KETTERING, Ohio – Led by a record-setting three days from 17-year-old Alice Chen, New Jersey captured a three-stroke victory over Florida at the 2013 USGA Women’s State Team Championship, conducted at the par-73, 6,153-yard South Course at NCR Country Club. It is the state’s first victory in the 10-year championship history, besting a previous high of seventh in 2011.
“To be in this position right now was not even in my scope of reference,” said New Jersey’s playing captain Tara Fleming, 46, of Jersey City. “These young ladies are such great players and it's just a thrill to be in their company.”
Chen tied the championship’s 18-, 36- and 54-hole scoring records and helped her team to a 54-hole score of 8-over 446. Florida returned an 11-over 449, followed by a surging Virginia at 12-over 450. First-round leader Arizona finished fourth at 13-over 451, with Maryland rounding out the top five at 16-over 454.
Chen, of Princeton, N.J., shared medalist honors with fellow 17-year-old Bryana Nguyen, of Columbia, Md. Their 6-under 213s tie the low mark held by Brenda Corrie Kuehn, of North Carolina (1997), Marla Jemsek-Weeks, of Florida (1997) and Candace Schepperle, of Alabama (2005).
The United States Golf Association conducts the USGA Women’s State Team Championship on a biennial basis. It is open to teams of three players from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
New Jersey withstood an early charge from Arizona, which at one point was 4 under par for the day and held the lead at six over. But Chen and teammate Cindy Ha kept thinking back to the sage advice that they received from Fleming during a practice round last week at New Jersey National Golf Club.
“We wanted to finish within the top seven, because New Jersey finished seventh two years ago,” said Chen, a high school senior who will attend Furman University next fall. “But after that was brought up, the entire time we just wanted to have fun. You’re going to play good if you have fun. Those were Tara’s wise words.”
New Jersey’s patience, combined with Arizona’s slide to a 3-over-par total for the day, brought the Judy Bell Trophy to New Jersey for the first time. Chen returned a 1-over 74 on Thursday, her highest score of the championship. Ha bounced back from an 81 on Wednesday to card her personal championship-best round of 2-over 75, while Fleming added a non-scoring 82.
Ha, 17, of Demarest, opened with four bogeys in her first six holes. As the only member of New Jersey’s 2011 squad to return to the team competition, she knew that there was more riding on her shoulders than just her own performance.
“I told myself to snap out of it. You've got to get it together for your team, not for yourself,” said Ha, who carded four birdies to two bogeys over her final 12 holes. “I had a really good comeback. I was just in a better mental state.”
“I'm really proud of Cindy after yesterday's round,” said Fleming, a reinstated amateur who returned to competitive golf in 2012 after a 16-year hiatus. “She really pulled it together today and without her this wouldn't have happened.”
Florida, which came into the final round tied for the lead with New Jersey, never quite found a groove on Thursday. Four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, 35, of Oakland Park, returned the team’s low round of 1-over 74, while Tara Joy-Connelly, 40, of Palm Beach Gardens, added a 5-over 78. Ericka Schneider, 22, of Bradenton, returned a non-counting 80.
“I should have been a lot better today,” said Stasi, who will travel to Asheville, N.C., in early October and attempt to defend her Women’s Mid-Amateur title. “I had two bad three-putts and a couple par 5s that I should have definitely done a lot better on. But I made an eagle (at the 16th hole), so that was fun.”
"I got off hot today, was 2-under through 4, and just leaked one, leaked one, so a little disappointed with my 78,” added Joy-Connelly, who was competing in her first State Team for Florida, having previously represented Massachusetts. “The week was great, my teammates were great. A pleasure to be with.”
Nguyen and Oklahoma’s Jade Staggs returned 3-under 70s on Thursday, the lowest rounds of the day. Chen’s 67 on Wednesday was the lowest of the championship and tied the 18-hole mark shared by three others.
“I just came in with an open mind thinking I could score on this course,” said Nguyen, who will attend the University of North Carolina next fall. “This is the lowest (cumulative score) I've ever shot in a tournament. I'm really proud of it.”
Two-time defending champion Georgia finished seventh and never seriously threatened to capture a fourth championship.
Due to the potential for inclement weather, a 36-hole cut was implemented following Wednesday’s second round, with 27 of 52 teams returning on Thursday to complete 54 holes. The championship was suspended for a dangerous weather situation at 8:28 a.m. Thursday, with play resuming at 9:20 a.m.