Story by Alex Podlogar
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. — While the Women’s North & South Amateur typically gives everyone a glimpse of the future of women’s golf, most of the top players themselves couldn’t help but think about the past during the second round on Tuesday.
A U.S. Open-style setup makes for a good history lesson.
With Pinehurst No. 2 again showing its teeth, no player finished under par for the second straight day at the 113th Women’s North & South Amateur, allowing Lauren Stephenson’s two-day total of 2-over par 142 to leave the Clemson recruit in control with a five-shot lead over 2014 North & South runner-up Lori Beth Adams.
“I hit a few bad shots, but that’s going to happen out here,” said Stephenson, who shared the first-round lead with Adams after the pair carded even-par 70s on Monday. “You’re not going to be perfect the whole time. My plan on the back nine was when I got in trouble to take the big number out of play and just go for bogey. Making bogey out here isn’t bad.
“Overall I’m thrilled.”
Playing nearly as long it did for the U.S. Women’s Open in June 2014 and with many of the same hole locations, No. 2 played to a stroke average of around 79 for the second consecutive round. The 91-player field has yet to collectively card 100 birdies – the field has just 95 birdies among its players over two rounds – to go with a staggering 585 bogeys.
Those conditions had many players thinking about No. 2 at its best.
“I knew coming in it was going to be tough because of the U.S. Opens,” said Bethany Wu, the top-ranked junior in the world who is tied for fourth at 9 over. “And then, coming off the practice round I was like, ‘Oh…My…GOSH! What did I get myself into?’
“And that’s pretty much what I’ve been feeling this whole week. But, I mean, it’s Pinehurst. Every golfer has to come here at least once.”
South Carolina golfer Sarah Schmelzel teed off about an hour before the leaders. Finishing as the afternoon breeze began to pick up, Schmelzel couldn’t believe she had matched Stephenson’s low round of the day after a 72.
“That’s the low round of the day? Wow,” said a surprised Schmelzel. “I looked at my caddie the morning and said, ‘I’ve gone off at 8:03 the past two days. I hope we can get off a little bit later (Wednesday).’ And he said, “Oh, you’re going to be in one of the last groups (Wednesday.)’ And I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
Schmelzel began the day tied for 22nd after a first-round 76. By the end of the day, she stood alone in third and will be in the final group on Wednesday. It was a special day for Schmelzel, playing in her first North & South.
“When I was on No. 1 today my caddie pointed over to the 18th green and said, ‘That’s Payne’s pin,’” Schmelzel said. “And later, I hit a really good shot on the green and I said, ‘Am I close to where Payne made his putt on Sunday?’
“There’s just so much history out here and it’s such a neat course and so challenging. It’s fun to walk where so many great people have walked and play a course they’ve all played before.”
The day, though, once again belonged to Stephenson. The first prep golfer to be named South Carolina All-State in the 4-A class for both boys and girls golf, Stephenson had a truly brilliant round going early, making birdies on 3, 5 and 8 to close out the front nine in 2-under 33. She had four bogeys on the back nine, however, struggling to keep up with the greens as they got faster during the afternoon.
“I was actually thinking about how Michelle Wie played here (in winning the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open), and I was playing so good on the front I was saying, ‘Hey, this course is pretty easy,’” quipped Stephenson. “But you can never say that out here. Things can go downhill quickly. But I’ve enjoyed playing No. 2. It’s such a great challenge.”
While Stephenson seems to have a firm grasp on the top seed, all players will be gunning for one of the top 16 seeds into match play after the field is cut following Wednesday’s final round of stroke play.
On Thursday, the championship will shift to match play, and the championship will be decided on Friday.
“You have to take it as you’re running a marathon and not a sprint,” Stephenson said. “I’ve started off the last two days well, but even (Wednesday) is not the last day. You have to stay focused on the long term and not worry about the score. I just have to stick to my game plan and try to have fun.”
Adams, who nearly won the 2014 North & South, struggled to a 7-over 77 on Tuesday, but remained in good spirits – and in second place.
“I didn’t finish well at all – bogey, bogey, double,” Adams said, chuckling. “But, I’m staying positive. The top 16 advances.”
“I didn’t come here to be stroke play medalist,” said Wu. “We’re all here for the last round of match play.”
North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng. As much as the North & South is a championship with a great past, it also continues to foster a great legacy. Nine of the last 12 Amateur champions have joined the LPGA Tour.