Kevin Price AmateurGolf.com photo
did something this week no one else can ever do.
She won the first-ever Sea Island Women’s Amateur Championship played on the Seaside Course at the Sea Island Golf Club.
The Mississippi State standout captured the winner’s trophy in the inaugural event with a 7-under-par 203 score that was good for a four-stroke victory over two other players in the three-day, 54-hole tournament held on the shores of coastal Georgia.
Hannah Levi tees off on the par-4 16th
Levi, who is headed into her junior year in Starkville this fall, flashed a smile when asked what it meant to be the champion of a first-time event that figures to grow in stature in a very short time.
“Being that it’s the first, obviously it’s very special,” said Levi, who is from D’Iberville, Miss.. “It’s one of those things, I hope it means something 20 or 30 years down the road. There are going be a lot of girls to come through and a lot of girls to win, but I’m excited to be the first, honestly.”
Sea Island is no stranger to hosting big-time golf tournaments and the world-renowned resort has a storied history when it comes to the amateur game. Sea Island has hosted eight USGA Championships including the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, U.S. Senior Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
Sea Island also held the 2001 Walker Cup at Ocean Forest Golf Club, which is the annual site of the prestigious Jones Cup Invitational for top men’s amateur players in the world. In addition, the Jones Cup Senior and Junior tournaments are also hosted by the club.
The Seaside Course, a par-70 layout that is home to the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic in the fall, is also the site of the SEC Men’s Golf Championship each spring.
Like Augusta National Golf Club which created the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019, Sea Island also aimed to organize a tournament for top female amateur players to complement the Jones Cup events it already had on its schedule.
Other golf clubs have done the same in recent years, which is great to see, said the first Sea Island Women’s Am champion.
“A lot of people don’t give women enough credit. We’re very good players,” Levi said. “Those women on the LPGA Tour, they’re very, very good. Seeing women given more credit for their golf and the work they put in, that’s great. Seeing people make an effort to grow the game of golf for girls, that’s absolutely huge. It’s a huge encouragement for people especially my age and younger with Drive, Chip and Putt for the Kids, and Augusta and now Sea Island. I think everybody is really excited about where the game is headed.”
This inaugural event at Sea Island had room for more players but attracted a field of 68 players featuring top collegiate and mid-amateur golfers.
Tournament organizers were pleased with the results.
“We couldn’t be happier with the week,” said Johann Emanuel, head pro at Sea Island who ran the event along with director of golf Brannen Veal. “The weather held up, Seaside was in phenomenal shape and the play was spectacular. We’ve had a lot of practice with all our Jones Cup events, and we used all that knowledge with this event. This event will become an annual summertime tradition.”
Levi had never played Seaside prior to this week, but she knew the playing conditions would be superb along with the hospitality.
“It definitely didn’t feel like a first-time event,” she said. “It felt top-notch. It wasn’t like they were trying to work out the kinks. They were very prepared.”
Levi was ready, too, for the challenge that the scenic, but demanding course provides with its undulating greens, run-off areas, sand dunes, marshes, water hazards and well-known stiff winds that can blow off the ocean.
This week, though, it was sticky and hot in South Georgia with the heat index eclipsing 100 degrees before the final round finished early Thursday afternoon, adding another element to the test.
The heat and humidity didn’t bother Levi whose home is on the Gulf Coast. She shot the best score by anyone in Tuesday's first round when she grabbed the lead with a 5-under 65 that included five birdies and an eagle.
She took a four-shot lead into round two and kept that same advantage going into the third round after posting a 66 on Wednesday as she converted five birdies while making a single bogey.
Levi held the lead throughout Thursday’s final round as she closed with a 2-over 72 that included four birdies, four bogeys and also a double-bogey at the last after her tee shot found a hazard right of the fairway.
“I kept it in play off the tee,” she said, citing her biggest keys to winning. “I hit a lot of good iron hits, hit the ball really well overall and gave myself plenty of birdie looks. Fortunately, I drained some putts I’m not always used to draining, some of the longer ones and then making sure I stayed disciplined on the shorter ones. It was just really consistent golf all week long on every aspect of my game.”
Levi, who won the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic last fall, also gave credit to her caddy Ivey Shepherd, a close friend and current player at Clemson.
Hannah Levi and her caddy Ivey Shepherd
“She kept me focused all week. I keep telling everyone she did 90 percent of the work, I did 10 percent,” Levi said.
The two players tying for second behind Levi were Laney Frye who plays for Kentucky and Rachel Kuehn who plays at Wake Forest. Both finished at 3-under 207.
Tying for fourth were Emily Lauterbach who plays for Wisconsin and Virunpat Olankitkunchai from Thailand who plays at Maryland. Lauterbach’s 66 was the low score in the final round.
As for Levi, she is headed to Rye, N.Y., to caddy for a friend in next week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. Soon she will return to school for classes, the fall golf schedule and college football which she loves.
And oh, she can’t wait for deer hunting season to open this fall, either.
“We have golf, then jump right into deer season,” she said. “That’s one thing that gets me going, deer season.”