Open spot comes down to playoff at Trace
For the second straight year, 36 holes of golf were not enough to decide who advanced from Carolina Trace Country Club to the U.S. Women's Open Championship. The club's Lake Course hosted a sectional qualifier Thursday leading into the championship to be played June 19-22 at Pinehurst Resort's No. 2 Course.
The Lake Course's No. 10 hole, an uphill, tree-lined par four, was the stage for the final U.S. Open spot again. Ally McDonald, from Fulton, Ms. and a rising senior at Mississippi State University, made a 20-foot birdie putt, punctuated with a yell and fist pumps, to win the tiebreaker by a stroke over Australian Rebecca Artis, giving McDonald the last of four spots Carolina Trace got to hand out as it hosted a sectional qualifier for the sixth straight year.
Stacey Keating, from Cressy, Victoria, Australia, was the day's medalist through the 36-hole marathon. She shot 73 in the morning followed by a five-under-par 67 which was the low round of the day for a four-under 140 total.
Keating is an LPGA Tour rookie and made her third major tournament. She missed cuts in the 2012 Women's British Open and last year's U.S. Women's Open. She has six career pro victories on Australian and European tours. Finishing tied for 19th at the North Texas LPGA Shootout earlier in May is her best LPGA result this season.
Marta Silva, from Santiago de Compostela, Spain and a University of Georgia alum, led by two strokes after the day's first round with a 69. She shot 72 in the afternoon to finish a shot behind Keating for the second qualifying berth.
Silva's also an LPGA Tour rookie this year. Thursday was her first qualifying attempt for a U.S. Women's Open.
"I'm really happy with how I played today. I played pretty solid through both rounds," Silva said.
Silva and other players said patience and not getting too high or too low were keys to playing well through 36 holes.
"For the last nine, then definitely the last six holes, I was already done. I was really tired. I just kept telling myself, it's this way for everybody," Silva said.
Wei-Ling Hsu, a 19-year-old from Chinese Taipei, shot rounds of 71 and 72 to claim the third qualifying spot. She didn't know if her score would be low enough until a lot of scoreboard watching and the final groups had turned in their cards.
Hsu is a two-year Symetra Tour player, which is the LPGA's equivalent to the men's Web.com Tour. Hsu won the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women's Helath Charity Classic in Greenwood, S.C. on May 11.
McDonald and Artis tied at 144 leading to the two-player sudden-death playoff.
On No. 10, both players split the fairway with McDonald outdriving Artis by about 15 yards. Both found the green with their approaches. Artis rolled a long putt close only for McDonald's birdie putt suddenly deciding the playoff.
After the initial celebration, she shared hugs with MSU teammate Rica Tse, who had tried to qualify, and caddie Stanley Ramey.
McDonald's played, and had championship success, at Pinehurst No. 2, having won last July's North and South Women's Championship. That title spurred her efforts toward making the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst.
"It's something I've been looking forward to for a year," McDonald said.
McDonald felt she had "given strokes away down the stretch," so was equal parts frustrated and "very, very blessed" to wind up in a playoff.
McDonald will be on the USA team for the 38th Curtis Cup, with top U.S. amateurs meeting Great Britain/Ireland, coming up June 6-8 in St. Louis.
"I guess I'll have a very full summer, but I'm definitely blessed and it's going to be a lot of fun," she said.
Lee County High School sophomore and reigning high school state champion Siranon Shoomee played in her second U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier, having also tried last May at Carolina Trace. She improved by 16 strokes from her rounds last year and finished well up the leaderboard, but not in the precious top four.
Shoomee shot 74 in the morning, putting her right in the mix for a qualifying spot; then shot 79 in the second round. She won the NCHSAA 3A State Championship this past fall. That title is brilliant, but not in the same league thanks to course length, the competition and 36 holes in a day, Shoomee said, as a USGA national championship event.
"It was tough with the wind, the conditions, the heat, but I was able to make it through," she said.
In the opening round, Shoomee hit 10 greens in regulation and said her short game saved her, but her short game left her a bit in the afternoon 18.
She still has a lot of tournaments, with a lot of travel, throughout the summer, then of course defending her state title as a Yellow Jacket.
For the four qualifiers, from Australia, Spain, Chinese Taipei and Mississippi, a long day's effort in Sanford means returning to the Sandhills, a short drive from Carolina Trace, in less than three weeks for a major championship.
"You don't get to play in a major every week," Silva said. "It's just really exciting. For all the work it's taken to get here, it's a really gratifying thing."