Cleveland – Ten-year-old Latanna Stone of Valrico, Fla., deftly two-putted from 24 feet for par on the 18th green Tuesday, and with that her first U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship experience came to a finish. Never mind that she shot a two-day score of 16-over 160 to miss qualifying for match play.
“I tried to make it to match play, but I already made a goal by qualifying for this. It was a big accomplishment,” she said.
True enough. Stone became the third-youngest qualifier in USGA championship history, following Allisen Corpuz at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and Michelle Wie at the 2000 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. She is the youngest U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier.
Stone, who started playing golf at age 2 and whose first golf memory is when she won a smoothie at age 5, said she felt a little nervous over the two days. She said she plays golf mostly with high–school age players.
Like most girls her age, she enjoys hanging out with friends, having sleepovers, swimming and playing on her iPad. She occasionally accompanies her father, Michael Stone, to the firing range to shoot guns.
Home-schooled, she’s set to enter the equivalent of sixth grade and said she will likely graduate high school in 2019. She’s not sure if she wants to attend college, but she does want to pursue golf.
“I like doing things first before other people,” said Stone.
There were four sets of sisters playing in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur: Carly and Emily Childs, 18 and 22, of Alameda, Calif.; McKenzie and Steffi Neisen, 17 and 20, of New Prague, Minn.; Mariana and Sierra Sims, 17 and 16, of Austin, Texas; and Ariya, 16, and Moriya Jutanugarn, 18, of Thailand.
“It’s awesome to compete against [Mariana],” said Sierra Sims, who failed to qualify for match play after completing two rounds at 10-over 154. “For sure there’s a sister rivalry, but we keep it on the golf course. We don’t go home and want to beat each other up.”
Ariya has the more decorated resume of the Jutanugarn sisters. The medalist at the 2010 WAPL, Ariya played in the 2010 and 2011 U.S Women’s Open, missing the cut both years. In 2011, she won the U.S. Girls’ Junior, becoming only the third player from Thailand to win a USGA title. Ariya also captured the 2011 Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship and the Junior PGA Championship, and she repeated the Junior PGA victory last weekend. She was also the low amateur at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco. This year both have qualified for match play. Ariya qualified with a 5-under 139.
“It seems I play with her in every tournament,” said Moriya, who shot 1-over 145. She was the runner-up in last year’s Women’s Amateur to Danielle Kang at Rhode Island Country Club, with Ariya on her bag. “It’s fun. We try to beat each other. Maybe now she’s better than me. She’s won a lot.”
Ariya took the comments in stride, adding, “Yes, we always want to beat each other.”
Carly Childs, who won the California Junior Girls State Amateur Championship in 2011, said her sister influenced her to play golf. She’s following in Emily’s footsteps by committing to play for the University of California, Berkeley in 2012.
Carly didn’t qualify for match play, shooting 18-over 162. Emily Childs shot 3-over 147 to get in.
“She always has been my biggest competitor,” said Carly Childs. “I was always pulled into watching her tournaments and got so bored. Then I started playing and I shot 110, then in the 80s and then I got it down to the 70s.”
Emily Childs, who will finish up at Berkeley in the fall, nearly missed out at sectional qualifying for the championship, making it to Cleveland by prevailing in a playoff.
“Carly ended up qualifying for one of the eight spots and that put me in a playoff,” said Emily Childs.
Even though Emily Childs said she was proud to have her sister here with her this week, she doesn’t take kindly to being beaten by her.
“Oh yeah, because I catch [heck] for the next two weeks if she beats me,” Emily said with a laugh.
McKenzie Neisen, who qualified for match play at 5-over 149, said she picked up the game at 10 thanks to Steffi’s influence. “I love playing here with her,” said McKenzie. “We’re cheering each other on to make match play.”
Steffi Neisen, who plays for the University of Nebraska, missed qualifying for match play after shooting an 11-over 155.
Three college coaches played in the championship, but none of them qualified for match play. Margaret Shirley, 26, of Auburn, Ala., birdied two of her final four holes to finish at 5-over 149 and secure a place in a 15-for-14 spot playoff. She shot a six to miss out of qualifying. Shirley, who was playing in her seventh U.S. Women’s Amateur, is an assistant women’s golf coach at Auburn University.
Her first practice round at The Country Club earlier this week was the first 18 holes of golf she had played in a month.
“I don’t get to play a whole lot,” said Shirley.
Lucy Nunn, 25, of Lexington, Ky., shot 17-over 161 to miss qualifying. She’s in her second year as an assistant coach for the University of Kentucky women’s golf team.
She became a reinstated amateur on June 26, days before her qualifier.
“It was great to be playing in amateur events again,” said Nunn. “It’s a lot different than pro golf. There are more opportunities for amateurs.”
Kentucky head coach Golda Johansson Borst caddied for her.
“It’s fun for her just to be here,” said Borst.
Rachael Pruett, 23, of Linton, Ind., a graduate assistant women’s golf coach at her alma mater, Ball State University, shot 15-over 159.
Catherine O’Donnell, 22, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., withdrew due to a sore back. In addition, Euna Pak, 16, of Irvine, Calif., withdrew with an elbow injury…. Lydia Ko’s first-round, 6-under 66 is The Country Club female course record, according to the club…. Fifty-five players in the field were between the ages of 14-18. The median age of the 156-player field was 20.4…. The championship’s oldest player, Brenda Pictor, 56, of Marietta, Ga., bowed out with a 17-over 161 but came away impressed with the level of play. “I had a great time. I wanted to play better but this is all gravy, seeing all of these great players. They hit it so far!” Pictor said she was at a disadvantage because she was continually hitting longer clubs into the greens than most of the players.
Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email him at email@example.com.