When it comes to match play in a USGA championship, the Round of 64 is usually a scriptwriter’s dream, with a surplus of storylines to choose from. Like Monday at the 61st U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, where a record-tying victory, international intrigue between two housemates and redemption from out-of-body experiences all occurred in perfect weather conditions at Troon Country Club.
Draining a 39-foot putt is how Kathy Hartwiger, of Pinehurst, N.C., capped off an impressive 8-and-7 win over Wendy Ohlmeyer, of Ladera Ranch, Calif. The final score tied the largest margin of victory in Senior Women’s Amateur championship history.
“I think for me personally, when I go from stroke play to match play there’s just a freeing that happens,” said Hartwiger, who won the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. “This course is just an incredible test, because it can make you want to steer, and you just have to let it go. And the birdies [on the fifth through seventh holes], I just got really great yardages those three holes in a row, and I hit it exactly like I wanted to.”
When Karin Luxon of Switzerland learned that a playing acquaintance from Europe, the Republic of Ireland’s Alison Taylor, also qualified for the championship, she invited her to stay at her rental house. Taylor quickly agreed. Then the two were paired against each other in the first round of match play. It wasn’t easy for either, especially since their contest stretched to 21 holes.
“I learned it a little bit at a European championship,” said Luxon of playing against someone she knows. “In the first match there, I played kind of a friend and I was a little bit too friendly. You have to try to separate yourself a little bit mentally, and I was able to do that much better now. I had my caddie, so you have like a little unit and you separate yourself. You really have to stay in your own little bubble.”
On what would be the final hole of the match, Luxon talked not to herself, but rather to the hole.
“I said on the tee box, ‘Par 5, No. 3 you owe me something. You really owe me something,’” she said. “I was 5-over the last two days there and I said, ‘You really me owe me something little hole.’ I’m glad it gave it back to me.”
The payback came in the form of a par, enabling Luxon to win 1-up and advance to the Round of 32, where she will face 3-time Senior Women’s Amateur champion Lara Tennant.
After an uncharacteristic opening round 88 in stroke play, Martha Leach, of Hebron, Ky., was entirely out of sorts. “The first day I could just not believe it,” she said.
“I was having out-of-body experiences. I really was. I mean, I’m a pretty straight hitter, and I was missing fairways. And the desert is not like hitting it into the trees. I had unplayable lies, lost balls, everything going wrong. Then I started missing greens with 7-irons going into the desert. So it was just one of those days.”
Leach, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, did not start off her second round much better.
“Well, the first hole I hit it out of bounds and tripled, so I was like, ‘Oh my God. Here we go again,’” she said. “Thank goodness this is a difficult golf course.” The field came back to her, and Leach, playing in her 82nd USGA championship, steadied her game to finish with a 77 to make the cut by one stroke.
She fared much better today against Gigi Higgins, of Cape Coral, Fla., taking control of the match with four consecutive birdies on holes nine through 12, including holing out a bunker shot and winning 4 and 3.
Two-time USA Curtis Cup Team competitor Brenda Corrie Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C. won 4 and 3 over Suzanne Ricard, of Canada, despite not playing too much golf coming into the championship. Instead she relied on advice from four-time Senior Women’s Amateur champion Carole Semple Thompson.
“She told me that she just plays the course. She doesn’t play her opponent; she just plays the course,” said Kuehn.
In other matches, past Senior Women’s Amateur champions Shelly Stouffer, Judith Kyrinis, Ellen Port and Lara Tennant all advanced to the Round of 32. Stouffer won last year in Alaska.
The Round of 32 will begin at 7:15 a.m. (MST) on Tuesday morning, followed immediately by the Round of 16 approximately at 1:15 p.m. Admission is free and spectators are encouraged to attend.
“You can’t ever relax on this golf course. I feel like one little errant shot into the greens can really make a difference on each hole. I feel like you really just have to grind it out on every hole.” – Martha Leach on the course at Troon Country Club.
“We saw it and I thought, how with 132 players can it be that Alison and I have to play against each other? My husband and our friend made jokes the whole evening, like who is going to poison whose breakfast, right? Things like that. All in good fun and good spirit.” – Karin Luxon on learning that she and Alison Taylor, her housemate this week, would face each other in the Round of 64.
“Oh, it’s grown. Definitely. And the attitude I have is, obviously you have to have a really good game. You’re going to have some tough matches and stress in these things – which I learned at the [Senior Women’s] Open too, that stress is fine – and then you have to have some luck. So I think I’m just having that attitude, that ultimately what happens happens, and it’s okay.” – Kathy Hartwiger on her comfort level this week.
“I’m a nervous wreck every time I step on that tee. This is not how in the old days you were just excited to go to the first tee. This is hard. It’s hard to compete again. So, you know, I literally just try to go out there and hit the best shot that I can, and if I miss it, I miss it. And I’m going to go find it and hit it again. I’m trying to put no expectations on my game. There are none.” – Brenda Corrie Kuehn on how she is feeling this week at Troon Country Club.
“I mean, you have to do everything on this golf course. I’ve played in a lot of these, and it’s kind of a relentless golf course. You have to have it all. It’s a good test, it’s a fair length. You can make some birdies, but you can also make some others.” – Ellen Port on Troon Country Club’s layout.
“Oh, not really. I’ve been out of it for so long. I mean, I’m playing three or four tournaments a summer, I feel like I haven’t played enough. So, I’m just re-learning, you know, my swing is where I want it but I can sense a little bit of the nerves creep in there. And I think everybody has that. And there’s so many good players in here that play a lot of competitive golf. I just need to rely on focusing on each swing and rolling that putt and trusting it. You really do have to commit and trust your lines on the green.” – Port on whether or not her experience as a 3-time past champion is an asset this week.
Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.