Lauren Greenlief defeated defending champion Margaret Shirley, 2 and 1, Thursday to win the 29th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, conducted at the 6,061-yard, par-72 Squire Creek Country Club.
The youngest competitor in the field, Greenlief, 25, of Oakton, Va., becomes the youngest Women’s Mid-Amateur champion. At 25 years and 25 days, she is three months and one day younger than Sarah LeBrun Ingram was when she won the first of three Women’s Mid-Amateurs in 1991.
“It's the coolest feeling ever. I think every golfer, especially every amateur golfer, really dreams of being a USGA champion, because it's really the pinnacle of amateur golf,” said Greenlief. “To get my name etched on the trophy forever is something that I know will be a highlight of my golf career, now and forever.”
Greenlief, a management consultant for The Boston Consulting Group, took a 1-up lead on the 528-yard, par-5 second hole when Shirley had to punch out from behind a tree after an errant second shot. Greenlief was in good position to build a bigger margin on Holes 3 and 4, but Shirley’s putter earned two big halves.
After winning 5 and 6 to go 3 up, Greenlief continued to play clean golf from tee to green and seemed poised to pad her lead. However, Shirley was able to cut the deficit to 1 down when Greenlief missed short putts on 8 and 12.
“I really could have been 5 down after 5,” said Shirley, 29, of Roswell, Ga. “I made some really good putts on 1 and 3 and 4 to kind of stay in it.”
A key sequence came on the 14th and 15th holes. Greenlief’s drive was right of the cart path and Shirley’s approach landed 8 feet from the hole. However, Greenlief was able to save par and Shirley left her birdie putt short to keep Greenlief in front.
With Greenlief in the bunker after her approach missed short on 15, Shirley was able to chip to 3 feet. Greenlief was not able to get up and down for par, but Shirley slid her 3-footer past the hole and again missed a golden opportunity to square the match.
“I think momentum swung there. To carry a 1-up lead into 16 versus an all square is a pretty big advantage,” said Greenlief. “I saw the 3-footer she had. It was a little slider and definitely pretty quick, so it wasn't an easy putt.”
Both players missed birdie putts from about 15 feet on the 133-yard, par-3 16th and Greenlief took her 1-up advantage to Squire Creek’s signature hole, the 473-yard, par-5 17th. Greenlief and Shirley both had short pitches to the green with their third shots. Greenlief barely made it onto the green with hers and Shirley hit hers to 13 feet. Greenlief took an aggressive line with her putt and sank it from approximately 35 feet. Shirley barely missed her 13-footer to halve and extend the match.
Given her earlier struggles on the green, it was fitting that Greenlief sealed her place in history by draining a long putt on Squire Creek’s notoriously difficult greens.
“I made a really good putt on the fifth hole for birdie, and then missed two short ones that I just tugged slightly to the left and that kind of let her back in the match,” said Greenlief. “That kind of puts a little more pressure on the flat stick the rest of the round. Standing over 17, I had a pretty good feel for the line and hit it right where I wanted to and it broke about 6 inches, left to right, and went in.”
While Shirley wasn’t able to repeat, she did become only the 12th player to compete in the same USGA championship’s match-play final in three consecutive years, joining a list that includes Tiger Woods, Juli Inkster, Hollis Stacy and others. A strong competitor, Shirley, the executive director of Atlanta Junior Golf, was gracious in defeat.
“When you're 3 down after five, to try to battle back on a golf course like this when someone is not making any mistakes, it's hard,” said Shirley. “She's a phenomenal player, just a great champion, great girl and I had a lot of fun out there. It was a great match. That's all you can hope for.”
As the champion, Greenlief is now exempt into the next 10 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and the next two U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Shirley is already exempt into the 2016 Women’s Amateur due to winning the 2014 Women’s Mid-Amateur.
The 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 9.4. It consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play, with the championship scheduled to conclude with an 18-hole final on Thursday.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship is one of 13 national championship conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
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