By David Shefter
SAVANNAH, Ga. (Oct. 4, 2011) -- Most people who make nine birdies on a golf course do so on synthetic greens featuring windmills, makeshift pirate boats and clown’s mouths.
But Elise Smidinger wasn’t playing Pirate’s Cove on Tuesday at The Landings Club.
The 17-year-old from Crofton, Md., registered a remarkable eight consecutive birdies – nine overall – in shooting a 4-under-par 68 on the 6,067-yard, par-72 Palmetto Course in helping Maryland take a three-stroke lead after the first round of the 2011 USGA Women’s State Team Championship.
Maryland, which also received a 3-over 75 from 53-year-old Lisa Schlesinger of Laytonsville, posted a 1-under 143 team total in the 3-count-2 format. Andrea Kraus, 51, of Baltimore, had a non-scoring 78. Maryland was the runner-up in this biennial competition 10 years ago at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata, Minn.
Texas, the runner-up at the inaugural event in 1995, posted a 2-over 146 for second position, three shots ahead of both South Carolina and Tennessee, which was the runner-up in 1999 and 2007.
Defending champion Georgia sits 10 shots off the pace at 9-over 153, sharing fifth position with Hawaii.
Only one group and three teams failed to post a score when darkness halted play at 7:08 EDT. The final players for Connecticut, Iowa and Washington will resume their first round at 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday before turning around and starting round two. For the rest of the field, starting times for the second round will commence at 7:40 a.m.
Smidinger came within a shot of the championship record of 67 held by Brenda Corrie Kuehn of North Carolina (1997) and Alabama’s Kathy Hartwiger (2011).
Her round started inauspiciously with bogeys at the first and third holes. Then her birdie streak began at the par-3 fifth with a 4-footer. She reached the par-5 sixth in two before stuffing shots within 10 feet on holes seven through 11. At the par-3 12th, she rolled in a 60-footer for birdie, leaving some to believe she might birdie all the remaining holes.
“I was trying to,” said Smidinger with a smile. “The most [birdies] I’ve ever had in a round is seven and I shot five under on a par-73 course.”
Smidinger did cool off with bogeys at 13, 14 and 16 – she three-putted the par-5 14th – before closing with a birdie at the par-4 18th hole.
Two months ago at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Smidinger, a former Maryland state Level 6 gymnastics champion, made headlines by upsetting co-medalist Jihee Kim of Korea in the first round of match play after garnering the 64th and final match-play spot in a playoff.
“That just gave me a lot of confidence,” said the Arundel High School senior who has verbally committed to attend the University of Denver next fall. “I played practice rounds for [the upcoming] Maryland Women’s Open at Columbia C.C. [in Chevy Chase] and those greens were wicked fast. That helped prepare me for this [event].”
Added Schlesinger, the stroke-play medalist at last month’s USGA Senior Women’s Amateur: “Elyse is our horse. Our horse got us going. We came into this event thinking we had a really good chance of finishing in the top three. That’s our mindset and that’s our goal.”
Texas came to The Landings with a similar goal. And with strong play from 2007 USGA Senior Amateur champion Anna Schultz, 56, of Rockwall, and 1998 USA Curtis Cup Team member Robin Burke, 49, of Houston, the trio from the Lone Star State is right in the hunt. Schultz carded an even-par 72 and Burke added a 74. Mina Hardin of Fort Worth had a non-scoring 79.
“I am thrilled,” said Schultz. “I hit the ball really well. Robin worked with me a little bit [Monday] on chipping, and a little on my swing. I was taking it back a little hooded. I got squared away and it felt so good out there. And I started rolling some putts in.”
Schultz was three under par through 12 holes before bogeys at 13, 15 and 16 brought her back to level par. At 16, her 189-yard, 3-wood approach came up just short of the green and she failed to get up and down for par. After playing two morning practice rounds, Schultz, who started the round at 1:45 p.m., said the ball carried much better in the afternoon.
“I was hitting way shorter clubs in than I was [in the practice rounds],” she said. “It was damp and cool. So tomorrow [morning for round two], I guess I better get my 5-wood going.”
Calle Nielson, 23, a recent University of Virginia graduate from Nashville, Tenn., led Tennessee with a 3-under 69. Nielson, who advanced through Stage II of LPGA Tour Qualifying School playing as an amateur last week in Florida, closed her round with three consecutive birdies from No. 16.
Tennessee’s second counting score was an 80 by 30-year-old Jennifer Lucas of Knoxville.
“I think we’ll get it together,” said Nielson of her team, which also includes 62-year-old Maggie Scott of Charleston. “I think Jen will get it. I played with her [the past two days] and she was hitting the ball phenomenal. Putts will [eventually] fall. I had difficulty with the putts until the last three holes.”
Dawn Woodard didn’t make too many birdie putts, either, in her round of 73 for South Carolina. The 37-year-old from Greer had just two birdies against three bogeys. Teammate Lea Venable, 38, of Simpsonville, added a 4-over 76.
Two years ago, South Carolina finished fifth at Sycamore Hills G.C. in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Woodard shooting even-par 216, including a final-round 68.
“I putted extremely well. Even though I didn’t make a lot of birdies, if I didn’t get it close on the first [putt], the 4- and 6-footers coming back … I think I [only] missed one all day.”
As for Georgia, Laura Coble, 47, of Augusta, a member of the winning 2005 and 2009 teams, shot 78 and 14-year-old Rachel Dai of Suwanee added a solid 75. Two years ago, Georgia went wire-to-wire in posting a nine-shot win over Alabama.
If the team wants to win it on home soil in 2011, it will have to do so from a chasing position.
“I don’t think we need to try any harder,” said Coble. “We are already trying our best. It’s just golf and some days don’t work out as well as you like.”