GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Carly Ray Goldstein tries not to peak at match-play draws or get scouting reports on possible opponents.
“I am always focused on myself,” said the 19-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla., “and my own game.”
So it wasn’t until she arrived on the first tee at Nassau Country Club on Wednesday for her round-of-64 match at the 114th U.S. Women’s Amateur that she realized another Mississippi State Bulldog stood in her way.
Had she entered the Twilight Zone?
Less than a month ago at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, Goldstein, a sophomore at Louisiana State University (LSU), faced Ji Eun Baik, who is a sophomore at Mississippi State. That first-round match ended with a 3-and-2 defeat at The Home Course in DuPont, Wash.
Goldstein faced Baik’s more decorated teammate on Wednesday, senior Ally McDonald. But Goldstein knew nothing of her foe’s credentials, which include the 2013 North & South Women’s Amateur title, playing on the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team, being a first-team All-America selection and qualifying for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open. McDonald is also No. 13 in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
None of that mattered to Goldstein, who is 1,177 in the WAGR. She was playing an 18-hole match against a quality golfer.
“Apparently, she’s a very good player,” said Goldstein after a 2-and-1 loss. “This is two [losses] now [to MSU golfers]. They both played really well. I really can’t be too upset about it.”
Despite both playing at Southeastern Conference institutions, they hadn’t met before Wednesday. And on the course, the chatter stayed between the players and their caddies. There wasn’t any discussion about the upcoming football season and how the SEC West might play out.
Goldstein primarily talked with her father, Barry, a PGA instructor, and the only teacher Carly has ever had. McDonald, 21, of Fulton, Miss., chatted with MSU assistant coach Leigh Phillips, who is her caddie this week.
As the result would indicate, the match was tight throughout with neither player taking more than a 1-up lead until McDonald won the par-5 15th to go 2 up. At the par-4 ninth, Goldstein rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt before McDonald converted from 2 feet.
The turning point came at the par-4 14th with the match all square. Goldstein stuffed her approach to 6 feet and McDonald answered with a shot to a foot. Goldstein missed and McDonald converted to take the lead for good.
“I knew she was a great junior golfer and would give me a run for my money,” said McDonald. “I think we were both grinding pretty hard and both wanted it pretty bad. She played great. I just happened to get a couple of putts to drop and hit a couple of big shots there toward the end.”
Goldstein, who used to split time between Binghamton, N.Y., and South Florida, had never tried to qualify for any USGA championship prior to this year. That was mainly due to her dad’s busy summer schedule. She missed advancing to the U.S. Women’s Open, but was the medalist at both her WAPL and Women’s Amateur sectionals. At the WAPL qualifier, her seven-birdie 68 broke Lexi Thompson’s course record at Madison Greens in West Palm Beach, Fla.
These two experiences have whetted her appetitive for more.
“To make the cut in both of them was cool,” said Goldstein. “But I was hoping to get a little bit further in both.”
Avoiding Mississippi State players might help.
James’ Help Leads To Round-of-32 Matchup With Friend Tong
Augusta James initially earned her spot in the U.S. Women’s Amateur by being the medalist at the Grosse Ile, Mich., sectional qualifier on July 14. Fellow Canadian Elizabeth Tong just missed punching her ticket at the same qualifier, settling for first-alternate honors.
But thanks to James, Tong landed a last-minute spot in the field, and now the two Canadians will square off in Thursday’s round of 32.
James, 21, won the Canadian Women’s Amateur on July 25, thus becoming fully exempt into the U.S. Women’s Amateur. That meant her original qualifying spot would go to the first alternate from her sectional. Tong, 21, gladly accepted.
“It’s pretty funny how that worked out,” said Tong. “That was a really cool experience, having it shake out like that. We’re friends, so I was happy to see her win the Canadian Amateur. Having it help me was just a funny story on top of that.”
Added James: “I was so happy to hear that, because she deserves a spot in this tournament. She’s a great player.”
Despite teeing off after James, Tong advanced to the round of 32 before James thanks to a clinical 5-and-3 victory over Ashley Burke. James later finished off a 2-up victory over Sarah Burnham.
Tong is growing accustomed to performing under pressure, which could help her as the week progresses. Tong qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 – without playing the wait-and-see game as an alternate – out of the Winnetka, Ill., sectional qualifier.
“I actually think the Am is harder to qualify for than the Open,” said Tong, who missed the cut at Pinehurst. “For the Am, you only have 18 holes to figure it out, while the Open is 36 … But being in the Open was a real eye-opener. Being around the best players in the world, you get a sense of what you have to do to get to that level.”
Whatever the result on Thursday, both players are looking forward to the experience.
“It will be good,” said James, a junior at North Carolina State. “I really like Elizabeth, and we’ve grown up playing golf in similar tournaments, so it should be a fun day.”
Tong was only one of two alternates to make match play, so the rest of the week is gravy for the Indiana University senior.
“I was just hoping to make match play, and I’ve already accomplished that, so I don’t feel a lot of nerves or anything,” said Tong. “I’m just going out every day and trying to play the best round of golf I can, and we’ll see where that goes.”
Once A ‘Face In The Crowd,’ Stephenson Stands Out
Lauren Stephenson gained local notoriety with an appearance in a major sports publication three years ago, but Wednesday’s dominant performance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur should earn the 17-year-old some national attention.
Stephenson, of Lexington, S.C., appeared in the “Faces In The Crowd” section of the Dec. 12, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated after shooting back-to-back 66s to win the 14-18 Division of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association Players Championship at Hartsville Country Club. After shooting 72-73 to qualify for match play at the Women’s Amateur, Stephenson cruised to a 7-and-6 victory over Alexandra Rossi in the round of 64.
After halving the first two holes, Stephenson won No. 3 with par and never looked back, winning four of the next six holes to take a 5-up lead to the turn.
“I hit a lot of greens. In match play, par is always a good score,” said Stephenson. “Especially on this course, the greens are really tough and it’s hard to make birdies. The rough is also really thick, so I was just trying to hit fairways and greens, and I was able to do that today.”
As far as appearing in Sports Illustrated as a high school freshman, Stephenson said she was caught off-guard, but enjoyed the spike in popularity.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” she said. “I started getting phone calls from people saying they saw my picture in Sports Illustrated. Even people who don’t follow golf would recognize me and say they saw me.”
Stephenson has the Sports Illustrated page framed in her trophy room. A room she hopes to add to on Sunday.
Sister (No) Sister
With perfect symmetry, the four sets of sisters in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur field each comprised one match-play qualifier and one player who failed to advance. Mariana Sims kept that balance in order on Wednesday morning by surviving the 8-for-3 playoff for the final spots, but then fell to Andrea Lee, 4 and 3, in the round of 64. Her sister, Sierra, missed the playoff by three strokes.
Twins Jennifer and Kristin Coleman, whose grandparents are longtime Nassau Country Club members, also produced mixed results, with the former moving on and the latter missing by four strokes. Jennifer defeated Taylor Tomlinson on Wednesday, 2 up.
In an interesting twist, Angella Then qualified, but her more-decorated sister, Gabriella, did not. It was a reversal from last month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, where Gabriella, the 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, advanced and Angella watched from the sidelines.
Mika Liu, 15, of Beverly Hills, Calif., the younger sister of Yale University team captain Marika Liu, advanced, but lost to 2014 U.S. Women’s Open low amateur Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, of Canada, 7 and 5.
Prep From Pinehurst
Jessica Porvasnik remembers shaking in her shoes when she arrived at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in June for her first U.S. Women’s Open.
And she remembers what it took to play against some of the world’s top players. Having already experienced that large stage made it easier for this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The Ohio State University sophomore needed 19 holes to win her round-of-64 match on Wednesday against Paige Lee, of Folsom, Calif. But it wasn’t without some deep breaths and the memory of having played in front of the most spectators and media she had ever encountered at the Open.
“I was a lot calmer this time,” said Porvasnik, 19, of Hinckley, Ohio. “It’s a little more relaxed here at this championship.”
Lee’s long birdie at the 18th hole forced extra holes. Porvasnik hit her drive left and had 149 yards to the flagstick. She knew her adrenaline was flowing, so she purposely “clubbed down” on her approach, but still sailed her approach over the green.
Fortunately, her chip was on line and rolled to within 4 feet. She holed the putt to win.
“I took a lot of deep breaths and I knew I had to do what I’ve always done,” said Porvasnik, who faces Portland Rosen in the round of 32 on Thursday morning. “I’ll just stick to the game plan tomorrow, play it one shot at time and continue to believe.”
Odds and Ends
Stanford golfers went a perfect 3-0 on Wednesday, with Lauren Kim, Casey Danielson and 2014 USA Curtis Cup member Mariah Stackhouse all advancing. Stackhouse had the toughest match, needing 20 holes to defeat Chakansim (Fai) Khamborn, of Thailand … Tim Mangan, the longtime director of racquets at Nassau Country Club, served as a standard bearer for the Ally McDonald-Carly Ray Goldstein match. Mangan has been at Nassau for 35 years.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com. Joey Flyntz is an associate writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Florida-based freelance writer Lisa D. Mickey also contributed.