2021 U.S. Women's Amateur (Round of 64) Aug 12, 2021 13:18:52 GMT
Post by philknj on Aug 12, 2021 13:18:52 GMT
I arrived at Westchester CC around 8:15 AM. Prior to that, I dropped by the Eldorado Diner in Elmsford for breakfast. Open 24 hours, it’s sort of a regional institution ... behind the register counter they have many framed pics of big shots who have been there, including George Pataki and Joe Lieberman.
The plan was to follow two matches (to the end, only if they were competitive), followed by catching pieces of other matches.
First up was the 9 AM opener. I had heard of Wake Forest’s Rachel Kuehn (#1 seed) before this week, but never saw her play, aside from her range work on Tuesday. Her opponent was Marissa Wenzler (#64 seed), part of the Kentucky Wildcat duo that won the playoff Tuesday night. However, after further research, I may have seen both in passing when I attended the 2018 Polo Junior at Echo Lake CC.
This was Exhibit ‘A’ that the seedings at this level meant nothing. Kuehn must have thought the USGA did a bait-and-switch on her. The 64th seed is supposed to be a pushover ... instead, Wenzler looked bigger and stronger and drove the ball about 50% higher.
Kuehn and Wenzler departing par-3 1st tee box:
I was late getting to the first tee, but arrived at the green to see Kuehn concede Wenzler’s putt to halve the hole. A kid following the match in a volunteer’s outfit turned to me and said it was a generous give by Kuehn. I said, “Kid, you read my mind. That putt looked like it was over two feet.” By the way, it’s usually a kid or youthful person who does standard bearing, but I’m guessing the lady assigned was in her late 60s. But, she could handle it and appeared to be in pretty good shape.
Kuehn went 1-up on the par-4 3rd hole, where I looked over both bags. Kuehn has Titleist T-300 irons and Vokey SM8 wedges. Wenzler has TaylorMade P-770 irons and Vokey SM8 wedges.
The USGA website has a close-up picture of Wenzler’s yardage book, glove and ball stacked in a neat pile on the grass. The photographer got it while Wenzler was in the porta potty at the 4th tee. There were also three mini-vans from St. Thomas Aquinas College parked in the adjacent woods, which would be used to transport players and staff during a weather delay.
Kuehn didn’t drive it as high as her opponent, but her lower, boring trajectory gave her comparable distance, and sometimes more. She nearly reached the par-5 5th (546 yards) in two and won the hole to go 2-up.
Kuehn was in control, until an inexplicable blunder at the short par-4 7th – she hit driver. The USGA says the hole was playing 318, although they were hitting from 305, per the tee blocks. Either way, NOBODY hits driver at this hole. There is no reasonable place to fit a driver. You can’t run it onto the green and none of these players can fly the ball to the uphill green, which is narrow from front to back and guarded by a bunker in front.
Before teeing off, Kuehn discussed her choices with her brother the looper. I should have been listening as I was standing right there. Then she takes out the driver and hits it dead left into the tall, wispy garbage dump. Meanwhile, Wenzler takes the standard route to the right fairway with a hybrid, then sticks it to about seven feet with a short iron or wedge. I asked the kid why Kuehn hit driver, since it didn’t make any sense to me. He couldn’t figure it out either.
Kuehn found her ball in the junk and found more trouble by hitting her second shot into the front bunker. Her first sand shot didn’t come out, but the second one did. I can’t remember if her next shot was a chip or putt ... then she did some quick math in her head and told Wenzler to pick up her ball, it was time to move on. What an early Christmas gift to Wenzler and after that she seemed to get all the breaks.
Breaks? Wenzler pushed her drive way right at the 90-degree dogleg-left par-4 8th. Her approach shot barely cleared the water, kicked off something hard and ran all the way to the green. Kuehn cut the corner with her tee shot, but still had to make an 8-foot par putt with her claw grip to halve the hole.
Wenzler drove it to the yellow 250 drive measurement marker at the uphill par-5 9th hole and made birdie to tie the match.
Kuehn came within one yard of driving the green at the short par-4 10th (296 yards) and made birdie, but so did Wenzler. It was at the 11th tee that I noticed ex-Golf Channel “personality” Chantel McCabe had joined the spectators. She had a media or volunteer badge, videoed some of the action with her phone and carried a thick pocket notebook.
Wenzler won the 11th and 13th holes to go 2-up. Kuehn stuffed it close for a gimmee putt at the par-3 16th hole (193 yards) to cut the deficit by one hole, prompting sibling fist bumps, but that’s as close as she got. Both players bogeyed #17 and birdied #18 (Kuehn drove it to the 295 hash mark).
Afterward, I noticed Kuehn being embraced face-to-face by a bearded dude (not much taller than her), but she was not in the mood as she kept dabbing her eyes dry with her knuckles. I later learned that the guy was Alex Fitzpatrick who plays at Wake Forest and is the kid brother of PGA Tour stud Matthew Fitzpatrick.
McCabe’s video of the match ... I’m not in it, but you can see the kid at 1:21 and 1:39 wearing the wide-brimmed white hat:
Next up was the 1 PM match between Brooke Matthews (#3) and Brittany Shin (#62), who resembles a smaller and fitter version of Mirim Lee.
Shin caught my attention Tuesday sporting an orange ‘F’ on her clothing. It was an unusual font, so I didn’t think it was the U. of Florida. I looked at her blue bag which had TITANS in orange letters on one side ... who is that? Then I checked the other side – FULLERTON. Oh, Cal State – Fullerton, they’re big in baseball, but women’s golf?!
While waiting for the match to start, Shin was schmoozing with a guy in the U. of Oregon uniform (probably the head coach). She was talking about changing instructors, how the old one was “too technical.” Oregon had one player in the field who bombed out during medal play, but this guy was still here Wednesday and followed Shin’s match. I speculated that a transfer was in the works ... and I learned later that Shin announced her transfer to Oregon in July after two seasons at Fullerton.
The lady at the 1st hole starter table introduced the walking official assigned to the match and went over the protocols, most notably that the players should announce hole concessions LOUDLY and caddies were NOT permitted to do this.
This was one of the few Wednesday matches where the seedings lined up with the abilities of the players. It became apparent at the par-4 2nd hole when Matthews out-drove Shin by 50 yards. That margin was probably an anomaly, but Matthews was clearly the longer driver and better ball striker.
Shin’s erosion began when she lost holes four thru six. The par-3 6th was particularly bad ... a downhill shot of only 124 yards. The pin was front-center ... the landing area is narrow with bunkers on both sides, but still, it’s just 124 downhill. Matthews hits the green easily, then it’s Shin’s turn. She started her ball at the right bunker with a slight draw action, yelling “GO!” ... “GO!” Well, it didn’t GO, except into the right bunker. This was followed by a thigh slap and a “SHOOT!” She was playing TaylorMade P-770 irons with UST Mamiya Recoil 95 shafts.
More drama and the same result at the uphill par-5 9th hole (473 yards) ... Shin’s drive was in the right rough. Her second shot was a low liner that stayed in the right rough ... two more thigh slaps. The young Asian guy on her bag proceeded to her ball ... Shin stayed back momentarily, no doubt stewing over her predicament, then started walking. When she arrived at her ball and caddie, she pointed towards the green, then she pointed back to her previous lie, then she pointed to the green, then she pointed back to her previous lie ... unfortunately, I was on the left side of the fairway, so I can only speculate on what that was about. Matthews made bogey and still won the hole.
Matthews birdied the short par-4 10th to go 5-up. Okay, I could see where this match was going. It was time to move on.
I was down the left side of the par-4 11th fairway when someone really tagged her drive ... it ran through the short grass and nearly dropped into a gulley crossing the fairway which was lined with stone blocks on both sides. I took a close look at the ball and realized someone was going to have a serious stance problem. That someone was Rose Zhang, but she fooled me ... she carefully stood on the blocks, choked down at least three inches on her iron and hit a superb low runner that nearly reached the green. You can see her stance in the USGA website gallery.
I had seen enough of Zhang on Tuesday, so I had no interest in following her match, but it was a shocker to see her tee off 1-down at #18 against Elle Nachmann, who I never heard of before. Nachmann was gaming Cobra Fly-Z shovel irons.
I joined the match of Rianne Mikhaela Malixi vs. Allysha Mae Mateo at the 17th tee with Malixi 1-up ... but not for long. Malixi drove her ball into the right trees, needed at least three shots to reach the green and lost the hole to tie the match. The kid who followed the Kuehn/Wenzler match was back ... except that he was wearing a headset and carrying a walkie-talkie and pairings sheet. I heard him tell his friends Tuesday that Golf Channel would pay him $250 per day to be a forecaddie/spotter for the TV broadcast.
Mateo, whose bag said BYU, almost blew the match when she drove the ball into the left rough at #18, giving her tree trouble, but she hit a brilliant tight draw that barely found the opening above two trees. The hole was halved, so they continued to overtime at the par-3 1st hole.
I watched Malixi from behind the target line. She has a blocky athletic build and demonstrated an excellent set-up and classic form on her swing. She hit the better ball at #1 and made par, while Mateo made four, ending the match.
The last match I caught was Alyaa Abdulghany vs. Kailie Vongsaga as they approached the par-3 16th hole. Alyaa’s early lead had been reduced to 1-up and then disappeared when Vongsaga stuck it close for an easy birdie. Then Vongsaga took a 1-up lead by making a clutch putt at #17, while Alyaa didn’t.
Alyaa had to win the par-5 18th ... started with a drive to the 263 mark, followed by a good second, followed by a 75-yard third to about ten feet. Meanwhile, Vongsaga did almost everything to lose the hole ... drove it 239 into left rough. Her second went left into the rough. Her third rolled over the green and went up an embankment. Her fourth was a speedy downhill breaking putt that somehow stopped right on the edge of a slope ... her daddy on the bag couldn’t believe it and waved his hand to make the ball go, but no luck. She’s still away, but made a miraculous par-saver putt. Now it’s Alyaa’s turn, who had been standing around for quite a while ... her easy two-putt just turned into a must-make one-putt ... which she missed.
The last match to get as far as the 18th green was Kan Bunnabodee over Alyson Bean, 1-up. Bean’s bag had Srixon Z785 irons along with a Srixon ZU65 4/23 utility iron.
I milled about for a while before leaving to visit the White Plains location of PGA Tour Superstore. Before I reached the entrance, a player (unknown) and her entourage walked out of the store. Inside, it looked even more opulent than the store I visited in 2016 near Ridgewood CC. One wall along the shoe section had huge panels of various players for particular brands. Two of them were for Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee. Lydia’s picture had her full name printed on it, but Minjee’s picture only had her last name on it. Apparently, it’s not just Hank Haney who thinks all ‘Lee’ women players are the same.