Sarah Gallagher wins the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur (USGA Photo)
After playing a practice round with Sarah Gallagher
before the start of the 61st U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, Brenda Corrie Kuehn
had a premonition. “I was like, dang, this girl is hitting it really well. This girl is going to win the thing.”
Fortunately for Gallagher, Kuehn turned out to be right. Unfortunately for Kuehn, she was Gallagher’s opponent in Thursday’s 18-hole final.
Making her first appearance in the championship, Gallagher, 50, of Canton, Ga., outlasted Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C., 1-up to win the title at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Consistency was critical to Gallagher’s success during the entire championship. After rounds of 75 and 78 to finish in a tie for seventh during stroke play, she was down during just three holes, including two during her Round of 64 match, throughout 104 holes of match play.
“I hit the ball really, really well, and putted quite well,” said Gallagher. “Having a lot of confidence in the number I had into the green, because Erin [Packer, her caddie] is so good at providing all the information, allowed me to make good club choices. My misses were in the right spots too, which was important.”
After jumping out early and winning the second through fifth holes, with birdies on the fourth and fifth, Gallagher comfortably maintained a lead, reaching the 13th hole 4-up in the match. But then Kuehn, a veteran of more than 45 USGA championships, came fighting back, winning the next two holes to cut the lead to 2.
“I just tried to keep putting it in play and making her have to hit good shots,” said Kuehn. “I didn't want to just kind of whack it out and say, Merry Christmas. I just wanted to hit good shots and have her make it.”
That was no surprise to Gallagher. “Brenda is such an incredible putter, I probably would have rather been 12-up to feel like I had a safe lead,” she said. “I knew she was going to start making putts and making birdies. She’s so good.”
Packer expected Kuehn’s charge as well. “Brenda has been here a lot more than Sarah has, so we knew that she wasn't going to go down without a fight,” she said. “We knew she was going to make birdies. We just kept talking about just staying focused on the shot she was hitting, on the present, do not think about anything else, because once you do that, you get ahead of yourself, and you get out of what you're trying to do.”
Gallagher bounced back with a birdie on the short par-3 15th to go 3-up. “That was a first for the week,” she said. “I’ve been in that right bunker every day. I told Erin, ‘I’m going to get that hole today,’ so I’m pretty glad I did.”
But Kuehn then won 16 and 17, cutting Gallagher’s lead to 1 heading to the 18th hole. As they stood together on that tee, Gallagher listened once more to Packer. “She said ‘You knew this would happen.’ Meaning we knew Brenda was going to come back. We had talked about it. I said yeah. She just said, ‘One shot at a time, and let’s do this.’”
It wasn’t easy, though. Gallagher’s approach bounced through the green, while Kuehn’s landed on the front portion of the green leaving a long putt. Gallagher then stubbed her chip, leaving it short of the green before chipping five feet past the hole. Kuehn’s first putt was short of the hole and her next putt slid just right of the hole, leaving Gallagher with a bogey putt to halve the hole and close out the match.
“I hit a lot of five-foot putts when I practice, and so I just was trying to talk to myself that this is just like every day,” she said. “I spot putt, so I look for a little spot. I had one on my putt on the 19th hole yesterday (in her semifinal match against Kim Keyer-Scott), and I had one on that putt today, and I lost it when I got over the ball, which is why I backed off, so that I could find it again.”
After the putt dropped, she exchanged an emotional embrace with Packer.
“I’ve worked really hard and was fortunate enough to have Erin come with me,” said Gallagher. “It was so huge to have her out here with me. I don’t think I would have done it without her on the bag. One, because she is one of my best friends. Second, she’s a phenomenal player, and she’s also a phenomenal caddie. The golf course plays completely different in the morning than it does in the afternoon, so having somebody that can tell you how the numbers are different, and that you can trust it, is huge.”
The respect between Gallagher and her caddie was matched by the respect Gallagher and Kuehn share for each other.
“She played like a true champion today,” said Kuehn. “I’m so proud of her and the friendship that we have.”
“She’s got such a name in amateur golf, so it was a real honor to get to play against her in the final,” said Gallagher. “What a great day we had.”
The new champion will be on a red-eye flight tonight back to Georgia, where her husband and daughter will pick her up and then head straight to a horse show in Florida, where Gallagher’s daughter is set to compete.
And she knows where the Senior Women’s Amateur trophy will be the entire time on the trip home.
“I'm probably going to hold it on my lap on the airplane.”
WHAT THE CHAMPION RECIEVES
-A gold medal
-Custody of the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Trophy for one year
-A 10-year exemption into the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur
-An exemption into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
-Two-year exemptions into the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur (2024 and 2025) and U.S. Senior Women’s Open (2024 and 2025)View results for U.S. Senior Women's Amateur