A funny thing happened to Dawn Woodard en route to the 113th U.S. Women’s Amateur. As she stepped out of the scoring area after her sectional qualifier at Kiawah Island’s Cougar Point Golf Course on July 1, she joined her 12-year-old daughter, Samantha, who had served as her caddie.
Several spectators had approached Samantha and asked how she had played. Given the culture of women’s golf these days – a 10-year-old has qualified for the championship the past two years – such questions weren’t out of the norm.
"What did you tell them?" asked Woodard, 38. "She said, ‘I told them I was caddieing for my mom.’ I thought it was pretty funny."
Woodard shot 73 that day, and advanced to the championship via a playoff. She was the only mid-amateur (25 and over) in this year’s 156-player field to qualify via sectionals – the other four were exempt.
This week, in just her second Women’s Amateur appearance, Woodard joined reigning U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi in the 64-player match-play draw.
"It’s really cool that she’s here and she made the cut," said 18-year-old Alison Lee, of Valencia, Calif., who eliminated Woodard, of Greer, S.C., 3 and 1, in the first round on Wednesday at the Country Club of Charleston. "I was a little nervous. My mom was going to caddie for me today and I’m thinking my mom is [almost] the same age as my competitor.
"That’s golf. You can be really young, you can be really old and [yet] we can all compete."
Only the priorities are different. Lee, an incoming UCLA freshman, aspires to play professionally someday. Woodard, on the other hand, the mother of three girls, was facing a two-hour drive home to be with her family.
Golf no longer takes center stage for Woodard, who played at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., but chose to get married and start a family after graduation. She never even tried to qualify for the Women’s Amateur in those days, as she spent most summers working. It wasn’t until recently that she attempted to qualify for the Women’s Amateur. A three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur medalist (including 2012), Woodard made the Women’s Am field in 2007 at Crooked Stick, but missed the cut. She failed to advance out of sectional qualifying the next two years.
This year, Woodard almost didn’t file an entry, waiting until just hours before registration closed on June 26, thanks to prodding from friends.
"Everybody kept saying it’s in South Carolina, it’s local," said Woodard, a two-time quarterfinalist in the Women’s Mid-Amateur (2007 and 2009). "What do you have to lose? I finally did at the last minute send it in and made a fun trip out of it."
After qualifying, she enlisted Furman’s second-year head women’s golf coach, Kelley Hester, to caddie for her. Woodard’s daughters – Ashli is 15 and Caitlin is 10 – were busy with other activities back in Greer, and her husband, Jason, couldn’t get away from work. A strong support system at home allows Woodard to play in national events such as the Women’s Amateur, and the upcoming USGA Women’s State Team Championship and Women’s Mid-Amateur.
Because of family responsibilities, Woodard can find it challenging to play casual rounds of golf or even to practice, especially in the summer. Most of her rounds are played in the practice days leading into the event or the actual competition.
"Sometimes you feel like you’re cramming for an exam," she said. "You put it off as long as you can and then you get a few minutes here and there before you really have to go."
Qualifying for the Women’s Amateur – and reaching match play – was a bonus. She would have loved to have reached the quarterfinals to earn a Women’s Mid-Amateur exemption, but the first-round loss was hardly devastating.
Listening to two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and Hall of Fame member Beth Daniel at the Players’ Dinner on Saturday night reaffirmed her priorities. Daniel, a Country Club of Charleston member, talked about how winning this championship changed her outlook on golf and made professional opportunities possible.
"For me at 38, yeah I would love to win this tournament," said Woodard. "But it’s not going to change my life. And that’s the difference."
On Thursday it is back to being Mom. Her kids aren’t quite old enough to be completely self-sufficient, so she’ll return to being a chauffeur and catering to their needs.
"Mom’s taxi service is out of commission when I’m not there," she said. "My husband can’t just leave work to cart them around. It helps that family and friends … can get them where they’re supposed to be. I can’t come here and do this without a ton of support."
Nevertheless, Woodard showed this week she can compete against the youngsters, many of whom are contemporaries of her two oldest children. Lucy Li, who at 10 became the youngest qualifier in Women’s Amateur history, is the same age as Caitlin, her youngest.
"It’s just crazy how good kids are at such an early age," said Woodard. "I’m actually a better player now than when I was a teenager or when I played in college. Now, it’s just the experience, the course management and playing within myself. But I can’t hit some of the shots they hit or hit it as long. I just don’t practice as much as they do. Priority-wise, golf isn’t everything.
"But I show up wanting to win just as much as they do. That’s the competitive side of me. I would still like to be here [on Thursday], but I’ve had a great experience."
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.