For Jennifer Peng on Monday, the goal was to avoid making history in the 35th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Fiddlesticks Country Club – the wrong kind of history.
Peng, 26, of San Diego, Calif., who has earned the No. 1 seed in back-to-back years in this championship, lost the first two holes in the Round of 64 to No. 64 seed Connor Macon, 38, of Charlotte, N.C., but she rallied to earn a 2-and-1 victory on the 6,086-yard, par-72 Long Mean Course to advance to a matchup with No. 32 seed Lila Thomas, of Dallas, Texas, who was a 5-and-4 winner over Ket Preamchuen Vanderpool, of Thailand, on Monday.
“Major kudos to Connor; she’s four months pregnant and already has two kids,” said Peng of her opponent, whose father, Bert Atkinson, was the runner-up in the 1991 U.S. Mid-Amateur and caddied for her this week. “She played great. I had some putts that just didn’t go in today but we made it and that’s all that matters.”
Peng is a former Yale University golfer who shot 6-under-par 138 over the weekend in stroke play, just two strokes back of her record qualifying score from 2021 at Berkeley Hall Club. But having lost to Aliea Clark in the Round of 64 last year, she was hoping not to join Lauren Howe, the only player in USGA history to lose in the first round in consecutive years after earning medalist or co-medalist honors. Howe, who lost in Round 1 of the U.S. Girls’ Junior in both 1975 and 1976, also had a runner-up finish in that championship, to Nancy Lopez, in 1974.
“This is the first match I’ve won in the Mid-Am so that feels nice,” said Peng, who birdied Nos. 3 and 4 to square the match and took the lead for good on the 11th hole. “Definitely looking forward; there’s a lot of golf left to play, but this one feels great.”
Peng is joined in the Round of 32 by seven USGA champions, six of whom have won this championship: defending champion Blakesly Brock, 26; Ellen Port, 60, a seven-time USGA champion who has won this championship four times; Meghan Stasi, 44, another four-time Women’s Mid-Am champion; two-time champion Julia Potter-Bobb, 34; 2015 champion Lauren Greenlief, 32; and 2019 champion Ina Kim-Schaad, 38. Judith Kyrinis, 58, of Canada, the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, also moved on.
Among those who were ousted in the Round of 64 were four USGA champions, including Kelsey Chugg, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who earned the No. 2 seed here and won this championship in 2017. Kate Scarpetta, of Los Angeles, Calif., a screenwriter who is hoping to script her own underdog story as the No. 63 seed, ousted Chugg, 3 and 2.
Other USGA champions to fall on Monday were 2009 Women’s Mid-Am champion Martha Leach, 2002 Women’s Mid-Am champion Kathy Hartwiger, and Lara Tennant, of Portland, Ore., a three-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, who was ousted by Potter-Bobb, 6 and 5.
It had been a while since Potter-Bobb had earned a victory in this championship, and the lack of a recent win in her ledger was a little disquieting.
“When you have that long of a drought, the doubt can creep in,” said Potter-Bobb, of Indianapolis, Ind., a three-time medalist who also lost in the final in 2014. “To come back and win this match means a lot because technically I haven’t won a USGA match since 2019.”
Granted, the 2020 championship was canceled due to COVID-19, but Potter-Bobb was ousted, 5 and 3 by Jacqueline Bendrick in the opening round in 2021 after earning the No. 55 seed, by far her lowest seeding in nine starts. She is the No. 29 seed this week after stroke-play rounds of 72-78 over the weekend. Potter-Bobb was 3 under for the 13 holes she played against Tennant and didn’t lose a hole en route to improving her record in this championship to 25-6.
“Last year I was barely three months post-partum and I think the exhaustion got the best of me,” said Potter-Bobb, who gave birth to son August in July 2021. “This event has been my focus. It’s definitely still a learning curve for me; how to balance a family and a high level of golf preparation. I’m learning as I go. That’s why I have my family here, all under the same roof, so I can do both at the same time.”
Potter-Bobb will square off in the Round of 32 on Tuesday against defending champion Brock, of Chattanooga, Tenn., who overcame an early two-hole deficit to Taya Battistella, of Bellingham, Wash., with the help of three straight winning birdies on hole Nos. 7-9. Brock won in her championship debut at Berkeley Hall and is now 7-0 in Women’s Mid-Am matches.
The Round of 32 and Round of 16 will be played on Tuesday, and the week will conclude with Thursday’s 18-hole championship match. Admission is free throughout the week and the public is welcome to attend. The champion earns an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
“I just go out there and play golf. One match at a time. Having played in a ton of USGA championships and having a ton of experiences, I know the championship resets tonight.” – Lauren Greenlief, 2015 champion, on her victory in the Round of 64
“Since turning 25, I’ve met a core group of friends and this championship has reinvigorated my love for the game. It’s a place to come and hang out with your buddies, a place to play against world-class competitors and tune your game up. It’s always a highlight on my calendar.” – Greenlief
“I’m super-motivated. After having been in that position [runner-up] I would absolutely love to be back there again. I wish I didn’t have to go back to school and could have practiced a bit more before this week but I have been out here doing my best to get ready.” – Aliea Clark, 2021 runner-up, who will face Lauren Greenlief in the Round of 32
“I really felt like my stroke-play rounds were building rounds for me. I wasn’t doing anything too crazy because I was just a little rusty, frankly, from not playing a lot competitively. I got my legs under me the first two days and today I was flowing and not thinking too much, which is a great place to be.” – Ina Kim-Schaad, 2019 champion, who advanced to the Round of 32
“She [Connor] got off to a great start and I had to focus on myself. I know my game and I know myself. There were a lot of opportunities upcoming, so I just had to reset and tell myself there are a lot of holes left to play. It panned out well this time around.” – Jennifer Peng, on rallying to win her opening match
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jonathan Coe of USGA Communications contributed.