Virginia Beach, Va. – Shawn Farmer will have a lot of stories to tell her clients and students when she returns to her home in suburban Seattle, where she is a golf-fitness specialist and the coach of the girls’ golf team at the Overlake School.
A Washington native and a graduate of Eastern Washington University, the 29-year-old Farmer can tell them about seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. When she asked a local why there weren’t any surfers, she was surprised by the response: “Because of the sharks.”
She can describe her first visit to the nation’s capital, which she will tour before boarding a transcontinental flight to Seattle.
And she can tell them all about playing in her first USGA championship at Bayville Golf Club.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” she said. “I just wanted to get back out and play again since it’s been six years since I was competing.”
Not only did Farmer qualify for match play, she reached the round of 16 following a pair of extra-hole matches. In the first round, she defeated Wendi Golden in a match that spanned 23 holes and two days. Three holes down after 11 holes, Farmer squared the match on the 18th hole, and both had made par on the first extra hole when play was suspended due to darkness.
“I spent the night mentally preparing for No. 2 [a 172-yard par 3],” Farmer recalled. “That was my most challenging hole this week and I wanted to be ready when we returned in the morning.”
Farmer survived that hole and three others before defeating Golden on the fifth playoff hole. In the second round, she again played extra holes, defeating Pamela Kuong in 19 holes. In the third round, she lost to medalist Brenda Pictor 2 up, fading with bogeys on two of the last three holes.
The physical toll of playing more holes in the first two rounds than any other competitor might have been a concern for Farmer, who gave up tournament golf because of ailments. “I’ve been injured since I got out of college: lower back pain, shoulder surgery, wrist surgery,” she said. “So I gave up the game, went to work and played for fun.”
Farmer was pleased that her body weathered the long days. It was the other major facet of championship golf – the mental test – that ultimately gave out at the end. “Mentally, I was getting worn out,” she admitted.
Despite the way her match-play run ended, Farmer was satisfied with her ability to withstand the multiple stresses of a national championship.
“After not playing much the last few years,” she said, “I really had started to accept being OK with bad shots. So it was good to get back out there and be forced into hitting the shots when I needed to hit them.
“There’s no way to duplicate the pressure that I felt. And I learned that I’m a lot tougher on the golf course than I thought I was.”
Another first-time participant of a USGA championship, Helene Beat, showed even more tenacity. After winning four matches, including an upset over three-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, Beat finally lost in the semifinal round to champion Ellen Port.
“I’ve never been in a competition like this,” said Beat, who played for the University of Toledo. “But I feel like I belong here and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be here.”
Like Farmer, Beat is a 29-year-old who took a break from competition. But she didn’t get away from golf. Instead, she became a teaching pro, with stints at prestigious clubs like Inverness and Lake Nona.
After a while, Beat wanted to play tournaments again instead of giving lessons. She decided the best route would be to regain her amateur status. While she waited for reinstatement, which came in 2010, she earned an MBA and began to work as a financial advisor.
Beat, who is from Sylvania, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo, prepared for her USGA debut by playing a lot of client golf with Alan Fadel, a partner at her firm who became a mentor in both business and golf. Fadel is one of the area’s best amateurs and has played in 10 USGA championships, including three U.S. Senior Opens.
“It seemed like she would be getting dressed every morning for golf instead of work,” said Beat’s husband, Ryan. “She said, ‘We’re working half a day and playing with clients in the afternoon.’ ”
The preparation obviously worked. Despite her impressive debut, Beat couldn’t fully readjust to tournament golf, and the week showed her the weaknesses that she will address when she returns to Ohio.
“I couldn’t put my swing back together when I needed to,” she said after receiving a medal for reaching the semifinals. “The short game is not my strong point, and I didn’t realize I was such a grinder. I kept plugging away. I’m a fighter. I don’t give up.”
Port, who defeated Beat 3 and 2, expects to face her again. “She said she’s disappointed,” said Port. “That makes you hungry when you get this far and you don’t play well. She’ll probably be a lot more motivated to keep working and get back here.”
At the beginning of the week, Beat and Farmer brought different backgrounds and experiences to their USGA championship debuts. But they left Bayville with a common desire, encapsulated by the first thought Farmer had after losing to Pictor.
“I can’t wait to get back here next year,” she said. “I have to play in this again.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Email questions or comments to email@example.com.