For all the stops and starts due to weather delays, the 35th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship on the Long Mean Course at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla., finally has its two finalists. And they just barely beat darkness to get there.
Krissy Carman, 27, of Eugene, Ore., and 2021 runner-up Aliea Clark, 26, of New York, N.Y., each won a trio of matches on a marathon Wednesday to book a spot in Thursday’s 18-hole final. The champion earns the Mildred Gardiner Prunaret Trophy as well as a spot in the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
Carman, the mother of a 2-year-old son who has her husband, Mitchell, on the bag, had the much easier day, needing just 32 holes to claim those three wins – one a suspended match from Tuesday. The third of those was a 3-and-2 semifinal victory over medalist and top seed Jennifer Peng, of San Diego, Calif. She finished her match nearly three hours – which included two weather suspensions totaling 56 minutes – before Clark edged Isabella DiLisio, of Hatfield, Pa., 1 up. Clark’s last conceded par putt on the par-5 18th hole came with the sun already below the horizon.
Clark, a native Southern Californian who is a graduate student at New York University, played a total of 44 holes on Wednesday, starting with her suspended Round-of-16 match against 2019 champion Ina Kim-Schaad, another Southern California native who resides in Greater New York City. Clark took seven holes early Wednesday to close out a 5-and-3 decision. After that, she rallied in 19 holes to eliminate Jacqueline Setas, of East Lansing, Mich., in the quarterfinals after trailing by a hole on the 18th tee.
Now she will look to join Margaret (Shirley) Starosto (2013-14) as the only players to lose the final one year and come back and win it the next. Page Marsh Lea is the only golfer in Women’s Mid-Amateur history to lose consecutive finals (1988-89).
“I was joking to my dad (Steve) as we walked up this hole, I was almost halfway to those charity 100-holers,” said Clark, whose father is serving as her caddie. “The matches today were incredible. I played some absolutely stellar players. I don't think I've ever played this many matches down to the wire.
“I was kind of thinking two things all day: One, I really wanted to make it to the finals, because I really want to play at Bel-Air Country Club next year and I'll be out of the country for all of the [U.S. Women’s Amateur] qualifiers, so today, this match, I treated as my qualifier, and I played pretty well. I think I deserve to be there. I had a blast at Chambers [Bay in August].
“The second thing I was thinking was my record in USGA events is either lose in the Round of 64 or make it to the finals. Y'all love your stats; there's another one for you.”
Carman needed just one hole Wednesday morning to defeat Ana Alicia Malagon Perez, of Mexico, 4 and 3, in their suspended Round-of-16 match, then she defeated lefty Kimberly Dinh, a chemical engineer from Midland, Mich., by the same margin in the quarterfinals.
Competing in her second USGA championship (2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball), Carman exemplifies the mid-amateur golfer whose competitive game takes a backseat to family. Then she and her husband discovered that their son, Conrad, loves being out on the golf course in his stroller, allowing Carman to play and practice a little more than most new moms. This week, she has fit right in with other competitors in a similar situation.
“Honestly, it's surreal for me just to be able to talk with other women who are in the same scenario most of the time,” said Carman, who played two seasons at Oregon State before transferring to Portland State. “It was super awesome to be able to play with [2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion] Kathy [Hartwiger] in my first match. On the first tee she was actually like, when I won at Eugene [Country Club], my son was a 2-year-old, too. I was like, I can do this. She did it, I can do it. Just having that inspiration, I guess.”
In her semifinal against Yale University graduate Peng, a former Ivy League Player of the Year, Carman fell behind for the first time in any match this week, a streak that had reached 62 holes before she bogeyed the second hole. The deficit lasted for two holes, and winning pars on Nos. 4 and 6 gave her the lead for good.
“Really what we focused on the past couple of days was just playing my own game,” said Carman, “because I feel like a lot of the times when I haven't done well in match play, I just get caught up in it. Just focused on getting in the fairway, getting the GIRs (greens in regulation) and then the [speed of the] greens.”
Clark, who played at UCLA, and DiLisio, the 2014 Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur champion who competed for Notre Dame, had a semifinal match in which, outside of an early 2-up lead, the margin stayed within a hole. When play resumed after the first weather delay, both converted birdie putts from inside 12 feet on No. 13, and each had stellar up-and-down pars on 16, especially DiLisio, whose save kept her 1 down. DiLisio had one last chance to force extra holes on No. 18 but couldn’t convert from long range.
“It was a great match,” said DiLisio. “Probably my toughest one and my closest one of the tournament. I got 2 up pretty early. I was 2 up through four and then Aliea made three birdies in a row.
But I hung in there. Just couldn't get my putts to drop. I was hitting it all right, but she was hitting everything very close and making most of her birdie putts. It's hard to compete when someone is playing like that.”
In the quarterfinals, Peng eliminated four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, of Fort Lauderdale, 2 up. Stasi had rallied from a 3-hole deficit to tie the match with a conceded birdie on the par-4 16th hole, but Peng stuck her tee shot on the par-3 17th to 4 feet for a winning birdie. Stasi hit her second shot into the penalty area on the par-5 18th to seal Peng’s victory.
DiLisio also ended the Cinderella run of No. 63 seed Kate Scarpetta, of Crystal Lake, Pa. In a battle of Pennsylvanians, 3 and 2. Scarpetta was hoping to make it back-to-back years for a 63rd seed to win a USGA championship, following Jensen Castle’s U.S. Women’s Amateur title.
Blakesly Brock, of Chattanooga, Tenn., saw her reign as champion ended in the Round of 16 with a 4-and-3 loss to Dinh. That round carried over from Tuesday when play was halted due to darkness, the result of a nearly 3-hour weather delay.
The 18-hole final is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday.