It was a tale of two nines at Stonewall for the championship match of the 36th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, as Kimberly Dinh, of Midland, Mich., overcame a 3-down deficit to stun 2017 champion Kelsey Chugg and earn her first USGA title.
"In college, I never really played in any USGA events, mostly because by the time the summer came around, I was burned out and I didn't want to travel. So having an opportunity to compete in a USGA championship after grad school, after college, has been awesome, and to win it, just incredible.”
The victory also earns Dinh a place in the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club.
Chugg, who was playing in her third U.S. Women’s Mid-Am championship match in the last six iterations, looked like she would become the first since 2016 to earn multiple titles, jumping out to a 3-up advantage through the first seven holes.
Everything was looking relatively easy for the 32-year-old from Salt Lake City, hitting fairways and positioning herself well on Stonewall North Course’s tricky greens. She would win four holes on the front side, two with birdies, and lose only one, when Dinh hit her approach shot on the 319-yard, par-4 fourth hole to just three feet. The result? A 3-up lead for the former champion through seven holes, and after tying the next four holes with her opponent, a 3-up lead through 11, with just seven holes to play.
But that’s when things would take a turn. The two competitors would not tie a hole the rest of the way, with Dinh remarkably winning six of the last seven (Chugg would momentarily stop the bleeding by taking the 15th hole), ultimately resulting in a Dinh 2-up victory. It was the first time a competitor came back from a deficit as large as 3 in the championship match since 2003.
"I'm disappointed,” said Chugg. “It was a good battle. I think I lost it -- like the ball striking just left me the last two matches, so I didn't have my best stuff. Yesterday I got it in the hole a little bit better than I did the back nine today, but I'm proud of myself for making it this far.”
For Chugg, the tale of two nines were really a tale of putting. After playing steady for the first part of the match, her putter betrayed her starting on the 11th hole, and while she was able to tie the hole and keep her 3-up lead, she missed a six-footer for birdie that would have pushed the lead to 4. Dinh, on the other hand, drained a ten-footer for par that seemed to shift the momentum.
“To lose a couple holes pretty quickly was a little bit frustrating, but I just kind of dug deep and never really panicked,” said Dinh. “Kelsey was playing great golf, but both of us were going to make mistakes at some point, so I just kind of had to weather that and keep playing. I said to myself, ‘I’ll keep putting one good swing on the ball after another and see where it takes me.’”
On the next two holes, Chugg would miss three to four footers for par on both, giving Dinh her first hole wins since the fourth. Dinh would make a 15-footer for birdie on the 14th hole to tie the match, and after Chugg regained the lead with a par on 15 (Dinh would have her own putting woes with a short miss), the 31-year-old University of Wisconsin grad would win the last three holes with a bogey, and two finishing birdies, to seal the win.
“I have learned something every time I’ve gotten to match play, just every time I've played it, I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. I’ve learned that even if you get down to not panic. At [the Michigan Amateur] this past year, I had a couple matches that went to extra holes and I had to make putts to get to extra holes, so I've been in high-pressure situations and have gotten used to it.”
For Dinh, it’s the icing on an incredible mid-amateur career that has included a win at the Michigan Women’s Amateur (as the oldest player in the field), as well as two wins at the Michigan Women’s Mid-Amateur. Earlier this year, Dinh played in her first ever LPGA event, the Dow Great Lakes Invitational, sponsored by her employer, Dow, where she works as a senior research specialist.
A gold medal
Custody of the Mildred Gardiner Prunaret Trophy for one year
Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships
Exemptions into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., and the 2025 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort
Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club
Runner-up Kelsey Chugg receives a silver medal, an exemption into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur and exemptions into the next three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships.
The 2024 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur will be contested at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass., from Sept. 7-12.
It was the first time all week that Dinh had to play the 17th and 18th holes in match play.
“I'm excited to be back out there and looking forward to it. Just need to start working on my game a little bit. I’ve never been [to Southern Hills], but I heard it’s awesome. Hot in the summer.” - Chugg on earning a spot in next year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur
I didn't expect to make it this far. I've been working [at my job] a ton. Like I said, I'm proud of myself and it's cool to make it to another final. It’s crazy to have another runner-up finish, but it's just an amazing experience and Stonewall was incredible.” -Chugg on what she can take out of the week
“I have a presentation I have to give tomorrow so I have to at least dial in for that, and then we'll figure out what the rest of the day looks like.” - Dinh on how she’ll balance getting back to work and celebrating her win
“Yeah, that was huge for sure, just to stay in it. Going 4-down with seven to play is a lot different than 3-down with seven to play.” - Dinh on her ten-foot par putt to tie the 11th hole