The Spirit: U.S. makes a big move; Zhang, Travale and Pagdin lead
05 Nov 2021
by Sean Melia of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, Whispering Pines Golf Club

The Spirit International team event is a two horse race at Whispering Pines. After another cold morning replete with hoodies and winter caps, the layers were shed, the sun came out, the course firmed up, and the United States made a bunch of birdies.

Leaderboards: Overall Country | Men's Team | Men's Individual | Women's Team | Women's Individual

On the first tee this morning, James Piot told his teammates Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck that he wanted to see them waving a lot during their round, those waves would signify a converted birdie. Zhang and Heck might have developed a wrist injury with all the waving they did; they combined to make eleven birdies between them.

Zhang fired a 68 and Heck, having the bounce back round she had hoped for, shot a 69 after yesterday’s 78. On the second, fourteenth, and seventeenth holes, Heck and Zhang both turned to wave back at Sam Bennet and Piot because they had both made birdies. Then the Stanford duo exchanged a complicated handshake with fist bumps and high-fives to celebrate the birdie barrage.

In the end, the United States shot 11 under as a team, seven shots better than the next best score for the day.

One of those teams to shoot 4 under was first round leader Canada. They were led by Savannah Grewal, who backed up her opening round 71 with a steady and bogey free 69. France maintained it’s third place position with a 4 under round today as Adela Cernousek had the best day for the French squad with a 70.

While James Piot had a tough time today shooting a 77 and beat himself up a bit following his round, he knows what the goal is at the end of the week. He wants to win a gold medal with his teammates, and he hopes to turn it around, just like Rachel Heck did today.

While the weather did warm up today, trading sweaters for short sleeves meant the golf course firmed up, too. The breeze that might make the pines whisper here in Trinity, Texas also makes the golf ball echo as it hits the green. As the day wore on, the greens seemed more and more treacherous with chips rolling back to a player’s feet and approach shots bounding long over greens.

That didn’t stop England’s Joseph Pagdin from shooting his second 69 in a row, which was capped off today with a 33 on the back nine. At 6 under, Pagdin finds himself in a tie for first place with Johnny Travale who managed to remain atop the leaderboard with a 71.

After a disappointing 73 in the first round, Sam Bennett also took a liking to the firmer, faster conditions during the end of his second round. He played his final seven holes in 4 under, including four straight birdies on holes 12-15. His 25 yard pitch shot on 14 hit the flagstick to deny him an eagle.

“I started with a birdie on one. On two through nine I had really good looks and just got frustrated turning in 1 under,” Bennet said. “I laid the sod over a wedge shot on ten and made a stupid bogey. I just told myself to stay patient. I was hitting good shots, and I knew the putts were going to fall.”

His patience paid off. The putts fell and a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole has Bennett right in the running for a gold medal just three shots behind the leaders.

In the women’s individual, Zhang, adorned in aviator sunglasses, hit mach-speed on her closing five holes, making three birdies. It could have been even better, as her eagle putt following an incredible hybrid to 8 feet slid past the hole. Zhang’s 68 puts her a 7 under, three clear of her nearest opponent.

Mexico’s Isabella Fierro turned in a 67, the best round among all the competitors on the day. She finished off her 67 with a 31 on the back nine to jump 11 spots into second place.

However, Fierro and the rest of the field will have their work cut out to catch Zhang. Tied in second with Fierro is Switzerland’s Caroline Sturdza and Canada’s Savannah Grewal.

“I honestly don’t think any lead will be comfortable heading into the final round,” Zhang said following her round. “I think anything can happen and on this course especially, you really have to keep on your toes and keep playing well.”

Just like after the first round, Zhang didn’t know her score until just before her interview. She spoke candidly about her mindset on the golf course.

“I have said it at other tournaments. I don’t have any expectations, and that is the same here. I really don’t have any expectations for what score I could shoot, it’s more so the mentality of how I execute my shots and have no regrets.”

It’s a mindset that has proven to work over a long stretch of time for Zhang and with another expectation free round, Zhang might have a Spirit International gold medal in her possession tomorrow evening.

In the men’s combined event, Canada sits comfortably on top at 8 under, six shots clear of Sweden and the United States.

The women’s combined event is sure provide a great finish. France, Switzerland, and the United States are in a three-way tie at 4 under. Considering Zhang might be looking for three gold medals between the two team events and the individual event, this might be the most interesting event to watch tomorrow.

ABOUT THE The Spirit International Amateur

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship is world class golf event played every other year. It features the world’s best amateur men and amateur women golfers as they represent their respective country in team and individual competitions. The 96 participants enjoy an Olympic-like experience from the Opening/Closing Ceremonies, international village and competing for gold medals.

The World Health & Golf Association and Texas Golf Association invite 24 countries from six continents to participate. Established in 2001, The Spirit is a biennial event that alternates tournament years with the World Amateur Team Championships.

Part of the uniqueness of the Spirit International are the five simultaneous competitions: Combined International Championship, Men’s Team Championship, Women’s Team Championship, Men’s Individual and Women’s Individual.

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