ASHEVILLE, N.C. – For the fathers on the bag, caddieing in a national championship can occasionally be a thankless job.
Phil Potter, 60, of Granger, Ind., was there all week for his daughter, Julia, as was final-round opponent Margaret Shirley’s father, William. And on the 15th hole of Thursday’s championship match, Julia was displeased.
“I was not very happy coming off 15,” said Potter after she made double bogey on the 191-yard par 3 to fall to 1 down with three to play. “I was in between clubs – I had gone for the longer club, and I think I definitely made a mistake with that.”
“She was not very happy when I misclubbed her there,” said Phil. “If she needed to get mad at somebody, I wanted her to get mad at me, instead of herself.”
Potter rallied to win No. 17 by completing a tough up-and-down as Shirley three-putted. Potter then executed what she called the “the shot of the tournament for me,” blasting a greenside bunker shot to less than a foot from the hole on No. 18. That set up the stunning finish on No. 19, when Shirley hit into the creek fronting the green and Potter won with a routine par.
“That bunker shot was absolutely amazing,” said an emotional Phil Potter afterward. “There’s just no quit in her; I remember seeing her in intensive care for four days at age 16 (after surgery to have a rod inserted in her back for scoliosis). She totally believes in herself, and it shows. Our girls have learned a lot from golf.”
Potter grew up on a golf course in suburban South Bend, and her older sister, Jackie, played golf at the University of Wisconsin. Phil Potter would take Julia out on a golf cart starting when she was age 5, and Potter would chip onto the greens and putt out.
“To this day, that’s the strength of her game,” said Phil, who said he had a simple role all week. “Just keep her grounded; I don’t help her on greens at all but occasionally she’ll ask me about what club to hit or what the wind’s doing. That’s all I help her with, and that’s all she needs.”
Potter has tried to qualify close to 20 times for USGA championships, but her only previous success was making the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club, where she lost in the second round.
“I tried for the Girls’ Junior, the Women’s Am, the Women’s Open,” said Potter. “I actually missed by one stroke one year, and another time I was in a playoff to qualify and lost. You can have your ups and downs in the game of golf, and missing those qualifiers was a down, and this is my ultimate up.”
Potter lives in Dallas and had played only eight rounds of golf this year going into the championship.
“I love competitive golf, but I just haven't been able to find that work balance of being able to do so yet,” said Potter.
After Thursday’s victory and the exemption that comes with it, she now has at least this championship on her calendar for the next 10 years.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.