By Scott Paske
Wichita, Kan. -- It would stand to reason that nobody in the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Championship knows Wichita Country Club like Becky Thomas.
The 31-year-old Thomas has lived in Wichita most of her life and played college golf at Wichita State. From 1997-2001, Thomas spent many Mondays on the 60-year-old course with her WSU teammates as part of the team's weekly practice rotation at local clubs.
While Thomas holds a membership at another Wichita-area club these days, perhaps those past experiences at WCC served her well Saturday.
Thomas, one of two Kansans in the 132-player field, survived a rugged front nine and shot an 11-over-par 83 in the first round of stroke-play qualifying. It will be a challenge for Thomas to advance to the match-play portion of her first USGA championship, but by holding her game together on the closing holes, she stayed in contention.
"I was just trying to stay calm," said Thomas, who started her round with three bogeys and a double bogey en route to a front-nine 45. "I was nervous the first nine holes, I guess you could say.
"But I was pretty much ending up in the same spots that I've been before, so I was familiar with where I was every time. It was just a matter of having to execute shots I knew I could hit."
With her husband, Steve, serving as caddie, Thomas strung together seven pars and two bogeys on the back nine to come within one shot of the 82 she carded in the Sept. 1 qualifier at the championship site.
"It just seemed a lot worse because I had a lot more of a spread between my two nines," Thomas said.
Thomas may have displayed characteristics of a seasoned player Saturday, but in reality, the U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur is an early step in her re-entry to competitive golf.
Thomas earned all-conference honors during her senior season at WSU. A few months later, the 2001 U.S. Women's Amateur was played at Flint Hills National Golf Club in nearby Andover, Kan.
"I didn't even think about it," Thomas said. "It didn't even cross my mind to go for it."
Instead, Thomas embarked on a career and family life, maneuvering golf into a recreational pursuit. She worked at a Wichita bank for three years, then became a stay-at-home mom when her daughter, Allison, was born in 2005.
Thomas stayed involved with golf by teaching a course at a community college, and was a member of an Executive Women's Golf Association chapter. But her tournament play was mostly limited to couples scrambles with her husband.
Earlier this year, Thomas decided to act on her growing urge to compete. She received a newsletter in the mail looking for volunteers for the Women's Mid-Am, the first she had heard about the championship coming to her hometown.
Prior to the qualifier, Thomas entered the Kansas Women's Amateur and had a nondescript finish, 33 strokes behind the tournament champion.
"I didn't really know what to expect (at the qualifier)," Thomas said. "I hadn't been looking at any of the scores from other qualifiers and I didn't know what I should be shooting to qualify.
"It was a case of, 'I think I'm good enough.' It all just depends on my putting."
On Saturday, Thomas called on her short game to salvage her round. After failing on several occasions to get up and down from off the greens on her front nine, Thomas steadied herself on the back.
Some of Thomas' friends from her couples league followed her early in the round and her brother, Brad Brittian, walked along for the back nine. Playing with 2004 Women's Mid-Am champion Corey Weworski and Daria Cummings, Thomas walked off the 18th green with a shot of confidence.
"Knowing that I went two over on the back today, I'm happy with that," Thomas said. "And it can only get better on the front."
Scott Paske is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship sites.