Clark, Rayner to meet in Women's Texas Amateur final
Annika Clark
Annika Clark

WACO, Texas — The Championship Match is set for the 94th Women's Texas State Amateur after University of Houston sophomore Maddy Rayner from Southlake and TCU freshman Annika Clark from Highlands won their Semifinals matches Thursday afternoon at scenic Ridgewood Country Club.

Rayner and Clark will square off Friday at 9:40 a.m. for the oldest and most prestigious women’s amateur title in Texas.

The fifth-seeded Rayner defeated University of Mississippi senior Abby Newton, the No. 8 seed from Katy, 3&2, in the afternoon Semifinals. Earlier in the day, Rayner in the Quarterfinals defeated 20th-seeded Megan Woods in 19 holes.

Clark, the 11th seed, defeated Rayner’s UH teammate, second-seeded Emily Gilbreth from Bellaire, 4&3. Prior to that match, Clark held off No. 14 seed Allie Andersen from The Woodlands, 3&2, in the Quarterfinals.

Rayner has been honest all week about her expectations. She’s working through a swing change implemented a couple months ago, and said she just hoped to make it to the Championship Flight and win a couple matches. She added she felt some pressure to keep up with two of her UH teammates, Gilbreth and Megan Thothong, the Qualifying Round medalist and overall No. 1 seed who was upset in the Round of 16 by Ovilla’s Kirsten Pike.

Now she’s the last UH Cougar standing with a chance to make history Friday.

“I am a little surprised,” Rayner said of reaching the finals. “I’m still learning things about my swing, even in the middle of matches. But I’m really excited about playing tomorrow.”

Courtney Tibiletti, the fourth member of the UH Women’s Golf team who played this week at the 94th WTGA State Amateur, said she’s not surprised to see Rayner keep winning.

“She’s one of the scrappiest players on our team,” said Tibiletti, who lost in a Quarterfinals match in the First Flight.

Rayner will have to fight off one of the hottest putters in the field to win the state title.

Clark made almost 75 feet of birdie putts in her first six holes against Gilbreth on the way to an early 4-up lead. Clark birdied four of her first six, including a 40-foot bomb on the par-4 sixth hole. She said she recently worked on a putting drill with her teacher Art Scarbrough of Lakeside Country Club in Houston. After practicing the drill with her dad, it started to click for Clark.

“Usually I just try to get those long putts down within a foot or two,” said Clark, who turned 18 on Tuesday. “Today they were dropping, so I just kept trying to make them.”

Gilbreth battled back with a two-putt birdie on the ninth hole, an undulating par 5 that ultimately plays uphill into a massive green. Clark gave a hole back with a three-putt on the 12th hole, but she pulled away an won with a birdie on the par-5 15th.

“I really feel comfortable on this golf course,” said Clark, who in 2013 finished fifth at Ridgewood CC at the Starburst Junior Classic. “I usually don’t like bentgrass greens, but I really like these. I can see my lines on them and I like the way they roll.”

A couple of underclassmen at their respective schools, Rayner and Clark are good examples of the type of young talent coming into their own on the college level. Both had decorated junior careers. Clark won three times on the Legends Junior Tour, including the 2013 Texas State Junior Championship, and won the LJT’s 2014 James A. Ragan Sportsmanship Award. Rayner won five times as a junior and in 2013 represented North Texas in the LJT’s Jackie Burke Cup matches, a year- end, Ryder Cup-style event for the top players in the state.

Earlier in the day, Newton put a stop to Pike’s impressive run with a 1- up victory. Pike had defeated Arlington’s Camry Tardy in the Round of 32 before bumping off Thothong. Pike had a 4-up lead over Newton in the Quarterfinals, but Newton battled back to win.

“I just stayed calm and patient because that’s all you can do,” said Newton, who squared the match on No. 17 with a par. She won the match with an 8-foot birdie on the final hole.

Also in the Quarterfinals, Gilbreth defeated Julie Houston from Allen, 3&2. Houston in February won the WTGA’s Eclectic tournament at the Clubs of Kingwood.

ABOUT THE Texas Women's Amateur

Field Limit: Lowest handicap indexes in multiples of 8 with a maximum of 88 players. In the event the championship becomes over-subscribed, entries will be accepted in order of handicap index.

Format: The 32 players with the lowest qualifying scores will fill the Championship flight and contend for the title. The qualifying round is optional for all but the players with the 32 lowest handicap indexes. The 16 players eliminated in the first round of Championship flight match play may participate in an 18-hole Stroke Play consolation round. Remaining players will be flighted into seven flights of eight based on handicap. The four players eliminated in the first round will proceed to a consolation match play bracket for each flight.

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