A Battle Of Tigers

Incoming Auburn Freshman Shirley Defeats Future Teammate Hage In 20 Holes

 

By David Shefter, USGA

 

Erie, Pa. – The great adventure continued for Margaret Shirley on Thursday morning. When she begins classes next week at Auburn, she'll have plenty of good subject matter for her first writing assignment.

 

Margaret Shirley might only be 5-foot tall, but she showed plenty power and tenacity in her 20-hole victory over Nicole Hage on Thursday. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

From having her dad lose his driver's license prior to their scheduled plane flight to having her clubs lost by the airlines for 24 hours to facing a future teammate, it's all added up to a quite a week at The Kahkwa Club for the 104th U.S. Women's Amateur.

 

And to make things even more exciting, she needed 20 holes Thursday to beat Auburn sophomore-to-be Nicole Hage in the second round.

 

Trailing by two holes standing on the 16 th tee, Shirley rallied to square the match at 17, then converted a 4-foot birdie putt at the par-4 second to secure the victory.

 

When it ended, Shirley breathed a sigh of relief, knowing she had less than an hour to prepare for her round-of-16 encounter against fourth-seeded Sun-Young Yoo of Korea, a 5-and-3 winner over Kailin Downs.

 

“Whew!” said Shirley, who lost the match to Yoo, 7 and 5. Yoo was the equivalent of 6 under par for 13 holes to Shirley's 1 over par. Both players eagled the par-5 eighth hole for a halve.

“That was the best [tee] shot I hit all day there [at the 20th hole]. I couldn't find a fairway today to save my life. I don't know what else to say.”

 

Shirley, all of 5 feet tall and 115 pounds who looks more like a 12-year-old than an 18-year-old college freshman, was only 40 yards from the green on the 313-yard, par-4 hole. A perfect wedge approach left her a relatively easy birdie opportunity. And when Hage missed her 18-footer for birdie, the Roswell, Ga., native ended the drama.

 

The two hugged and shared a few warm thoughts before parting ways. Next week, they'll be teammates on a squad that also includes Diana Ramage, who advanced to the third round Thursday with a 19-hole win over 2004 USA Curtis Cupper Elizabeth Janangelo. Hage stuck around to watch Shirley and Ramage in their afternoon matches. Both saw Ramage post a come-from-behind 19-hole win over Karen Dennison.

 

“She's just an absolutely fantastic player,” Shirley said of Hage, an 18-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla. “She made some of the most clutch putts I've seen someone make today.

 

“It was tough [playing a teammate]. You want to see them do well too. I guess it's a win-win for Auburn today, but we also have one going home too. It's hard playing someone you are a friend with and a teammate.”

 

During the match, the two chatted quite a bit until things got tight at the end. The laughter and joking stopped and both focused at the task at hand.

 

“We had a good time,” said Shirley.

 

Before the match, Auburn coach Kim Evans went up to Jan Kitka, the USGA Rules Official in charge of the match, and told him jokingly, “I'll have to keep them apart because they might get in a boxing match out there.”

 

The very stylish Nicole Hage consistently outdrove her opponent, but wound up on the losing side of a 20-hole thriller. (Steve Gibbons/USGA)

The contest was full of punches and counter punches as the two traded turns with the lead on the front nine. Both players birdied the second hole, Shirley from 10 feet and Hage from three.

At the third hole, Hage drained a 19-foot downhill par putt for a halve. Neither player enjoyed more than a one-hole lead until Hage went 2-up after 13. It stayed that way until the comeback when Hage bogeyed 16 and 17.

At 17, she was no more than 100 yards from the green with a wedge and overshot the green, chunked the ensuing chip and missed a 35-footer for par while Shirley chipped it to six inches from some 100 feet away.

 

“I didn't play very smart the last few holes,” said Hage, the Southeastern Conference's co-player of the year this past season and a second-team All-American by the National Golf Coaches Association. “That kind of does it for you. I just got quick. It's the same problem [I've had before]. Quick hands, shut the face.

 

Margaret played great and I'm really excited about this coming year. She's going to be great to have on the team and we're going to do well this year as a team.”

 

As for the week, Hage added: “I was very happy with my game, my short game especially how it came around towards the end. I was driving the ball really good and really far and straight. All and all it's been a good week.”

 

The Women's Amateur is all about survival and you could say Shirley has done that just to get to northwestern Pennsylvania. Her father, William, couldn't locate his driver's license when the two were checking in for their flight from Atlanta to Erie last Friday. They had to eat the airline tickets and Margaret wound up flying alone that day while William went on Saturday to get another license, but Margaret had to play a practice round that day with borrowed clubs from the pro shop because hers didn't arrive in Erie on Friday night.

 

William finally made it to Erie by Sunday, flying to Pittsburgh and renting a car for the two-hour-plus ride to Kahkwa Club. On Sunday, with Shirley 's clubs now in hand and dad on the bag, the two finally could play one practice round together to get a feel for the Donald Ross course.

 

“I'm just thrilled to death to be here,” said Shirley. “Just to be in the field is an honor, much less going on [to the third round]. It's just been one heck of a day.”

 

And it's not over yet.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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