SAVANNAH, GA (Oct. 5, 2011) – Ten years ago, Maryland found itself battling for the title over the final nine holes of the USGA Women’s State Team Championship.
Only a strong surge by Minnesota, the “home” team, kept Maryland from hoisting the Judy Bell Trophy at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata, Minn.
Thanks in large part to 17-year-old Elyse Smidinger, Maryland will get another opportunity at a USGA championship on Thursday.
While it wasn’t a repeat of the birdie display from Tuesday’s first round, Smidinger’s even-par 72 in Wednesday’s second round helped Maryland to a one-stroke lead over Texas after 36 holes of the 2011 Women’s State Team Championship, being conducted on the 6,067-yard Palmetto Course at The Landings Club.
The 17-year-old from Crofton, who made eight consecutive birdies and nine overall in carding a first-round 68, mustered three birdies against three bogeys on Wednesday, as Maryland posted an 8-over-par total of 296 in the 3-count-2 format.
Maryland’s second score was an 81 by 53-year-old Lisa Schlesinger of Laytonsville, while Andrea Kraus, 51, of Baltimore posted a non-scoring 81.
Texas, which was the runner-up in the inaugural Women’s State Team in 1995, posted a 3-over-par 75 from 56-year-old Anna Schultz of Rockwall and a 76 from Mina Hardin, 51, of Fort Worth. Both are past USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champions; Schultz in 2007 and Hardin in 2010.
Tennessee, another past runner-up (1999), stood alone in third place at 10-over 298, followed by defending champion Georgia (299).
New Jersey, which received an even-par 72 from 15-year-old Cindy Ha of Demarest, sits at 15-over 303, while Mississippi is another shot behind at 304. Past U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Virginia Grimes, 47, of Meridian, paced the Magnolia State with a 72. New Jersey has never finished better than a tie for 17th (2003). Mississippi placed fourth two years ago.
Kraus, playing in her 27th USGA championship (including the Women’s State Team) , was a member of that runner-up 2001 team that made a final-round run at Minnesota, but came up nine strokes short.
“We really want a USGA championship,” said Kraus. “We’ll be in the hunt. The best approach [for us] is to play each shot and put everything else behind, and hope we have an ‘on’ day. It’s golf, so anything can happen.”
Thanks to Smidinger, whom Kraus affectionately calls “The Kid,” Maryland will have that opportunity.
Although her round began similarly to Tuesday with bogeys on two of her first four holes, Smidinger was feeling optimistic after closing the inward nine – she started on No. 10 – with birdies at holes 14, 15 and 18 to turn at 1-under 35.
But unlike Tuesday, she didn’t produce the same magic over the outward nine. Her lone birdie came at the eighth hole, which measured 272 yards for round two.
“A lot of people were telling me to go out there with no expectations,” said Smidinger, a senior at Arundel High who has verbally committed to attend the University of Denver next fall. “But it was like, why can’t I do it again?”
Like Maryland, Texas has had close calls at this championship. The Lone Star State finished one stroke behind Pennsylvania in the inaugural championship 16 years ago, and shared third in 2005 at Berkeley Hall in nearby Bluffton, S.C. When the event was played in suburban Houston at Carlton Woods four years ago, Texas placed seventh.
Schultz, Hardin and 49-year-old Robin Burke of Houston, who had a non-scoring 79 on Wednesday, have all played in this event multiple times, and they’re in excellent position to win.
“We’re right where we want to be,” said Schultz, who is hoping to add a Women’s State Team title to the three the Texas men have claimed, in 1999, 2005 and 2007. “I’m thrilled. I can’t wait. All three of us are hitting it well and I know there’s a low score out there for tomorrow.”
Schultz said the wind, which picked up as the day went on, made things a bit more challenging.
“It swirls a lot out here,” said Schultz. “You’ve got to add a club, sometimes two, depending on how hard that wind is coming. It was hard to pick a club.”
Rachel Dai of Suwanee, Ga., didn’t seem to have any problem with the wind. The 14-year-old Milton High freshman tied a championship record with a 5-under-par 67 – the only under-par round of the day – to keep the defending champions in the hunt for a possible third Women’s State Team title. Georgia, which won its first title in 2005, also had a 7-over 79 from veteran Laura Coble, 47, of Augusta.
But it was Dai’s performance that left everyone impressed.
“I saw a 67 on the board and said, ‘Good for you,’” said Tennessee’s Calle Nielson, who had a 74 after opening with a 69 on Tuesday.
Added Coble: “That 67 was huge. That’s an awesome score. We’ll take it.”
Starting on No. 10, Dai made the turn at one under with birdies at 11 and 17 and a lone bogey at 14. She heated up over the final nine holes, following a 6-foot birdie at the par-5 second with a 20-footer at the par-4 fourth. She converted a 12-footer at the fifth and closed the bogey-free second nine with a 3-footer at the eighth hole.
Robin Burke (right) hopes Texas will have something big to celebrate after Thursday's final round of the 2011 USGA Women's State Team Championship at The Landing Club. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
It was Dai’s career-low round by two strokes, surpassing the 69 she registered four months ago at Piedmont Driving Club. The 67 matched the championship mark by Brenda Corrie Kuehn (1997 with North Carolina) and Kathy Hartwiger (2009 with Alabama).
“Today, I just went out and played,” said Dai, who lost in the first round of this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Olympia Fields (Ill.) C.C. “[All] I was thinking about [was] a little improvement [from Tuesday].”
Also improving her score was Jennifer Lucas of Tennessee. The 30-year-old from Knoxville trimmed five shots from her opening-round effort of 80 and, coupled with Nielson’s 74, put the Volunteer State in a good position for Thursday’s final round.
While the Tennessee men own a State Team title – they won in 2003 behind the play of current PGA Tour pro Brandt Snedeker, the best finish for the women is second, 12 years ago to Florida when the competition at Golden Horseshoe G.C. (Green Course) in Williamsburg, Va., was shortened to 36 holes due to a final-day thunderstorm.
Nielson, a recent University of Virginia graduate, was 11 years old at the time. She was in high school when the men won their championship eight years ago.
“We’re happy with where we are,” said Nielson, who advanced to the final stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School at last week’s Stage II event in Florida. “We’ll go into tomorrow with a chance.”
As for the team’s mindset, Nielson said it won’t change from the first two days.
“It won’t be any different from today,” she said. “You can’t be conservative. I think we’ll get it together tomorrow.”