USGA WOMEN'S STATE TEAM
Florida Leads After Round 1 of Women's State Team September 10, 2015 | Cape Girardeau, Mo. By Vanessa Zink, USGA

Florida's Tara Joy-Connelly (right) fired a 5-under 67 in Round 1 on Thursday, matching the championship's 18-hole scoring record. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Florida’s 6-under-par total of 138 was good enough for a one-stroke lead over Georgia after Thursday’s first round of the 2015 USGA Women’s State Team Championship, being conducted on the par-72, 6,203-yard Dalhousie Golf Club course.

Florida was led by a championship-record-tying 5-under 67 from Tara Joy-Connelly, 42, of Palm Beach Gardens. Four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, 37, of Oakland Park, carded a 1-under 71 in the 3-count-2 format, while Kendall Griffin, 16, of Sebring, added a non-scoring 6-over 78.

Georgia, which has won the championship a record three times, is second at 5-under 139, followed by Virginia at 2-under 142. Rounding out the top five is Maryland at even-par 144, and Michigan at 1-over 145.

The United States Golf Association conducts the USGA Women’s State Team Championship on a biennial basis. It is open to teams of three players from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This year’s field features teams from 49 states and the District of Columbia – Vermont and Puerto Rico are not represented.

Eighteen holes of stroke play are scheduled over three days, with the two lowest scores of the three individuals counting as the team’s score for the round. The team with the lowest aggregate score through 54 holes, ending Saturday, is the champion. For the first time this year, there will be a 36-hole cut that reduces the field to the 21 lowest-scoring teams, plus ties. Additionally, any individual player who is within five strokes of the individual lead, but whose team has missed the cut, will advance to the final round, remaining in contention for the individual medal.

Joy-Connelly, who helped Florida finish runner-up to defending champion New Jersey in 2013, carded six birdies to one bogey en route to her 67. The 2015 Florida Mid-Amateur champion said ball placement was her biggest strength.

“It’s all about placement here onto the greens because they can be very tricky and fast,” said Joy-Connelly, who hopes to bring the Sunshine State its second Women’s State Team title and first since 1999. “I concentrated on dialing in my yardages and trying to leave the ball below the hole, depending on where it was.”

Virginia's Abby Portyrata carded eight birdies on Thursday en route to a 2-under 70, helping her squad to third place through 18 holes. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

A reinstated amateur, Joy-Connelly also noted teamwork as an advantage to her game. She heeded a piece of practice-round advice from Stasi about No. 15 that led to one of her six birdies. She is playing in her ninth Women’s State Team, though this is only her second time playing for Florida, having previously represented her birth state of Massachusetts.

Stasi, who teamed with Joy-Connelly in Florida’s 2013 Women’s State Team runner-up appearance, carded four birdies and three bogeys. Stasi and Joy-Connelly also teamed to win the 2009 Florida Four-Ball Match Play and 2012 Women’s International Four-Ball championships.

“No. 1 goal is for us to win,” said Stasi, who was a quarterfinalist with partner Dawn Woodard, of South Carolina, in the inaugural 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. “All three of us have a solid chance of playing well each day, and we want to do the same thing tomorrow, just come out strong again because there are some really strong teams out there.”

For Georgia, Emilie Meason, 24, of Atlanta, carded a 3-under 69 while fellow Atlanta resident Margaret Shirley, 29, finished at 2-under 70. Lauren Lightfritz, 17, of Suwanee, returned a non-counting 1-under 71 that included four birdies on the front nine. Georgia is the only team with all three players under par.

“I try to be a very conservative player and tried to play smart,” said Meason, who first played the Dalhousie course in the 2009 American Junior Golf Association Rolex Tournament of Champions, finishing sixth, under her maiden name of Burger. “I didn’t go for any of the par 5s today, and instead I focused on staying conservative. I do think there are some holes where you can play more aggressively though, and I took those shots when I could.”

Shirley, the reigning U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, added: “There’s some strategy off the tee on a few of the holes, and distance control on your second shots is important, too, because there are definitely some greens where you need to be on the right tier, and that sets up well for me.”

As for going for the win, the Georgia players insisted they’re here first and foremost to have fun.

“You’re competitive and trying to win, but if you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s the point,” Shirley said. “There are so many great players here. I do think we’re all confident in each other knowing we do have a solid team and that if we play good golf, we’ll be right there at the end.”

Defending champion New Jersey sits 11 strokes behind at 5-over 149, holding a share of ninth place with five other teams. New Jersey trailed by seven strokes following the first round of the 2013 championship, but fought back for a three-stroke victory.

Ten players broke par Thursday. Meason and Dominque Galloway, 17, of New Mexico, who carried her own bag throughout the round, are two strokes behind Joy-Connelly at 3-under 69. Joining Shirley at 2-under 70 is Abby Portyrata, 19, of Richmond, Va., who carded eight birdies, three bogeys and a triple bogey, on the par-4 fourth hole.

The home team from Missouri is tied with North Carolina for 15th place. It counted a 2-over 74 from Kayla Eckelkamp, 25, of Washington, and a 4-over 76 from Catherine Dolan, 25, of Ballwin. Six-time USGA champion Ellen Port, 53, of St. Louis carded a 5-over 77.

Vanessa Zink is an assistant manager of Championship Communications for the USGA. Email her at vzink@usga.org.

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