Kynadie Adams’ heart was racing, and she had yet to hit a single shot. Considering the stakes – a chance to play the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky., her home course – the first-tee jitters were off the charts.
No single event meant more to the 18-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., than getting through this USGA qualifier at Otter Creek Golf Course in Columbus, Ind.
Forget the two Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National, competing in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur at age 14 on a course where her father caddied during his college days, or tying for first in a women’s professional mini-tour event earlier this year. Landing a spot in the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior meant more than any of those accomplishments.
Unfortunately, two early double bogeys had Adams trending in a very bad direction after six holes at Otter Creek. At a time when many golfers would panic, Adams, with encouragement from boyfriend/caddie and reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Nicholas Dunlap, overcame the rocky start to shoot a 2-over-par 74. She then survived a 5-for-3 playoff to secure her place in the championship.
“It’s a lot harder when it is something you have been looking forward to for a long time,” said Adams, an incoming freshman at the University of Alabama who had originally committed to Tennessee before a coaching change uprooted those plans. “Getting in is the hard part. Anything can happen [at a qualifier]. I had two friends who are good players that didn’t get through. It’s tough.”
With no on-course scoreboards to show where she stood, Adams relied on her own intuition and past experiences. She knew that several scoreable holes were among the 12 that remained. Knowing what’s ahead and executing the plan are, of course, two different things. But she also had a confidant and good-luck charm on the bag: with Dunlap as a caddie, she was able to make it 3 for 3 in U.S. Girls’ Junior qualifying bids.
Using her prodigious length, she knocked a 6-iron to 6 feet on the 15th, a par 3 where most of the competitors were using hybrids. On the par-5 18th, she reached the green in two, but made things difficult by boldly stroking her eagle putt 8 feet past the hole. Like a veteran, she calmly converted the comebacker for a 4, and the roller-coaster day eventually ended with a dramatic 7-foot birdie on the first playoff hole.
Not the emotional types, Adams and Dunlap each broke down in tears when the playoff concluded.
“I’ve cried once [before] on the golf course,” admitted Dunlap, who won the 2021 U.S. Junior at The Country Club of North Carolina to earn a spot in this year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club. “This has been on her radar for 2½ years. She was 4 over through seven. It’s like, this is not going to happen. To come full circle and make a couple of [birdie] putts… Now you get to play [a USGA championship] in front of everyone you want to.”
Adams first contacted her mother, Sindi, then shot a text to Kevin Childers, the director of golf at Olde Stone, who immediately replied, “Heck yeah! Let’s go win this thing.”
“That was pretty cool,” said Adams. “I knew he would be pumped for me. All my friends texted me, because they know how much it meant.”
Qualifying for any USGA championship is a major achievement. Getting to play said event at your home course – her parents joined three years ago – is the cherry on top of the sundae. Few golfers get such an opportunity, and even fewer have managed to win a home game. Carol Semple Thompson achieved it twice at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley, Pa., winning the 1990 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and 2001 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. George Zahringer claimed the 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Stanwich Club.
Last July, Jackson Van Paris served as the unofficial host of the U.S. Junior Amateur at CCNC, even hosting a couple of competitors at his parents’ home. Van Paris, now a rising sophomore at Vanderbilt University, soaked in the extra attention but was eliminated in the Round of 32. Five years ago, Lara Tennant was the medalist in the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, her championship debut on her home course, Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore., only to lose in the Round of 64. She has since claimed the last three Senior Women’s Amateurs.
Adams knows the expectations will be high, but considers qualifying her biggest test. The rest is gravy. Olde Stone is just under an hour’s drive from her family’s residence, but she has made numerous scouting trips since the June 9 qualifier. She will have the honor of hitting the opening tee shot of the competition on Monday at 7 a.m. CDT.
Earlier this spring, Adams competed in the Lake Jovita Women’s Championship, an East Coast Women’s Pro Golf Tour event in Dade City, Fla. She tied fledgling pro Therese Warner for first but conceded the playoff to the 21-year-old from Kennewick, Wash., which allowed Warner to receive the entire $10,000 first-place check. Adams’ father, Adrian, told Golfweek that it wasn’t right to take away any possible earnings for Warner.
Adrian is a former standout player himself, having been recruited from the Toronto area to play at Tennessee State with fellow Canadian and future instructor to the pros, Sean Foley. Foley and Adrian were roommates and Kynadie took lessons from him at age 11 before logistics – he is in Orlando, Fla. – made it difficult to continue the instructor/player relationship.
Adams hopes that Dunlap continues to be a good-luck charm at Olde Stone until he has to depart for Bandon Dunes, where he will attempt to defend his U.S. Junior Amateur title starting on July 25.
If she can advance to Friday’s quarterfinals, Tennessee native Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion who is a family friend, will be standing by. He caddied last year for Adams at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Md., where she lost a tough 21-hole, first-round match to Rianne Mikhaela Malixi, of the Philippines. She also was ousted in the Round of 64 in the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior, 3 and 2, to Isabella Fierro, of Mexico.
In fact, Adams has never won a match in an individual USGA championship. She reached the Round of 16 in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship with partner and future two-time USA Curtis Cup competitor Rachel Kuehn.
Over the past year, Adams has spent a lot of time working on her putting, and it paid off in the qualifier. Her power game already turns heads. Adams’ clubhead speed as measured by TrackMan is 101 miles per hour, which is 7 mph faster than the average LPGA Tour player, and she routinely hits tee shots in the 265-yard range.
“She hits shots most girls can’t hit,” said Dunlap. “Her longer irons just sound different.”
Adams is one of several notable players in the field, a group that includes 2021 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur/2022 USA Curtis Cup player Megha Ganne, 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Tsubasa Kajitani, and four of last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior quarterfinalists: Yana Wilson, Kaitlyn Schroeder, Katie Li and Baily Shoemaker. Schroeder is planning to join Adams at the University of Alabama in 2023, while Shoemaker made the cut in last month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles.
But there’s little doubt who will draw the biggest gallery.
“I definitely will be nervous,” said Adams, who has since qualified for next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Chambers Bay. “Obviously, people have expectations and I have [high] expectations for myself. It’s a matter of just keeping it under control.”
As her tears of relief on June 9 showed, just getting here was the toughest part.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.