Ocala, Fla. – Laura Coble, 45, of Augusta, Ga., and Martha Leach, 47, of Hebron, Ky., advanced to Thursday’s final of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at the 6,173-yard, par-72 Golden Hills Golf and Turf Club.
In Wednesday’s semifinal, Coble defeated two-time champion Meghan Stasi of Oakland Park, Fla., 5 and 4. Leach edged 1998 champion Virginia Derby Grimes of Meridian, Miss., 1 up.
Leach’s victory was capped when she rammed in a thrilling 36-foot putt on the 18th green to clinch the match and advance to the final for the first time in 22 tries.
“I just willed that baby in,” Leach said. “I love the outcome. I didn’t sleep at all last night because I don’t know where the ball is going. I can’t hit it in the fairway. From midnight until 6 this morning I wanted to get up and tinker with my swing.”
Leach hit the ball well enough to take a 2-up lead on the more experienced Grimes after 11 holes. At the 17th tee, Leach was 2 up with two holes to play.
Faced with a sandy, downhill lie in the 17th fairway, Grimes hit what her opponent called “a great shot” with a utility club, hit the green and made a par-4. Leach was faced with a 5-footer to tie, but her putt lipped out and Grimes had narrowed the margin to one hole.
At the 18th, Grimes took a 3-wood, teed it low and hit it hard, safely into the middle of the fairway. She then hit one of the best shots of her career. From 145 yards to an uphill green playing 30 yards longer than its published 353 yards, Grimes dawdled over her approach shot before she took the club back. Her utility-club shot soared to green, skipped twice and rolled just 12 feet to the right of the hole.
“I hit the shot I wanted,” Grimes said. “It was one of my best ever, well at least the best shot this week. When I saw where my ball was on the green, I was confident.”
Leach hit out of a fairway bunker, but her ball hit the lip of the bunker and stopped 70 yards short in a sandy lie on the fairway. Her wedge shot up the hill stopped 36 feet short of the hole. Leach faced a putt that could save the match and she hit it quickly. “I saw the line and I knew it was slow,” Leach said.
“She could bang it as hard as she wanted,” said Grimes. “She had nothing to lose.”
After Leach dropped the long, snaking putt for a par, Grimes had a chance to sink her 12-foot birdie putt, win the hole and take the match to extra holes. Her putt broke just to the left of the hole and the match was over.
Coble, 45, scored an upset of sorts when she defeated two-time champion Stasi. Coble led after the first hole and was 6 up at the 13th tee, closing out the match with a par-3 on the 14th.
“It’s a surprising thing, but it’s a wonderful thing,” Coble said after her win. “Everything else is gravy.”
This is also Coble’s first trip to the final of a national championship. After playing 31 holes of competitive golf Wednesday, she headed for her hotel. “I’m pretty tired for an old girl,” Coble said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
In Wednesday morning’s quarterfinals, Leach won another squeaker, defeating Dawn Woodard of Greer, S.C., 1 up, after having as much as a 6-up lead. Coble defeated Christy Schultz of Rochester, N.Y., 3 and 1. Grimes was in another close match in the quarterfinals, easing past Mina Hardin of Fort Worth, Texas, on the 19th hole. Stasi defeated Wendi Golden of Sarasota, Fla., 4 and 3.
The finalists, Coble and Leach, are old acquaintances. Although they are long past their college days, Leach was a senior at the University of Georgia when Coble was a freshman and they were teammates on the women’s golf team.
Leach is the younger sister of three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Hollis Stacy. She walks like Stacy and talks like Stacy and today on the 18th green, she made a putt that would have made her sister proud.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur concludes with the scheduled 18-hole final at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Women’s Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted by the United States Golf Association, of which ten are strictly for amateurs.
Story written by Rhonda Glenn, a USGA Manager of Communications. E-mail her with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.