Marissa Mar during the 2017 Women's Mid-Amateur (USGA photo)
ST. LOUIS (Sept. 20, 2018) – Want to be impressed? Get to know a mid-amateur player -- someone who plays golf competitively and at a high level, but still has a full-time job, hobbies, responsibilities and even a family. One story is often memorable, but collectively, 132 are mind-blowing. That’s the atmosphere at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, a tournament that has been played since 1986.
The average age for a Women’s Mid-Am competitor at Norwood Hills Country Club is 38.67. That's younger than the 2017 average of 41.89.
Stroke-play for the event begins on Saturday (and you can find tee times here
), followed by six rounds of match play that ends with an 18-hole final on Thursday Sept. 27.
Here’s a chance to brush up on the field, the venue, history and what’s at stake:
GATEWAY TO THE GOLF WORLD:
Most people know St. Louis for the iconic Gateway Arch, but before crowds (and their sheer energy) at the PGA Championship blew the golf world away in August, the fact that St. Louis is such a golf-centric city was probably not very well-known.
Norwood Hills is among a list of historic courses in the area worth noting. That list includes Bellerive (the PGA Championship venue), St. Louis Country Club (the 2014 Curtis Cup venue), Boone Valley Country Club and Fox Run Golf Club (site of the 2001 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur), among others.
Then there are the people. Jim Holtgrieve, the 2011 and 2013 Walker Cup captain (who made a brief foray into professional golf) is a champion of St. Louis golf. The city is also home to Skip Berkmeyer, who owns multiple Missouri Amateur titles and USGA starts. Seven-time USGA champion Ellen Port
is easily the most notable St. Louisian this week, considering she’s in the field. Port, a longtime physical education teacher and golf coach at John Burroughs High School who recently did a stint as the heads women’s golf coach at Washington University in St. Louis, is going for a fifth Women’s Mid-Am title.
Port is one of seven Missourians in the field at Norwood Hills (Kallie Harrison
is another one you should know). They are only outnumbered by Texans (11), Californians (10) and Georgians (9).
A MAJOR AT STAKE
: A year ago when Kelsey Chugg
was crowned the Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, she also became the first winner in the tournament’s history to earn an exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open. It was part of a new exemption category into the nation’s championship that the USGA created for winners of the U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls’ Junior champions, as well as the men’s and women’s mid-amateur champions.
Frankly, it’s an excellent and needed carrot for this championship and gives a deserving winner an opportunity to see what it’s like at the next level. Many of the players in the U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur fields are reinstated amateurs – players who tried the game at the highest level, only to come back and support it at the amateur level.
BURKE IS BACK, AND SHE’S ON THE TEE SHEET
: A year ago, Hurricane Irma moved through the Naples, Fla., area in the weeks before the Women’s Mid-Amateur and left tournament venue Quail Valley Country Club unplayable. The USGA delayed and moved the event to Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, a facility owned by Jack and Robin Burke
“Lucky for us, our course has rebounded exceptionally well from the more than 30 inches we sustained last month due to (Hurricane Harvey),” Robin said last year in welcoming the championship to her facility, “and we feel it is our duty to give back to the golf community and an honor to welcome those who have been adversely affected by another hurricane to our home.”
After stepping in as a short-notice hostess last year, Robin, the vice-president at Champions (where the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open will be played), qualified to compete this year. Suffice it to say, she’s seasoned on this side of the ropes, having made nearly 40 USGA starts with the highlight a runner-up finish at the 1997 U.S. Women’s Amateur. This will be her 24th Women’s Mid-Amateur start.
A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING:
When you’ve been around the game as long as Sue Nyhus, you’re bound to pile up a few records that nobody else can claim. Nyhus, 55, is a former BYU college golfer who spent 11 seasons coaching the Cougars before moving on to Utah Valley in 2009, where she is entering her ninth season as head coach.
For reference, Nyhus is one of the more decorated players in Utah. She was runner-up at the 1999 WAPL, the same year she was named the Utah Women’s Golf Association Golfer of the Year and the Female Golfer of the Decade. Consider that Nyhus also spent five years playing on the Women’s European Tour before regaining her amateur status, and she becomes something of a legend.
Nyhus, who is also a cancer survivor, has the distinction of being the only player in USGA history to compete in every female championship: the Girls’ Junior, Women’s Amateur Public Links, Women’s Amateur, Women’s Open, Women’s Mid-Amateur, Senior Women’s Amateur, Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and Women’s State Team. The only tournament not on her resume is the one that debuted this year – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open. Just give her time.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Looking for someone to root for? Consider these unique storylines…
Now 27, Greenlief became the youngest winner of the Women’s Mid-Am back in 2015 when won just 25 days after her 25th birthday. She was a walk-on at the University of Virginia who now works as a management consultant. Greenlief won her second consecutive Virginia Women’s Amateur earlier this summer, and also made it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Amateur. Greenlief has had more time to devote to her game in recent months, and it shows.
Among the youngest competitors at just 25 years old, Connolly is making her Women’s Mid-Amateur debut. Connolly is a full-time caddie who works at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., site of the 2011 U.S. Open, during the summer and fall golf season. In the winter, she goes south to loop at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort, site of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. Connolly also qualified for the U.S. Women's Amateur this summer, but she missed the cut.
If you know golf, then you know about Sand Valley, the new rugged golf resort near Rome, Wis. Herrick, as it turns out, is the woman behind the logo for Sand Valley’s new par-3 course, the Sand Box. Herrick works full time running her own graphic design firm, but has also appeared in 17 USGA champions. She was a quarterfinalist at the 2017 Women’s Mid-Am and a semifinalist at the 2016 Women’s Mid-Am.
Mary Jane Hiestand:
We won’t soon forget Hiestand’s emotional run to the final match of last year’s Mid-Amateur. Hiestand, 59, has competed in 42 USGA Championship, 20 of which have been Women’s Mid-Amateurs. Could there be another deep M.J. run at Norwood Hills?
Stanford presents a unique opportunity to excel at golf, but also to explore some intriguing academic roads. Mar did both during her time as a Cardinal, and she does both still. Mar works in corporate development for a financial services company, but maintains her game to the point that she advanced to the semifinals at last year’s Women’s Mid-Amateur.