Defending champion Margaret Shirley, 29, of Roswell, Ga., and first-time competitor Lauren Greenlief, 25, of Oakton, Va., advanced to Thursday’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship final after winning their quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Wednesday at the 6,061-yard, par-72 Squire Creek Country Club.
Shirley, the 2014 champion and 2013 runner-up, is the first competitor to play in three consecutive Women’s Mid-Amateur finals. This also marks only the 13th time a player has reached the same USGA championship’s match-play final in three consecutive years.
“There is so much luck involved in doing that,” said Shirley of making her third straight final. “I played really well today, but that's – I don't know how to put that into words.”
Shirley eliminated Ashley Tonore, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals, winning three of five holes after Tonore, 38, of Monroe, La., squared the match on 11. Shirley never trailed in her victory over Tonore, a Louisiana State University graduate and former women’s golf coach at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, but was pushed from the start against Christina Proteau, 32, of Canada, in the semifinals.
Proteau, who defeated Paige Bromen, 29, of Minneapolis, Minn., in the quarterfinals, held a 2-up lead over Shirley through seven holes. However, Shirley rallied to win 8, 9 and 11 to move ahead for the first time. The players halved the next five holes before Shirley sealed the win on the par-5 17th with a birdie after Proteau couldn’t chip onto the green from a tough lie in a divot.
Trailing 2 down through four holes, Shirley played the rest of the match at 2 under, given the usual match-play concessions.
“I played really, really good golf on the back,” said Shirley, the executive director of Atlanta Junior Golf. “Christina did, as well. She had a bad lie on 17. I felt bad. But we both played well. I hate that one of us had to lose. It was a really good match.”
Greenlief, the youngest player in the field, is vying to become the youngest champion in Women’s Mid-Amateur history. At 25 years and 25 days, she would be three months and one day younger than Sarah LeBrun Ingram when she won the first of her three titles in 1991.
Whether or not she becomes the youngest champion, Greenlief has already made history this week. Her 8-and-6 semifinal victory over Whitney Britton, 25, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., is the largest margin of victory in a Women’s Mid-Amateur semifinal match. Greenlief had a much more difficult time in her morning quarterfinal match against Mercedes Huarte, 30, of Argentina, eventually holding on for a 1-up victory.
“I hit the ball unbelievably well this afternoon,” said Greenlief, a management consultant for The Boston Consulting Group. “This morning was a tight match. I hit some shots that I wasn't really happy with. When I'm playing golf, I'm really perceptive about what's going on, so I learned some stuff this morning about the pins and played some shots a little differently this afternoon, and I think it really paid off.”
Both remaining Louisiana natives in the field were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Shortly after Shirley defeated Tonore, Britton won a 5-and-4 decision over Kay Daniel, 44, of Covington, La. It was Daniel’s first time reaching the quarterfinals and she was pleased with her effort and the experience of playing in her home state.
“I thought I hit the ball pretty well,” said Daniel, an orthodontist with three offices in Southern Louisiana. “I was missing by just a little bit, and that gets you in trouble at Squire Creek. She did a better job of getting up and down for par than I did.”
Both Shirley and Greenlief are exempt into next year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa. The winner will receive a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, while the runner-up will receive a three-year exemption.
The 18-hole final match is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. CDT on Thursday.