Ooltewah, Tenn. – Mary Ann Hayward of Canada fired an opening 2-under-par 70 to take the early lead in the first round of stroke-play qualifying in the 2011 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.
With half of the 132-player field still on the course, the 51-year-old Hayward led the morning wave. She edged defending champion Mina Hardin, 51, of Fort Worth, Texas, by two strokes on the 5,876-yard, par-72 Honors Course. Last year, Hardin squeaked past Hayward in the semifinals, 1 up, and went on to win the championship.
Hayward said Saturday was the finest ball-striking day of her life. “I hit 18 greens and missed one fairway,” she said. “I sort of figured out the putting stroke halfway through the second nine.”
Hayward struggled early with her putter. Teeing off on No. 10, she made a lone birdie on an 18-foot putt on the 15th hole and then missed a 2-foot birdie putt on No. 4.
“It was ugly,” Hayward said of the short putt. “I told myself to just forget trying to make putts and get it rolling. Coming in, I hit some really good putts.”
Hayward, who won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur as Mary Ann Lapointe, made birdie putts of 10, 25 and 24 feet on three of the last four holes to offset two three-putt greens.
Hardin had three birdies against three bogeys for her even-par round.
“I’m very pleased,” Hardin said. “I hit a couple of ‘Oops’ out there but Gary, my husband and caddie, said not to let it bother me. I’m happy with a 72. It was a good round.”
It was a good day for USGA champions. Mary Budke, 57, of Palm Spring, Calif., the 1972 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, was in with a 1-over-par 73. The 2004 Senior Women’s Amateur champion, Carolyn Creekmore, 59, of Dallas, Texas, fired a 74. Carol Semple Thompson of Sewickley, Pa., who owns seven USGA titles, including four Senior Women’s Amateur championships, shot a 75.
Budke, 57, retired in November as an emergency room physician and is returning to competitive golf. The former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion is also a former Curtis Cup player and captain but said it’s hard to regain her competitive edge.
“If I play in competition I do not hold up under pressure,” Budke said.
Asked how competitive golf could be more stressful than providing medical assistance in emergency rooms, Budke said: “It was easier to do the other because I did it on a regular basis. When you don’t play golf, the game becomes hard. There’s the pre-shot routine, or whatever, and I’ve worked really hard on my little things. It comes together sometimes. If I can hold it together to make the cut, then I can make a run at it.”
Fog delayed the start of Saturday’s play by two hours and 10 minutes. Stroke-play qualifying continues on Sunday and the low 64 player will advance to match play. The championship concludes with an 18-hole final on Thursday.