Chattanooga, Tenn. – While most eyes were on the medalist or the defending champion, who have rightly earned the attention, key matches were played in the middle of the upper bracket this morning.
They offered good golf and featured interesting players, several of whom have national stature.
Robyn Puckett of Irvine, Calif., and Anne Carr of Renton, Wash., at 64 and 67 are two of the older players in the field. Both have runner-up finishes in USGA championships but the years when they can be truly competitive are waning. Both are gracious but strain showed on their faces, particularly on Puckett’s, who’s a member here and a local favorite.
In golf, there’s a hometown disadvantage. Just ask Carol Semple Thompson about the pressure of playing in the 2001 Senior Women’s Amateur at Allegheny Country Club, her home club in Sewickley, Pa. Semple managed to win that championship, which brings us back to Carr, who was runner-up.
Carr shot 90 in her first qualifying round, abetted by a self-imposed penalty for moving her ball on one hole. She could have qualified for a comeback award with her second round of 72. Puckett shot a nervous 81 in the first round but rebounded with 70 in the second round. They rode in a cart together, which can be tense during a match.
“It was quiet,” Carr said. “We didn’t talk to each other in the cart. She was focused on her game and so was I.”
For several weeks, Puckett has been staying in a cottage here and practicing on the course daily. She tried to stay in a zone for this match, telling her husband, Bernard, that she didn’t even want to know what Carr had shot in qualifying. Puckett was 4 up at the turn and defeated Carr, 4 and 3.
Carr stood behind the golf shop, commiserating with Marianne Towersey, who also lost in the first round. They looked glum. Towersey, 60, was defeated by Margaret Harmon Brady of Denver, N.C., 3 and 2. In 1968, Brady was the U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion.
“I didn’t know her,” Towersey said of Brady. “I played the same I played all week long – not well. But I still enjoyed the race.”
Towersey became contemplative about the years she has played. “You think about quitting, but then you see Marlene Streit out here and she’s 77, so you don’t want to quit too early,” Towersey said. “My mother quit too early.”
Brady is now 63 and while the golf swing is still there, she had forgotten about some factors in competition. Like the pressure.
“I’ve been working for 17 years and raising babies,” Brady said. “I’m a grandmother. This is stressful. You wonder why you come out and do this, but then it’s fun seeing friends. That’s the other piece of it.”
Brady will play Pat Cornett of Mill Valley, Calif., in Tuesday’s second round.
Cornett, 57, eased past Sherry Smith, 50, of Irvine, Calif, 3 and 2. Cornett, an oncologist, wife and mother, was on two USA Curtis Cup Teams some three decades ago. Busy with her career, she plays once or twice a week now. Several times a week, between meetings, she’ll hit practice balls for 30 minutes. Her second qualifying round of 70 on Sunday was a gratifying surprise.
“I’m having fun,” Cornett said after the match. “Just practicing is a luxury. Now I have to go back to the hotel room and write grants – several million dollars worth. I’ll be writing, writing, writing.”
Cornett is also captain of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team, which takes a lot of her limited spare time. Playing competitive golf is a rare treat.
Noreen Mohler, 57, the 2010 USA Curtis Cup captain, lost narrowly. Mohler was defeated by Mary Jane Hiestand, 52, of Naples, Fla., 1 up. Mohler was Noreen Uihlein, a member of the 1978 USA Curtis Cup Team. She has competed little in recent years, but is now giving senior golf her all.
It was a hard-fought match and Mohler was 2 up after the seventh hole, but Heistand kept chipping away at her lead and won it on the 18th by nearly holing a 25-footer for a birdie-3. Mohler was forced to chip in, and she barely missed. Hiestand looked thrilled and, after the handshake, Mohler left quickly.
The four winners of these matches are destined to meet again. In the second round, Puckett will face Hiestand. Cornett will play Brady. With very fine play, the winners could eventually meet in the semifinals, which would guarantee a very entertaining match.