GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Martha Leach’s rich history in USGA championships spans five decades, but her appearance in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club admittedly wasn’t expected.
Leach, 52, of Hebron, Ky., shot a 72 to earn one of seven spots from the Dayton, Ohio, sectional qualifier at Walnut Grove Country Club.
The result came as a surprise to the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, as Leach rarely plays much competitive golf anymore due to her busy workload as a realtor with Huff Realty.
“I was not prepared to qualify,” said Leach, the sister of six-time USGA champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member Hollis Stacy. “I just went out there and found something that worked that day. I just figured I was fine no matter what happened, because I had two closings scheduled for this week if I didn’t make it. But I got an email soon after that saying the closings were pushed back a couple days, so everything worked out perfectly.”
Things did not work out as swimmingly in Monday’s first round of stroke-play qualifying, as Leach had an “out-of-body experience,” struggling with her short game en route to a 15-over-par 85.
A golfer of Leach’s pedigree understands that days like that happen when you play golf long enough, so she took it in stride and opted for reflection on her love of the amateur game.
“To be able to tee it up as an amateur, I do it strictly for the love of the game,” she said. “Amateur golf is about the journey, meeting new friends and playing great golf courses. We’re staying with some great people in the area. Despite my play today, I still had a really great time.”
With her husband, John, a golf pro at Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Ky., on her bag and her daughter and son-in-law in the gallery, it’s easy to see how Leach could quickly put her score in perspective.
Besides, mother and daughter plan on taking their family golf affair out West next year, as Leach and Madison Gerstle, 27, of Cincinnati, Ohio, have filed an entry for the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes.
Gerstle only recently started playing golf again following a 15-year layoff, impressively lowering her Handicap Index to single digits in short order.
No matter how far they advance, expect Leach and Gerstle to have a good time in the process.
“Ultimately, you should always have fun playing this game,” said Leach.
Bremer Building on Houston’s Historic Year
With an April victory at the HBU Husky Invitational, Raegan Bremer added her name to the long list of tournament champions from the University of Houston – albeit an entirely new list.
Houston men’s golf program has 16 NCAA team national championships to its name and has produced golf luminaries such as 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, 1995 PGA champion Steve Elkington and two-time U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Billy Tuten.
Women’s golf, however, doesn’t have the same history. It actually has no history. The program did not exist until this past year. Bremer, 20, of Anaheim, Calif., transferred from the University of California-Davis after one year for the opportunity to start something new.
“It’s an honor to be on the first team and start something special at Houston,” said Bremer, who cited a close relationship with head coach Gerrod Chadwell, who recruited Bremer when he was an assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma. “It was a great opportunity to become a leader and for me to take on some new roles.”
Bremer admitted nerves got the best of her in her USGA championship debut, as she played her first seven holes at 5 over par before shooting 1 under on her second nine (Nassau’s outward nine) for a 5-over-par 75.
“I think I just needed nine holes to break into it. I shot really poorly early,” said Bremer. “I was definitely a little nervous with my swing and I just kind of let loose on the back nine and started having fun.”
Babcock’s Journey Leads Her to Yale
One might expect the golf coach at Yale University to be someone who was raised in the Northeast – somebody who grew up surrounded by the prestige of nearby Ivy League institutions and is used to surviving the harsh Connecticut winters. Taylor Babcock took a slightly different route.
Babcock, who will enter her second season as the assistant golf coach for Yale’s women’s team in the fall, was born and raised in Portland, Ore. After receiving a full scholarship from Barry University in Miami, Fla., she decided to make the move and take her talents to South Beach.
“After I got the full-ride offer from Barry University, I thought, why not go do it and see what Miami’s like,” said Babcock, who noted she was ready for a change of scenery. “At Barry, I got to work on my game for four years in the sun, plus I wanted to see what the East Coast was like. The timing was right and I think it all happened for a reason.”
Babcock, 23, of Westport, Conn., is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur after making the field as a first alternate out of the Alpine, N.J., sectional qualifier. She always knew she wanted to get into coaching after she graduated because she was so greatly affected by her coaches at Barry.
“I knew I wanted to pursue a coaching career because I had been through three coaches in four years at Barry and saw three completely different coaching styles,” she said. “All of them definitely helped me in my career and I could picture myself doing the same thing.”
Despite joining the collegiate coaching ranks, Babcock isn’t ready to completely hang up her spikes. Babcock enjoys being around her team and being able to compete with them in practice.
“I want to try and do a little bit of both [coaching and playing] and would like to keep my options open, but I definitely know that I want to remain in college athletics,” she said. “I would like to land a head coaching job someday and then the main goal is to be an athletic director, but right now that’s way beyond my years.”
Szokol Withdraws Due to Injury
Elizabeth Szokol, 20, of Winnetka, Ill., saw her first U.S. Women’s Amateur experience cut short as she withdrew from the championship, citing an injury. Szokol, who currently attends the University of Virginia, shot a 72 at the Homewood, Ill., sectional qualifier to earn her spot in the field.
There were no alternates within driving distance of the club that could make the scheduled 12:30 p.m. EDT starting time, so the championship was contested with 155 players. That number dwindled by two later in the day when past USGA champions Lauren Diaz-Yi (wrist) and Doris Chen (ankle) withdrew.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brady Inners is a communications intern with the USGA.