Steinhagen rolls at Virginia Women's Stroke Play
SPOTSYLVANIA, Virg. (June 21, 2012) -- Northern Virginian Amanda Steinhagen, 20, shot a final round two-under-par 70 to post a wire-to-wire two-stroke victory as the 35th VSGA Virginias Women’s Stroke Play Championship concluded today at the 5,894, par-72 Fawn Lake Country Club.

Steinhagen (pictured right), a rising junior at Longwood University, finished the championship at 9-under-par 207 (69-68-70) and her 54-hole aggregate marks a championship record. Her total eclipsed the previous best-ever mark of 210 set in 2009 by Oakton’s Lauren Greenlief and in 1991 by former Virginia Beach resident Vikki Valentine.

Steinhagen, the 2010 and 2011 VSGA Women’s Amateur champion, also became the first player to own the Women’s Amateur and Women’s Stroke Play titles in the same rotation since Valentine accomplished the feat in 1991.

Nellysford’s Elizabeth Brightwell, 21, a rising junior at the University of Virginia, turned in the low round of the championship, firing a blistering final-round 7-under 65 to conclude play at 7-under 209. Former St. Catherine’s School student Alex Wright, 14, of Midlothian, now enrolled at the IMG Academy in Florida, was third at 3-over 219 (75-74-70); Wright was the runner-up at last week’s Richmond Women’s Golf Association Amateur Championship.

At seven under for the championship Steinhagen began the final round seven strokes ahead of her closest pursuer, Brightwell.

Brightwell got off to a torrid start, playing an early four-hole stretch from Nos. 2-5 in four under par to reduce her fellow-competitor’s lead to three. Brightwell made birdie from 10 feet at the par-4 second hole, made eagle just off the putting surface from 40 feet one hole later and completed the surge by making a birdie from a downhill 6-footer at the par-4 fifth.

For Steinhagen, having a large lead to start the final day would ultimately provide little comfort.

“I really had knots in my stomach during the final round,” Steinhagen said. “It was probably the most nerve-wracking round I’ve had in any VSGA event so far. I didn’t take anything for granted today. I knew that I was going to have to go somewhat low. Gosh, if I would’ve shot even par today, she would’ve tied me, so I knew something under par was going to be pretty good if not really good.”

Playing consistently and wielding a hot putter throughout the championship, Steinhagen pushed her lead back to four strokes by stuffing a pitching wedge from 116 yards to two and a half feet for an eventual birdie at the par-4 ninth.

She staved off the hard-charging Brightwell the remainder of the way. Brightwell got within three again after birdieing the par-3 12th hole, but Steinhagen answered right back at No. 13 where she struck a pitching wedge approach from 104 yards to 3 feet for an ensuing birdie.

“I didn’t hit it full, but I guess it hit really soft. I yelled at it to ‘hit soft’ and I guess the ball listened to me,” Steinhagen said with a smile.

Steinhagen made bogey at the par-5 14th, but as was the case throughout the championship, she steadied herself for the closing stretch.

Even after Brightwell made her second eagle of the day, playing a pitch that scampered into the hole at par-5 16th, Steinhagen answered by converting her 20-foot birdie attempt, pumping her fist as the ball tumbled into the hole. She held a two-stroke advantage the rest of the way.

“After watching her chip in, I didn’t know how many under [par] I was or how she stood overall. I knew how close we were, so I knew I needed to roll that putt in to keep it at two strokes,” Steinhagen said. “When I hit the putt, I didn’t think it was going to be high enough. It took off a little bit to the right and then it actually straightened out over the last 5, 6 or 7 feet. I was watching it and didn’t think it was going to go in. All of the sudden, it just kept on going straight and it went right in the center of the hole. That was probably my best putt this week.”

Brightwell’s total would’ve been good enough to win any other year.

“I thought coming in that maybe I could shoot 65. I fulfilled my end of the bargain,” she said with a laugh. “I had no idea what I was shooting, so I guess that means I was in the moment. I knew I had to plug away at it, but I knew [Steinhagen] wasn’t going to crumble. It was a long shot to catch her, but it was fun trying.”

Said Steinhagen of her fellow-competitor’s closing 65: “Elizabeth played awesome. She had the round that I was hoping to have.”

The finish, in the sweltering heat and with Brightwell applying pressure with her brilliant play, provided as much relief as exhilaration for Steinhagen right down to the finishing hole.

“After she hit her second shot [at No. 18] and I saw that she was back there – on the back part of the green – I thought, ‘All I need to do is hit on and two-putt,’ ” Steinhagen said. “Her eagles had me shaking. When I got safely on the green [at No. 18], that was probably when I felt most comfortable, because if she made her putt, I’d have to three-putt. It was tough the whole way, though.”

Following the round, with her mother present and her father making a surprise appearance, the emotions would stay contained no longer for the normally collected Steinhagen. She played through a nagging back injury and finished third in the event last year and was the runner-up in 2009 before breaking through for a victory she’s craved.

“I’m going to savor this one. I’ve wanted to win this tournament pretty badly the last couple of years, but things didn’t go my way,” said Steinhagen, who took home the Sydney Elliott Trophy. “This time, I knew especially after the practice round, that this was a course that I could shoot low on. The emotions just started flowing as soon as I left the scoring area. I put a lot into it and all of the emotions came flooding over me.”

Among the competitors playing from a second set of tees (5,200 yards), Fredericksburg’s Brenda Sites returned a final round 86 (40-over 256 aggregate) to post a five-stroke victory over Sandra Kenyon of Locust Grove (last-day best 85 in the division). Becki Davis of Fredericksburg (final-day 89) closed play in the division seven strokes back.

ABOUT THE VSGA Women's Stroke Play

54-hole, stroke play competition (18 holes per day). The field will be flighted by score after the first two rounds of play into an appropriate number of flights based on field size. The champion is the player with the lowest 54-hole score and the champion and runner-up may come from any flight. Open to female golfers of all ages. Participants must hold an active GHIN number issued by a licensed VSGA member club in good standing.

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