The Orchards while Thompson 's feat came 10 years ago at Indianwood Country Club.

 

“She didn't talk about my 66, but I talked to her about it,” said Thompson, competing in her 97th USGA competition. She had an 80 on Monday compared to Lincicome's 73. “It's fun for me to play with her because she hits it a mile. And she played well. She didn't finish as well as she would have liked, but she is a good player.”

 

This wasn't the first encounter for the two competitors. They were grouped in the Harder Hall Invitational in January down in Florida.

 

“We talked a little bit on the tee this morning,” said Lincicome, who plans to turn professional this fall. “It's a pleasure to play with her. She is so nice. Every time I see her she has been so wonderful to me. It was a thrill to play with her.”

 

Even though Lincicome has had plenty of success in junior tournaments, this is her first Women's Amateur. The Women's Open was also her first and the first time she even tried to qualify. It's all been part of a step-by-step process.

 

“We waited until my game was more mature and I knew I was playing pretty good,” said Lincicome. “I was ready [for this]. Hopefully I am ready [for a professional career].”

 

Famous Caddie

 

There are a lot of proud fathers on the bag this week. But one caddie is quite well known outside of the circle of women's amateur golf. Former tennis great Ivan Lendl, owner of 94 career tournament wins and 270 straight weeks as the No. 1 player in the world, is now simply another proud papa.

This week, he's “looping” for 13-year-old daughter Isabelle, the youngest competitor in this year's Women's Amateur. In fact, Ivan has been jaunting around the country to watch his daughters – 14-year-old Marika reached the third round of the Girls' Junior and competed at the Rolex Tournament of Champions – play golf tournaments.

“I've caddied so much lately,” says Lendl, himself a strong player who has won his share of prize money in celebrity competitions.

Isabelle, of Goshen, Conn., performed quite admirably in her first Women's Amateur, shooting a 76 to tie for 36th among the 156 competitors.

“It could have been better,” said Isabelle, the second of Lendl's five daughters. “I missed a couple of short putts.”

The biggest intangible Ivan is trying to teach his daughters is course management. That, in itself, cost Isabelle a couple of strokes on Monday. She took too much club at No. 11 and made a double bogey at the par 3 and then followed that up with another bogey at 12. She did make three birdie putts on the back nine and holed a long putt from the fringe at 18 for a par.

“They just don't know where to pick their target, so they have the biggest margin for error,” said Ivan. “So that's where I try to help them.”

As for nerves, Ivan said there's more pressure in friendly matches at home. Ivan often teams with his 11-year-old Daniella against Marika and Isabelle. And the two elder siblings don't like to lose to their little sis'.

“It's not fun to lose to her,” Isabelle said of Daniella, who has won 11 of 13 tournaments she has entered this summer.

Added Ivan: “When we win, we rub it in.”

As for advice, Isabelle has talked to several more-experienced players this week, including 2004 USA Curtis Cupper Elizabeth Janangelo, who also hails from Connecticut (West Hartford).

“She just said, ‘Go get ‘em,’ ” said Isabelle.

Her goal is to make match play, something she failed to do two weeks ago at the Girls' Junior where she missed the cut by two strokes. But she watched how Marika handled herself and soaked it up through osmosis. Nevertheless, the week has been a thrill.

“It's been a lot of fun,” she said.

Eagle Has Landed

 

A couple of players recorded eagles on Monday, but only Nicole Cutler of Cherry Hills Village, Colo., did it on a par 4. At the 354-yard fourth hole, the 23-year-old Vanderbilt University graduate used a 54-degree wedge from 87 yards out, drawing quite a reaction from the gallery, which was following her better-known fellow-competitor, 14-year-old Michelle Wie.

Wie had a large gallery following her around the course, but Cutler outplayed her, shooting a 1-under 71 to Wie's 75.

 

Cutler was going to turn pro last fall, but she suffered a wrist injury in an accident. She will turn pro after the Women's Amateur and start preparing for LPGA Qualifying School.

Who Needs Practice?

Charlotte Mayorkas of Murietta, Calif., showed up on Monday without the benefit of a practice round, but still managed to shoot a respectable 78. Mayorkas flew from Toledo, Ohio, to Erie on Sunday after competing in the LPGA Tour's Jamie Farr Classic on a sponsor's exemption. She made the cut and finished 56th, but it also meant she would not have a practice round prior to the Women's Amateur.

“It wasn't that hard,” said the first-team All-American from UCLA. “I came out a little early and saw some of the holes. I had a [yardage] book with me.”

The toughest thing might have been fatigue. Mayorkas not only just finished playing a 72-hole event, but she also carried her own bag, something she did at last year's Women's Amateur at Philadelphia Country Club.

I got a little on the back nine,” said Mayorkas, who led the Bruins to the NCAA Division I team title in May. She will be a senior at UCLA this fall. “It got a little frustrating missing those putts.”

 

Get Them While They're Hot

 

Anticipating a large crowd for the first round of stroke-play qualifying, The Kahkwa Club printed up 2,000 sheets that had the starting times and groupings. By the afternoon, those sheets had been all gobbled up, forcing the club to print up more copies. The Women's Amateur has drawn huge interest from the local media, with the Erie Times-News putting the championship on the front page of the entire paper. The television stations have also been out in earnest covering the event.

 

David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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