Wichita, Kan. -- Navigating your way through a 64-player match-play bracket can take guts, luck, patience, skill and any other number of virtues.
So those days when it all goes right are ones to cherish. Mina Hardin experienced one Monday, using near-flawless play to defeat Michelle Griffith of LaGrange, Ga., 8 and 6 in the first round of the 24th U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship at Wichita Country Club.
Hardin, 50, of Fort Worth, Texas, made six birdies in the 12-hole match -- the last a conceded 3-footer -- to eliminate Griffith, the daughter of two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle. Hardin's opponent in Tuesday's second round will be Houston's Robin Burke, a 5-and-4 winner over Kay Daniel of Covington, La.
"I've been hitting the ball pretty good all week," said Hardin, who posted rounds of 78 and 76 in stroke-play qualifying to earn the No. 17 seed in match play. "My short game has been a little lacking. But today, it all came together and fell into place, so it was an enjoyable round."
Hardin, a reinstated amateur who played on the LPGA Tour from 1983-89, won the first two holes with birdies and never trailed. Griffith, 30, cut her deficit in half by winning the par-3 third with a par, but didn't win another hole.
"I didn't hit the ball very good and she played very, very well," said Griffith, who was the equivalent of four over par for the match, with the usual concessions. "I still felt confident after the first two holes, but then I never started hitting it better."
It might not have mattered. Hardin, the 2001 Women's Mid-Am runner-up and a quarterfinalist four other times, won four consecutive holes and pushed her lead to 6 up after nine.
Hardin even brushed aside minor mishaps in her match. She pulled her tee shot on the par-5 10th, saying, I almost whiffed it as she handed her caddie her driver. But Hardin nestled her second shot in front of the green, pitched on and rolled in a 6-footer to go 7 up.
Hardin followed with a radar-like tee shot to within 4 feet at the 137-yard, par-3 11th. Her birdie attempt curled around the right edge of the hole and wouldn't fall, but she went dormie with Griffith after matching pars.
On the match's final hole, a downhill, dogleg right par 4, Hardin didn't see the players in the match ahead of her, and hit her tee shot close to the competitors. Realizing her error, she brought some levity to her match, telling Griffith, "I told you not to hit yet, Michelle!"
Hardin didn't let it unsettle her. She stuck yet another approach shot close to the hole, and when Griffith missed a 15-foot birdie attempt, she walked over to Hardin for a handshake.
"It boosts up your confidence coming in to the next matches," said Hardin, who will compete in her first USGA Senior Women's Amateur next month at Fiddlesticks Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. "There are some pretty tough matches waiting for me, but if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best."
Scott Paske is a freelance writer based in Wichita who is contributing articles for this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.