Story by Don Seeley, Pottstown, PA MERCURY
EAST NANTMEAL TWP, PA (July 22, 2006) -- But Susannah Aboff wasn’t finished after all.
The 19-year-old native of Huntington, N.Y. proceeded to win the ensuing two holes to get back to even, drilled a 9-iron to within three feet on the 130-yard, 17th hole that led to a birdie and the lead, then capped the incredible comeback by matching Wells’ par on the 18th -- and 36th hole of the day for both women -- to capture the prestigious title at Stonewall Golf Club’s Old Course.
"I don’t usually panic," Aboff said when confronted with the two-down, four-to-play dilemma. "For me it’s more of a challenge. I knew I had four holes left and needed to win two to get back to even.
"It didn’t make it any less stressful, though. I know I won, but I’m still shaking."
Which was understandable considering the pressure, surviving the heat and humidity that saturated everyone involved in the event, and knowing she joined a long list of WTNGA winners that includes Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Betsy Rawls, Sandra Haynie, Jo Ann Carner, Nancy Lopez, Vicki Goetze and Grace Park -- to name a select Hall-of-Fame few.
Aboff, who will be a sophomore at Princeton University this fall and was playing in her very first match-play event, was three-down on two occasions during Saturday morning’s first 18-hole round, getting even at the 17th only to fall one-down again when Wells’ chipped in for a birdie on the 18th. When the two returned to the first tee just after noon for the final shootout, Aboff did manage to grab her first lead of the entire day after two holes, but failed to maintain the advantage.
On the day, there were seven ties and six lead exchanges. No one seemed to take charge over the final 18 holes, but Aboff sure gathered the momentum when she needed to.
"Momentum is huge," said the 19-year-old Wells, a Bethel Park native and soon to be junior at Michigan State. "Someone can win three holes in a row ..it’s a grind. So to lose three holes in a row like I did is so disappointing."
"Momentum is definitely important," added Aboff, who had her father (Michael) caddy and mother (Nancy) for support in the gallery. "But even when you’re down you can’t get caught up in it. I was three-down before, and I was three-down two times today."
Aboff, who hit 11 fairways and just seven greens in regulation, scrambled when she had to and, when Wells faltered the slightest, took advantage of the opportunities presented her.
Wells matched Aboff with 11 fairways hit and seven greens in regulation, but really hurt herself by missing a four-foot par putt on the 15th. Then she three-putted on the 16th after pushing her birdie attempt more than 15 feet past the hole and lipped out her par attempt. Those two holes erased her advantage in a hurry, then Aboff’s marksmanship on the par-3 17th turned the lead over to her.
"I’ve played so many rounds, and I’ve lost three in a row and won three in a row," Wells said. "So I knew how big (the lead) can swing. The 16th I lipped out that putt, then the 17th was so disappointing ..I can’t believe I left it short because I knew (Aboff) would make her putt."
She did, ending an all-new experience for not only herself but for Wells, too.
"This is the longest tournament I’ve ever played," Aboff said. "Ten rounds of golf ..But it means a lot to me. How can it not?"
"Holy cow," Wells added when asked if it was a long week. "It was the longest week of golf I’ve ever had. Thirty-six holes three days in a row..36 isn’t that bad, but I never did it three days in a row."
Aboff was the No. 3 seed out of the qualifying rounds and became the first New Yorker to win the WTNGA event and just the second finalist, the other being Eve Lux of Highland, N.Y., who lost the 1997 final at Houndslake C.C. in Aiken, S.C. ..Wells, the No. 8 seed, was the first finalist from Pennsylvania since 1993, when the legendary Carol Semple Thompson reached the last day and won the title in Pittsburgh. Wells’ caddy was her 14-year-old brother Connor, while their mother (Jana) was part of the gallery. ..The WTNGA, considered one of the "big three" of women’s amateur golf, next summer moves to Persimmon Ridge G.C. in Louisville, Ky. ..One interesting parting shot came as both Aboff and Wells strolled onto the 18th green Saturday afternoon - the electric, out since last Tuesday night’s damaging storm, came back on at Stonewall.
For complete match play results, click on the tournament link above.