ASHEVILLE, N.C. – For all its apparent complexities, golf can be a very simple game. Rule No. 1, drive it in the fairway. Meghan Stasi wasn’t able to do it, and as a result, the four-time and defending champion is not playing in Thursday’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship final.
“There’s no reason to miss the fairway on 17 and 18 when all you’ve got to do is halve the hole,” said Stasi, who was 2 up with two to play against Margaret Shirley, but lost on the 19th hole after she hit her approach shot in the creek fronting the green and conceded Shirley’s birdie 3.
Stasi had won No. 16 to stretch her 1-up lead to 2 up with two to play. But she failed to reach the green on the long par-4 17th after missing the fairway to the right, and Shirley converted a testing 7-footer for par to bring the match to No. 18. Once there, Shirley hit a solid approach shot to 18 feet, while Stasi went from the left rough off the tee to the rough well short of the green, then missed her par-saving putt from the front edge. Shirley cozied her birdie putt to within inches to extend the match.
“Meghan had control of the match going into 17, but she was putting pressure on her second shot and then on her short game,” said Morris Hatalsky, a veteran PGA and Champions Tour pro who caddied for Stasi all week and is a longtime member at Biltmore Forest. “In a major championship like this, you’ve got to put it in the fairway. Therein lies the advantage, and when you put it in the rough, you’re at a disadvantage. It’s just that simple.”
In the playoff, Shirley drove just short of the creek on the downhill, par-4 first hole and watched as Stasi – this time from the middle of the fairway – hit her pitch well short into the hazard from about 80 yards out. Shirley hit her short approach comfortably onto the green, leaving Stasi with no choice but to try and get up and down for bogey after her penalty drop, then hope Shirley three-putted. When Stasi missed her bogey putt, she conceded the match.
“Margaret played those last holes beautifully,” said Hatalsky. “I feel bad for Meghan. She’s a great champion, she’s a fighter. But she’ll look back on this and she’ll be disappointed because she did have control, but she had trouble bringing it in.”
Stasi made no excuses after struggling to close out a match for the second time on Wednesday. In her morning quarterfinal match with Laura Coble, she lost Nos. 16 and 17 to bogeys before Coble made a solid up-and-down par on No. 18 to complete her comeback from dormie-3. Stasi prevailed with a par to Coble’s bogey on No. 1, the same playoff hole where Shirley would best Stasi about 4½ hours later.
“I knew I was facing two solid players today; I knew I had two really good matches,” said Stasi. “I know better and I just didn’t grind enough. I’m not used to not closing out the deal.”
Of the downhill approach shot that all but sealed her fate in the playoff, Stasi said, “I guess I just moved a little bit. The particular shot did not really bother me, because I had it earlier in the day.”
Stasi saw her all-time match-play record in this championship slip to 34-4, but took some good lessons from the week at Biltmore Forest.
“For some reason, I’m OK,” she said. “Of course I’d like to be there tomorrow. But it’s an awesome golf course, it really is. It will beat you up. I learned a lot this week, I really did. I know I have a few things to work on, a few shots here and there.”
The drive for five championships resumes in 2014 at Harbour Trees Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind.
The first eight U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship final matches, starting in 1987, all had at least one finalist who was in her 20s. In the 19 championship matches since then, starting in 1995, there have only been six matches that included at least one 20-something player in the final, including this year’s matchup of Julia Potter (25) and Margaret Shirley (27).
Finalist Julia Potter is one of five 25-year-olds in the field who reached the match-play bracket. She was joined by Olivia Herrick, Kate Hildahl, Rachel Smith and Suzanne Stanley. Stanley turns 26 next week, Potter the week after.
Fifteen of the players who advanced to the 64-player match-play bracket were playing in their first Women's Mid-Amateur, and 22 of those who qualified are reinstated amateurs.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.