ASHEVILLE, N.C. – On the way to the championship match in a USGA event, competitors typically face pressure, self-doubt and the rigors of a demanding golf course. Along the way, they have also been known to have a little fun.
On Tuesday afternoon at Biltmore Forest Country Club, four-time champion Meghan Stasi and challenger Renata Young engaged in a dramatic, topsy-turvy test of wills that ended with Young’s par putt to extend the match to a 19th hole slipping past the hole on the high side.
When it was over, the word they both used to describe their tooth-and-nail battle was “fun.”
“I was three down after nine, having trouble with my speed on the greens, but I fought my way back and then it was just back and forth, back and forth,” said Stasi. “And it was fun. We were making birdies. It was one of those matches where you just run out of holes, and luckily I was on top.”
Young, whose 3-up advantage evaporated over a three-hole stretch that ended with Stasi dropping a 30-foot birdie on No. 12, refused to crumble, rebounding with a birdie of her own on the next hole to restore the lead and let Stasi know that this match would go to the wire.
“I never gave up,” said Young, 32, of Antioch, Calif. “I loved every moment of it. I still kick myself for missing a couple of those putts that I know I can make; pressure can do that to you. I had a lot of fun.”
Young jumped ahead early, winning the first three holes with two pars and a birdie, and after one halved hole, they traded victories for four holes. Stasi was still down by three when they made the turn, certainly not a deficit she relishes, but one that she is familiar with. En route to her fourth victory in this championship last year, she rallied from 5 down with six to play, winning that second-round match in 21 holes over Lynne Cowan.
“Meghan was out of sorts at the beginning,” said Morris Hatalsky, a seven-time PGA Tour and Champions Tour winner who is caddieing for her this week. “She was having trouble with her putter and she had to stay patient with herself. Then she started playing some good golf.”
Stasi won Nos. 10 and 11 with solid pars as Young short-sided herself on 10, then three-putted 11. On No. 12, Stasi put her putting woes aside by holing a curling 30-footer to square the match. She answered Young’s birdie on the ensuing hole with one of her own on the short par-4 14th, after Young narrowly missed chipping in from the back collar.
Young replied again on No. 15, rifling her tee shot on the 195-yard par 3 to 15 feet and making par as Stasi failed to convert her up-and-down from the right rough. Now 1 down with three to play, Stasi showed why she now has a career match-play record of 33-3 in eight Women’s Mid-Amateur starts.
With Young short of the green in two after driving in the rough, Stasi eyed her approach on the 395-yard 16th.
“We knew exactly where I needed to land it, and I did,” said Stasi, who hit an 8-iron from 135 yards to within 18 inches of the hole. Of the clutch shot, she said, “I don’t know… something happens sometimes, and it happened when I needed it to happen today.”
Young conceded the birdie when she pitched long and missed the comebacker.
“We played a practice round together so I knew she was a strong player,” said Stasi of Young. “She fought all the way around. You know if people are in the Sweet 16, they’re good players, they’re solid players, especially on this golf course.”
Young managed to reach the long 17th hole in two, 40 feet from the hole, while Stasi came up 10 yards short and pitched to 6 feet. Young left her lag putt 3½ feet short, Stasi made her critical par putt, and then Young’s putt slid past the hole to give Stasi a 1-up lead.
“Today was the best putting day I’ve had all week here,” said Young. “On that second putt, I probably should have just hit it a little more firm because the break just took it left. I didn’t expect that to happen. I was completely committed to that putt, and sometimes they just don’t go in.”
Stasi made an unforced error on No. 18, coming up well short of the green on her approach from the fairway after Young hit the green, but again Young came up short on her first putt, and when her 10-footer for par missed, Stasi had prevailed.
“I believed I could win – I played to win,” said Young, who played at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. “This is the highest level that I’ve competed at, against someone who is a legend in amateur golf. I was pleased that I was up on her, and I’m happy that we had a great match.”
“Every single year, there's one or two difficult matches,” said Stasi. “Hopefully this was the one.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.