VILLAGE OF Pinehurst, N.C. – Katherine Perry couldn’t get to the scorer’s table fast enough.
Arriving a few steps ahead of her playing partners, Perry sat down, wiped the July perspiration from her brow and pushed her North Carolina Tar Heels cap up her forehead. The smile creasing her lips goes without saying.
“I had a good day,” said Perry, in breathless appreciation.
N.C. State’s Caroline Ellington, finally reaching her spot at the table, seconded Perry’s emotion.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Ellington deadpanned, breaking into a wide smile as the two players laughed.
Playing in her fourth North & South Women’s Amateur, Perry finally put together the round she has desperately been seeking both at North Carolina and in the prestigious amateur championship, carding the low round of the day with a 5-under 67 that moved her all the way to a tie for second following the second round of stroke play Wednesday.
Reigning NCAA Champion and Southern Cal sensation Annie Park, who’s won four times this season, backed up her first-round 67 with an even-par 72 to lead Perry and Mississippi State’s Ally McDonald by one stroke at the 111th North & South Women’s Amateur.
This day, though, belonged to Perry.
“Everything was on,” an almost relieved Perry said following her round on the 6,422-yard, par-72 Pinehurst No. 4. “When you shoot 67, everything’s feeling great.”
But it’s been a long, hard process for Perry, a Cary native who’s been a mainstay on the junior, collegiate and amateur golf scene in the area for a decade. Perry ranked third in scoring average for the Tar Heels during her junior season in 2012-13, and she finished third at University of Central Florida Challenge and 12th in the ACC Championship, but still never felt like she played her best. That feeling led to intense work with her coach this summer and further tweaks to a swing she says she’s been tinkering with for five years.
“I feel like I’ve been right on the verge for quite some time,” said Perry, who qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open and was eighth in the 2012 NCAA Championship. “I’ve done a lot of tweaking with my swing this summer and it’s really helped. It’s been about putting all the pieces together, and that’s what I did today.
“It just finally clicked. I’ve been waiting for a while.”
Everything sure looked in order Wednesday.
Perry was bogey-free in shooting her lowest score of the year, which included three birdies on the front side and an eagle on the par-5 13th. It was a round that catapulted her near the top of an elite field, and one that should enable Perry, with one more round of stroke play left, to qualify for one of 16 match play seeds when the North & South shifts to famed Pinehurst No. 2, the host of the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.
“I wasn’t really thinking about score today,” Perry said. “My dad and I talked last night, and that’s what he said to me. Don’t worry about score and just go out and play golf. And I think that’s going to be my mindset (Thursday) – not even think about Top 16. Just playing golf and trying to have some fun.”
It wasn’t much fun for Park, who managed a smile following her round as the heat index soared near 100. Park, who wasn’t entirely pleased with her game following a 67 Tuesday, was even more unimpressed Wednesday, despite four birdies. She got as low as 6 under and never relinquished the lead, but was less than enthusiastic about her performance.
“I didn’t play well,” said Park, who had four bogeys. “It was pretty bad. Everything was just off.”
McDonald, on the other hand, felt like she earned her second straight 2-under 70.
“There were definitely tougher pins today,” said McDonald, who tied for 10th at the NCAA Championship despite a final-round 81. “I had to work a lot harder for pars today. I worked harder for this 70 than the one I shot (Tuesday).”
Stanford star Mariah Stackhouse led a trio of players at 2-under following her 1-over 73 Wednesday, joining Ashlan Ramsey and Rinko Mitsunaga in a tie for fourth.
Alabama transfer Janie Jackson carded one of just five subpar rounds in the morning wave of Wednesday’s second round, shaking off a first-round 75 to fire a blistering 4-under 68 to move to 1 under and into seventh.
“Making the Top 16 is obviously the plan, and I just made it a lot easier to think about now than (Tuesday) after my round,” Jackson said.
Make no mistake, it’s the Top 16 everyone is thinking about.
“This field is stacked, so anything can happen,” McDonald said. “Everybody’s going to be aggressive and somebody could go out and shoot 66. I know I can’t settle, but at the same time, I have to play smart.”
Two years after the men’s North and South Amateur Championship began in 1900, the women’s championship was born and now celebrates its 111th year. It has become one of the most sought after women’s amateur titles and routinely displays the talents of the top amateurs in the game. Seven of the past 10 North & South champions are members of the LPGA Tour.
North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk, Hollis Stacey, Donna Andrews, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
“This championship is very prestigious, and it’s very exciting to be playing well here,” Perry said. “You see all those names up there, and to know you’re playing in this tournament is a really cool feeling.”