Kono Plays Through Pain, Reaches U.S. Women's Amateur Quarterfinals
By Stuart Hall
St. Louis – Stephanie Kono grinded out two wins over 35 holes on a draining Thursday at the 109th U.S. Women’s Amateur. But Kono was not concerned about the mental or physical toll such a day takes as much as she was her IT band.
No, that’s not some kind of technological gadget, but rather her iliotibial band, a tough muscle that runs along the outside of her left thigh, knee and hip. The condition has been persistent for about a month, she said.
“My main priority was stretching and keeping myself loose so that I could even go 36 holes,” said the 19-year-old sophomore-to-be at UCLA. “Obviously my opponents are my biggest obstacles, and usually I can focus on just the golf, but this being my sixth round, if you consider my practice rounds, then it becomes a concern.”
What could have been a shorter day was lengthened when the Honolulu, Hawaii, native let a couple of leads get away in both her matches. In the second round against 22-year-old Canadian Stephanie Sherlock, Kono owned a 5-up lead after nine holes and then saw the lead all but evaporate before posting a 2-up win.
After lunch, Kono faced good friend Allie White and built a 2-up lead through 12 holes. White, a 2009 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier, then managed to square the match twice before Kono made par on the 17th and 18th holes for another 2-up victory.
Kono and White became friends while members of Team USA at the 2007 Junior Solheim Cup matches in Sweden. That made for a bit more enjoyable afternoon match.
“It was fun playing with a good friend like Allie,” said Kono, a first-team All-American this past season for the Bruins. “It was competitive and a tight match that both of us were in until the very end.”
For White, the loss ended a day that was filled with extreme highs and lows. Like Kono, the 19-year-old Lancaster, Ohio, resident built a 5-up lead through nine holes against 15-year-old Mariko Tumangan. Unlike Kono, White, who recently transferred from the University of North Carolina to Ohio State, saw the entire lead wiped out by the 15th hole.
“I was really on the front nine this morning and then I made a goof on 10 and [Tumangan] stuck it too me and turned the momentum around,” said White, who made the cut at last month’s Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club. “I was pretty frustrated at that point and kind of scraped it out.”
Following the 2-up win, White then had to rally against Kono.
“I was pleased to get it back to all square at the 16th, but then Stephanie, to her credit, made a great sand save at 17 and then I hit a poor drive into the trees on the 18th.
“Nothing feels good about losing, but I hope she goes on and wins, though, ’cause she’s a good kid. Plus then I can at least say I lost to the big dog.”
Kono advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal round against Jennifer Song, 19, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in June. Twice Kono has reached the semifinals of USGA amateur championships — the 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2008 WAPL — but she does not have the mindset that one of her 15 previous attempts to win a title got away from her.
“No, not at all,” said Kono, who posted two wins in her freshman season at UCLA and was the runner-up at the NCAA Women’s Central Regional. “I go into every tournament trying not to get ahead of myself, but I’ve made it to good places and if I keep doing that, hopefully I will eventually knock the door down.”
And three more wins, IT band willing, would let Kono walk right on through.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose stories have previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.