U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Rookies in the Championship Balance Competitive Golf With Life
October 5, 2015 | CHOUDRANT, LA.
By Stuart Hall
For nearly five months earlier this year, the closest Casey Ward came to playing golf was hitting golf balls on a simulator in a basement lab.
Ward, of Picton, Ontario, Canada, was finishing up her Masters of Science degree in biomechanics from Cal State-Fullerton. So when she was able to return to competitive golf, she felt liberated.
"I think golf was just a good break from school, so any time I got out on the course I was so happy to be out there,” she said. "I wasn’t thinking about being in school, in a lab, in a basement. And I could see the sun."
Ward’s appreciation for playing showed in her results.
Over the course of the summer she won the Eastern Provinces and the Ontario Women’s Mid-Amateur. She was runner-up in the Ontario Women’s Match Play and finished fourth in the Canadian Women’s Mid-Amateur. On Sunday, she earned medalist honors at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Squire Creek Country Club.
Ward, who played collegiately at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, qualified for this championship in her first year of eligibility (25 is the minimum age), as did 11 others. Joining Ward in advancing to Monday’s Round of 64 were stroke-play runner-up Lauren Greenlief, of Oakton, Va.; Kristin Paulson, of Pella, Iowa; Whitney Britton, of Laguna Niguel, Calif.; Dani Mullin, of West Islip, N.Y.; Courtney McKim, of Raleigh, N.C.; and Lauren Kuss, of Zionsville, Ind.
Several of Ward’s peers targeted this championship because it marked a return to high-level competition. Many of them played collegiately, but then set their clubs aside as golf became less of a priority as they extended their education or began careers.
Like Ward, Paulson, who played at Iowa State University, earned her masters at Purdue University, “so there was a lull,” she said, in which staying competitive was difficult. Britton, who played at Oregon State University and reached the Round of 16 in the now-retired U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2013, entered the business sector and got married.
Adding golf back into the juggling act of work, family and everyday commitments takes time.
"On weekends, I try to play at least once and during the week it’s generally before work,” said Britton of how she prepared for this week’s championship.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur rookies need only look at a few of their playing partners over the weekend to see what the future can hold.
"When I was reading some of the player bios, I was floored by the careers that they have had,” said Ward. “How many past champions and past runner-ups there have been, and Curtis Cup players and state champions.
“Amateur golf is so cool, because it’s just playing for the love of the game. I particularly find at the mid-amateur level that people are here because they want to be here and so everybody has a passion for it."
Paulson had visions of playing professionally as recently as a few weeks ago, so she played more tournaments this summer relative to her age group. Since opting to enter the coaching profession, though, currently serving as a volunteer coach for the Boilermakers’ women’s team, she admits her playing time has dropped off.
Despite the fact that the past two U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champions have been 20-somethings, Paulson does not believe age is a trending factor.
“For us youngsters, it’s a matter of have you been playing or just getting back into it,” said Paulson, who played in three WAPLs and the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “The younger players tend to have a little more power, but the older players I have seen seem to be more accurate. Plus, they have the experience. So if these older women are getting the chance to play every day, they can do awesome things.”
Ward hopes she is just as competitive a few decades from now. For now, though, she is just happy to be out of the lab and on a course.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.