San Antonio – Lucy Nunn, of Lexington, Ky., carded a 1-under-par 71 on Saturday to set the early pace in the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Briggs Ranch Golf Club.
Nunn was the only player to break par among the 66 golfers in the morning wave on the par-72, 6,072-yard Tom Fazio layout. Robin Burke, of Houston, and Mariko Makabe, of Irvine, Calif., each are a stroke back after even-par 72s.
Brooke Williams, of Fort Worth, Texas, and 2009 champion Martha Leach, of Hebron, Ky., are another stroke back after 73s.
Another group of 66 golfers, including 2010 USGA Senior Amateur champion Mina Hardin, of Fort Worth, Texas, and 1989 Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Robin W. Donnelley, of West Palm Beach, Fla., had afternoon starting times.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, for female golfers 25 years of age and older, is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
The championship consists of two rounds of stroke play, with the low 64 scorers advancing to match play on Monday. The 18-hole championship match is scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. CDT.
Partly sunny skies and relatively calm winds allowed for ideal scoring conditions, but a layout featuring tree-lined fairways, undulating greens and knee-high rough in some areas challenged the players.
The championship started especially well for Andrea Kraus, of Baltimore, Md., the first player off the 10th tee. The 52-year-old who is playing in her 23rd individual USGA championship, holed out for an eagle-2 at the 352-yard 10th hole with a 9-iron from 120 yards. She finished with a 2-over 74.
“I heard it hit flagstick,” said Kraus, who also holed out for eagle in August at her qualifying round for last month’s USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. “Then someone up by green threw their arms in air. It was a pretty cool way to start.”
Nunn started her round with 10 consecutive pars before making a birdie at the reachable 454-yard par-5 11th hole. She traded a bogey on No. 15 with a birdie at the 16th hole and collected pars at 17 and 18 for the 71.
“I played solidly and finally capitalized on the back nine,” said Nunn, an Oklahoma-native who is now an assistant golf coach at the University of Kentucky. “The conditions were great – it was hot and windy, just like home.”
Nunn regained her amateur status this past June and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Country Club in Cleveland. She also received a few videos from her Kentucky players on Saturday morning wishing her good luck.
“That really got the day off to a good start,” said Nunn. “It was a few inside jokes that made me laugh. They’re all excited that I’m here.”
Nunn will join her team in North Carolina for a collegiate tournament next week, but it was an event last October that gave Nunn a decided advantage on Wednesday. Nunn walked four rounds at Briggs Ranch when the Wildcats played in a tournament hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“I think it helped quite a bit,” said Nunn. “Seeing a course more than one time, you get a little more comfortable with it.”
Starting on the 10th hole, Burke made five birdies against three bogeys and a double bogey to card a 72. She birdied both par-3s on the outward nine (Nos. 3 and 8) and added another birdie at the fourth hole for a closing 3-under 33.
“I hit some irons close on my last few holes,” said Burke, a member of the 1998 USA Curtis Cup Team. “All my birdie putts were within 10 feet.”
Despite living just three hours from this week’s championship site, Burke had never played at Briggs Ranch until this week, although she found the course to her liking.
“It’s an awesome golf course,” said Burke, who is married to 1956 Masters champion Jackie Burke. “There are some bunkers out there waiting for you, but if you stay out of those it’s not so bad.”
Playing in the same group as Nunn, Makabe nearly matched her lowest competitive 18-hole score of 69, but she bogeyed three of her last four holes to post 72. Earlier in her round, Makabe birdied three consecutive holes to close the outward nine.
Defending champion Ellen Port, 51, of St. Louis, Mo., vying to win her second USGA championship in less than a month, carded a 4-over 76, despite making four birdies. In September, Port won the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club. If she won this week, she would be the third female to win multiple USGA championships in the same year, joining Pearl Sinn (1988 Women’s Amateur and Women’s Amateur Public Links) and Jennifer Song (2009 Women’s Amateur and WAPL).
“I got off to really bad start,” said Port, who bogeyed her first three holes and was the keynote speaker at Friday night’s players’ dinner. “I just felt a little sluggish today and came out a little flat.
“A lot of things can go haywire at this course if you get in some bunkers or bad spots. This golf course is really the total package. There is a lot of decision making and you use most clubs in your bag.”
Kelley Nittoli, the only local player in the field, birdied her last hole for a 3-over 75. Nittoli, the wife of the director of golf at San Antonio Country Club, Jim Nittoli, qualified for the championship last month in Houston. She was playing her first competitive round in nearly two decades. Nittoli played on the LPGA Tour in 1987, but lost her card after one year.
Three-time champion Meghan Stasi, of Oakland Park, Fla., bogeyed three of her final four holes and shot a 2-over 74.
The 2012 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is the 28th USGA championship held in Texas. The Women’s Mid-Am was last held in the Lone Star State seven years ago at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at email@example.com.