ERIE, PA (September 15, 2016) -- Afterward, Shannon Johnson battled the disappointment of a grueling week that nearly culminated in her first USGA championship.
“I tried to be confident over every putt,” said Johnson, 33, of Norton, Mass., whose miss from 3 feet on the 17th green sealed a 2-and-1 victory for Julia Potter, of Indianapolis, Ind., in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at The Kahkwa Club. “Donald Ross got me in the end.”
If the testing greens were the undoing of co-medalist Johnson in the championship final, they were fellow co-medalist Potter’s salvation, as she one-putted eight times, including for the clinching par on No. 17, to give her a second victory in this championship, in her third trip to the final match in four years.
Potter might be disappointed to know that the 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is scheduled for Quail Creek Country Club, in Naples, Fla., an Arthur Hills design, considering that Potter has won both of her Women’s Mid-Amateurs on Ross classics – in 2013, it was at Biltmore Forest Country Club, in Asheville, N.C. Her victory on Thursday gives her a glowing 18-2 match-play record in this championship in four tries.
“When you get to the sixth day of championship play – the eighth day, counting practice rounds – you are starting to get tired,” said Potter. “That’s when you fall back on that short game. I was lucky enough to be able to do that.”
Victory in this 30th Women’s Mid-Amateur seemed anything but assured for Potter when Johnson rallied to win four consecutive holes (Nos. 12-15), all with pars, to square the match with three holes to play. Potter had built a 4-up lead through six holes as Johnson hit a couple of erratic approach shots and Potter made par saves and a birdie on the par-4 sixth.
“The first nine holes, I was not hitting it well off the tee, and on the front side you can get away with that,” said Potter, who is the marketing director for the Indiana Golf Office. “I got lucky with a couple lies in the rough, too. That’s going to catch up with you on the back nine and that’s exactly what happened.”
Johnson won her first hole of the morning, the par-4 ninth, with a conceded birdie after Potter failed to get up and down from behind the green. Potter restored her 4-up edge when she flopped a wedge to tap-in distance on the par-3 11th while Johnson was failing to get up and down from behind the green. But as Potter continued her wayward ways, missing four consecutive greens, Johnson settled down to make one-putt pars on Nos. 12 and 13 and conventional pars on Nos. 14 and 15. On the 172-yard, par-3 15th, Potter struggled to a double bogey after finding a bunker off the tee, and Johnson negotiated a testing two-putt par. On this hole nicknamed “Valley of Hope,” Johnson had indeed found hope by squaring the match.
“I said to myself, now is the time,” said Johnson, who played golf at the University of New Mexico before transferring to Indiana University for her final year. “I love the back nine, and I knew coming in I could definitely win some holes. I felt pretty good momentum at that point.”
On No. 16, both players played to the top of a hill, leaving them a short, downhill approach shot. After Johnson found the right fringe with her approach, Potter hit a choked-down, 54-degree wedge from 80 yards that landed and stopped 10 feet underneath the hole. She rolled in the birdie try.
Potter’s boyfriend of two years, Kiel Bobb, has taken over caddie duties for Potter’s father, Phil, and Potter credited him for keeping her upbeat even as her advantage disappeared.
“Kiel is that calm in the storm for me,” said Potter, a University of Missouri graduate. “Even when I missed putts on 13, 14, 15, he said you put a great stroke on it, it just didn’t happen. Don’t get down on yourself. When you have someone like that out there supporting you and believing in you, you start believing that you can really do it, too.”
Potter found the fairway on No. 17, Johnson a bunker to the left, and both players missed the perplexing concave green to the left, creating another battle of up and downs. Potter wedged to 2½ feet, Johnson just outside of her, and after Johnson missed her par try, Potter converted.
“When I hit the fairway on 17, [Kiel] just looks at me and goes you’ve got this,” said Potter. “It wasn’t a great shot into that green, but he said, ‘You are going to hit this chip, you are going to be fine,’ and the rest was history.”
The name of that 17th hole is “Ross’s Green Enigma,” and it was the second time Potter solved the riddle at a critical time. She had squared her Round-of-32 match with Audrey Akins, of Canada, there two days earlier before winning in 19 holes.
“I really feel like I have run the gauntlet,” said Potter. “I’ve had two matches go into extra holes. Against Audrey, I thought for sure I was done on 17. It’s nice because next year when I’m in match play, these are the instances that I can pull from and say, hey, you are not out, you are not down. I think a lot of people in that crowd would have thought that Shannon had the momentum going into 16 and the next thing you know I win 16 and 17 and the championship.”
Potter becomes just the fifth player to win multiple U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs, joining Sarah LeBrun Ingram (1991, 1993, 1994), Ellen Port (1995, 1996, 2000, 2011), Meghan Stasi (2006, 2007, 2010, 2012) and Carol Semple Thompson (1990, 1997). She is the only female left-handed champion in USGA history and is now the only multiple left-handed champion, as all five male left-handed champions have only won once.
Johnson and Potter are fully exempt into the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, which will be conducted Aug. 7-13 at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif. Additionally, Potter receives a 10-year U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur exemption, while Johnson receives a three-year exemption. All four semifinalists receive a two-year exemption.