Diane Lang of Weston, Fla., won the USGA Senior Women's Amateur Championship on her first attempt Thursday morning as she defeated four-time champion Carol Semple Thompson of Sewickley, Pa., 1-up at The Apawamis Club.
Lang, a 50-year old native of Jamaica playing in only her second USGA event, and Thompson, 56, who was playing in her record 102th USGA championship and seeking her eighth title, waged a see-saw battle over the hilly Apawamis terrain that was not settled until Lang won the 18th hole with a solid par-four after Thompson had three-putted that final green from 70 feet away.
On a perfect September morning, the long-hitting Lang struck to a quick two-up lead after four holes but the steady Thompson rallied to win the next three holes with pars and then took a 2-up lead with a birdie at the par-five ninth hole.
"It's time to play golf again," Lang said to her caddie as she walked to the 10th tee. She also made a major decision regarding her golf ball. "The ball with the number three on it was not working for me," said the superstitious Lang, "so I put it away and played with a number four. I never play with a ball that has a number higher than four. Never."
Lang cut Thompson's lead in half with a par at the par-five 10th, where Thompson needed three strokes to get down from the back side of the green.
They halved the next three holes with pars, and then Lang squared the match with the shot of the championship at the 340-yard, par-four 14th hole. Thompson had hit her approach shot 12 feet past the flag, leaving her with a treacherous downhill putt. Standing in the fairway 110 yards from the flag stick, Lang switched from her nine iron to her pitching wedge.
All week long she had been indecisive with her short shots, leaving too many of them shy of the green and in the rough or the many Apawamis bunkers. This time she hit the shot of her life, her wedge stopping within inches of the flag stick for a conceded birdie three. Thompson's putt was short and left all the way, and suddenly the match was even.
The 388-yard, par-four 15th hole is easily the most difficult hole on the Apawamis course. With the honor, Lang drove the ball dead down the middle of the fairway, leaving herself about 155 yards from the green. Thompson then drove her ball into the right rough. Partly blocked by trees, Thompson hit her long second shot into the deep bunker to the left of the green. Thompson left her bunker shot in the hill, and Lang won the hole -- and took a 1-up lead -- with a conceded par.
Lang and Thompson halved the par-three 16th with bogeys. All seemed lost for Thompson at the 456-yard, par-five 17th after she laid up with her second shot to 110-yards from the green and then watched Lang crack her three-wood second shot some 230 yards and onto the green about 30 feet from the hole. Thompson hit her approach shot to within 22 feet of the flagstick.
Let Lang explained what happened next.
"I had a 30-footer for an eagle and the championship. I left it six feet short. Then Carol stroked her putt dead into the heart of the cup for a birdie. And suddenly I had a knee knocker just to get a half."
She missed -- and they went to the final hole all-even.
"My heart rate is 400 and climbing," said Dick Thompson, Carol's husband, as his wife put her tee into the ground at number 18.
Thompson's tee shot at the final hole trickled into the left rough, and then Lang hit a perfect drive down the middle. "You'd think I'd have momentum after winning the 17th with such an unlikely putt, but then I hit that bad drive at 18 and I knew I was in trouble," said Thompson.
Thompson had only 110 yards to the flagstick, but the combination of the heavy rough and the front flagstick position meant that she would need a miracle to get her shot to within 40 feet. As it happened, her ball landed just past the cup but did not stop until it was some 70 feet from the flagstick.
Lang, putting those underclubbed wedge approaches out of her mind, then struck a perfect wedge to about 12 feet past the hole. Faced with that 70-foot putt down into a swale and then back up and down to the hole, Thompson had the right line but not enough speed and left herself 15 feet short of the flagstick. Her next putt slid past the left edge.
Lang delicately rolled her first putt to within two feet, then stroked the championship putt squarely into the center and flopped to the ground in celebration.
"I was dejected on the 18th tee," said Lang, "but I convinced myself to stay calm. I was very nervous, believe me, but I hit the best wedge I could and kept my head down on my putts there at 18."
Moments later she was on the cell phone to her husband in Florida.
“I won it on the last hole, honey," she said. “I'll be bringing home the bacon."