Jennifer Peng (USGA/Darren Carroll)
For Jennifer Peng on Monday, the goal was to avoid making history in the 35th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Fiddlesticks Country Club – the wrong kind of history.
Peng, 26, of San Diego, Calif., who has earned the No. 1 seed in back-to-back years in this championship, lost the first two holes in the Round of 64 to No. 64 seed Connor Macon, 38, of Charlotte, N.C., but she rallied to earn a 2-and-1 victory on the 6,086-yard, par-72 Long Mean Course to advance to a matchup with No. 32 seed Lila Thomas, of Dallas, Texas, who was a 5-and-4 winner over Ket Preamchuen Vanderpool, of Thailand, on Monday.
“Major kudos to Connor; she’s four months pregnant and already has two kids,” said Peng of her opponent, whose father, Bert Atkinson, was the runner-up in the 1991 U.S. Mid-Amateur and caddied for her this week. “She played great. I had some putts that just didn’t go in today but we made it and that’s all that matters.”
Peng is a former Yale University golfer who shot 6-under-par 138 over the weekend in stroke play, just two strokes back of her record qualifying score from 2021 at Berkeley Hall Club. But having lost to Aliea Clark in the Round of 64 last year, she was hoping not to join Lauren Howe, the only player in USGA history to lose in the first round in consecutive years after earning medalist or co-medalist honors. Howe, who lost in Round 1 of the U.S. Girls’ Junior in both 1975 and 1976, also had a runner-up finish in that championship, to Nancy Lopez, in 1974.
“This is the first match I’ve won in the Mid-Am so that feels nice,” said Peng, who birdied Nos. 3 and 4 to square the match and took the lead for good on the 11th hole. “Definitely looking forward; there’s a lot of golf left to play, but this one feels great.”
Peng is joined in the Round of 32 by seven USGA champions, six of whom have won this championship: defending champion Blakesly Brock, 26; Ellen Port, 60, a seven-time USGA champion who has won this championship four times; Meghan Stasi, 44, another four-time Women’s Mid-Am champion; two-time champion Julia Potter-Bobb, 34; 2015 champion Lauren Greenlief, 32; and 2019 champion Ina Kim-Schaad, 38. Judith Kyrinis, 58, of Canada, the 2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, also moved on.
Among those who were ousted in the Round of 64 were four USGA champions, including Kelsey Chugg, of Salt Lake City, Utah, who earned the No. 2 seed here and won this championship in 2017. Kate Scarpetta, of Los Angeles, Calif., a screenwriter who is hoping to script her own underdog story as the No. 63 seed, ousted Chugg, 3 and 2.
Other USGA champions to fall on Monday were 2009 Women’s Mid-Am champion Martha Leach, 2002 Women’s Mid-Am champion Kathy Hartwiger, and Lara Tennant, of Portland, Ore., a three-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, who was ousted by Potter-Bobb, 6 and 5.
It had been a while since Potter-Bobb had earned a victory in this championship, and the lack of a recent win in her ledger was a little disquieting.
“When you have that long of a drought, the doubt can creep in,” said Potter-Bobb, of Indianapolis, Ind., a three-time medalist who also lost in the final in 2014. “To come back and win this match means a lot because technically I haven’t won a USGA match since 2019.”
Granted, the 2020 championship was canceled due to COVID-19, but Potter-Bobb was ousted, 5 and 3 by Jacqueline Bendrick in the opening round in 2021 after earning the No. 55 seed, by far her lowest seeding in nine starts. She is the No. 29 seed this week after stroke-play rounds of 72-78 over the weekend. Potter-Bobb was 3 under for the 13 holes she played against Tennant and didn’t lose a hole en route to improving her record in this championship to 25-6.
“Last year I was barely three months post-partum and I think the exhaustion got the best of me,” said Potter-Bobb, who gave birth to son August in July 2021. “This event has been my focus. It’s definitely still a learning curve for me; how to balance a family and a high level of golf preparation. I’m learning as I go. That’s why I have my family here, all under the same roof, so I can do both at the same time.”
Potter-Bobb will square off in the Round of 32 on Tuesday against defending champion Brock, of Chattanooga, Tenn., who overcame an early two-hole deficit to Taya Battistella, of Bellingham, Wash., with the help of three straight winning birdies on hole Nos. 7-9. Brock won in her championship debut at Berkeley Hall and is now 7-0 in Women’s Mid-Am matches.
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The Round of 32 and Round of 16 will be played on Tuesday, and the week will conclude with Thursday’s 18-hole championship match. Admission is free throughout the week and the public is welcome to attend. The champion earns an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
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Pendleton Bogache, of New York, N.Y., lost out in the 14-for-9 playoff for the final spots in match play on Monday, but not before raising nearly $18,000 for First Tee of Metropolitan New York, having pledged donations for each eagle, birdie and par she made, while encouraging family and friends to join her. “There are so many ways to support the First Tee, but funding is what moves the needle the most," she said. “More money equates to more instruction time, better facilities and equipment, and more children involved. There is a waiting list of 400 students and the only way to change that is through fundraising. I would be remiss to not use my first Mid-Am to generate attention and support for the cause.”
Mallory Kane, the women’s golf coach at Old Dominion University and the No. 10 seed, was ousted by Laine Evans, of Wichita, Kan., the No. 55 seed, in 19 holes. Kane, who is in her seventh year at the helm for the Monarchs, rallied to win Nos. 16-18, the last with a birdie, before Evans made birdie on the first extra hole.
Ellen Port, who is competing in this championship for the 28th time, improved to 23-1 in Round-of-64 matches in this championship with her 2-and-1 win over Adrienne Schmidt and extended her record for Women’s Mid-Am match-play career wins to 62.
Round 2 of stroke play resumed at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Monday with 18 players finishing their rounds. The resulting 14-for-9 playoff was the largest in Women’s Mid-Am history, with the previous high of 11 occurring in 2015. The playoff lasted three holes.
The cut for match play was 11-over 155, the lowest in championship history. The previous low was 12-over 156 in 2019.
by Ron Driscoll, USGA