Round of 16. Quarterfinals. Finalist.
That’s been Kimberly Dinh’s progressive journey in her three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship appearances, and this time, she hopes she’s not quite done yet.
The 31-year-old from Midland, Mich., playing in her third U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur this week at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa., dispatched two opponents on Wednesday to make her first USGA championship final. In the morning quarterfinals, she defeated Alexandra Austin, 3 and 2, taking a 2 up lead through two holes and never relinquishing it for the remainder of the match.
"It helped to get out to an early lead,” said Dinh. “I just played a lot of steady golf. Had a couple hiccups on 9 and 10, but otherwise I just made a lot of pars and made it as easy on myself as possible.”
Dinh, who played her college golf at the University of Wisconsin, has found significant success as an amateur over the last few years. She won the 2021 Michigan Women’s Amateur as the oldest player in the field and captured two of the last four Michigan Women’s Mid-Amateur titles. The senior research specialist at Dow, who just this year competed in her first LPGA event (the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational), is now just one win away from earning the title of USGA champion and an exemption into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I really want to play in the U.S. Open,” said Dinh. “That's probably one of the last things left on my bucket list in terms of competitive golf that I really want to get checked off.”
In her afternoon semifinal match, Dinh and opponent Gretchen Johnson traded blows over the first nine holes. Johnson drew first blood, carding a birdie on the third hole to take a 1 up lead, but Dinh hit right back, winning the fourth hole to even the match. Johnson would win the fifth hole with a birdie, then Dinh would win the sixth hole with a birdie, before momentum seemed to shift fully in her favor. She would win the 8th hole to take her first lead of the match, and then pile on and win holes 10, 11 and 14, the last of which included an approach shot hit to four feet and a converted birdie putt.
“Gretchen was hitting good shots,” said Dinh. “I was a little loose with my shots, so I had a slow start. Just kept myself in it and kind of kept plotting along and plugging away. I figured I was going to have opportunities. I was getting enough good shots in the morning that I knew my swing was going to come around and I would get going.”
Standing between Dinh and a trophy lies 2017 champion Kelsey Chugg, who is back in the final match for the third time in her career. Chugg, 32, of Salt Lake City, Utah, made back-to-back finals in 2017 and 2018, winning the first against Mary Jane Heistand, 3 and 1, and then losing to Shannon Johnson 1 up the next year.
After defeating Taryn Walker, 1 up, in the morning, Chugg hung onto a late lead again to beat local favorite Jackie Rogowicz, of Yardley, Pa., 1 up.
“I really fought hard today,” said Chugg. “It was a tough match. Jackie is a great player and I'm proud of myself for grinding it out down the stretch. I’m just feeling a bunch of adrenaline still. Just really, really excited to be back in the final again.”
Chugg, whose mother drove six hours after her Round of 16 win on Tuesday night to be onsite at Stonewall today, started to find her footing on the par-3, 135-yard sixth hole, where she hit it to two feet and converted the birdie to tie the match. She would immediately win the next hole with a par after Rogowicz’ ball plugged in a fairway bunker, before capitalizing on another par 3, the 163-yard ninth hole, where she hit it to six feet. With the first 2-up lead for either competitor so far in the match, Chugg made a 10-foot par save on the 11th hole to keep the momentum from swinging back to her opponent.
Tree trouble on the par-4 15th would lead to a bogey for Chugg that would narrow her lead to one. She converted two critical up-and-downs on No. 16 and 18 to hold onto a 1 up victory.
“Nerves started to creep in a little bit on the back [nine],” said Chugg. “The ball striking left me for a little while. I don't know if it ever came back honestly, but fortunately the short game came around and made some awesome ups and downs.”
The 18-hole championship match will begin at 9 a.m. ET on Thursday. The match is free and open to the public.
All semifinalists are exempt into the 2024 and 2025 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs. The 2024 championship will be held at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass., and the 2025 site is yet to be announced.
Judith Kyrinis, who lost to Gretchen Johnson, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday morning, was the oldest quarterfinalist in the 36-year history of the championship (59 years of age). Earlier this summer, Kyrinis earned low amateur honors at the 5th U.S. Senior Women’s Open, earning a T6 finish, the lowest for an amateur in championship history.
The final match is a rematch of a Round of 32 match in 2021, when Dinh defeated Chugg, 2 up
In her five matches thus far, Dinh has not played the 17th nor 18th holes. Dinh has played 75 holes through her first five matches, while Chugg has played 87.
Chugg’s three final match appearances are tied for third-most all time with Julia Potter-Bobb and Kelly Postillion.
“I just got my amateur status back in December and am kind of kicking myself for not doing it sooner. I haven't really played a whole lot of competitive golf in the last ten years, just a few local things. So I'm eager to get back and I'm so excited that I secured my spot for next year’s championship. I don't have to worry about qualifying and can make plans to be there. It's been an unbelievable week.” - Taryn Walker on returning to USGA competition after more than ten years
“It's so awesome. I rarely have family or friends out here with me, so to have some support is amazing. There was a big crowd for Jackie today, and just to have my mom here was helpful.” - Kelsey Chugg on having her mom in attendance on Wednesday
“[My game] has been trending nicely the last few years. I haven't done very well in this tournament -- or I made it to match play and lost early, and I was just so excited to make it to yesterday. Just to have an opportunity to be in the final again is amazing.” - Chugg on returning to the finals
“I have my fiancée out here; got my parents out here. They have been out here all week. And two of my aunts were here for stroke play and the first round of match play as well. It’s always fun to have them here, and it gives them a reason to travel, too, and watch the golf a little bit.” - Kimberly Dinh on her support system this week
“It's pretty special. It's my second Women's Mid Am, and I only made it to the Round of 16 last year, so it was nice to improve on that. But it was really special playing a home game. I had a lot of friends and family out, so it was really fun.” - Jackie Rogowicz on the week
“I think I can win a USGA event. I really do.” - Rogowicz on what she can take out of the week
"Hats off to Kim. She played steady and solid all day. I certainly had some opportunities early to take control of the match that I didn't convert on, and then had a little bit of a goofy stretch in the middle. Kind of dug myself a little bit of a hole, and then started to give myself some opportunities at the end and just didn't convert. I know my game stacks up against anyone out here, so look forward to coming back next year and giving it another go." - Gretchen Johnson on her semifinal loss