One of the constants of the nascent U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship is Katie Miller. Miller, 32, of Jeannette, Pa., has qualified for all three editions of the championship, but she has managed to do so with three different partners.
The reason for the revolving partnerships is due to circumstances, not to any clash of personalities.
“I think with these four-balls, and especially with mid-ams (golfers 25 and older) who have lives and jobs and things going on that aren’t 100 percent golf, that’s what happens,” said Miller, an aspiring television broadcaster who qualified for the 2017 championship, scheduled for May 27-31 at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Oct. 25 with former Purdue standout Aurora Kan. “And that’s what happened with me.”
For the inaugural championship in 2015 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Miller partnered with 2003 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Amber Marsh Elliott, of Greensboro, N.C. As the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of North Carolina, Elliott had recruited Miller to Chapel Hill. Although Elliott left UNC before Miller enrolled, they stayed in touch. The duo advanced to the quarterfinals at Bandon Dunes before losing to eventual runners-up Hannah O’Sullivan and Robynn Ree.
Elliott then stepped away from competitive golf because of a family illness. Miller wasn’t planning to file an entry for 2016 until she ran into good friend and fellow Ligonier (Pa.) Country Club member Kristen Obush. The side got into the field at Streamsong Resort in Florida as the first alternates from the Carlisle, Pa., sectional, and they used the mulligan to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Brianna Navarrosa and Angelina Kim, the eventual runners-up.
Sound like a pattern?
One more victory and Miller and Obush could have avoided sectional qualifying, as semifinalists are exempt into the following year’s championship, provided the side remains intact.
“I have this rule: if you are exempt or win [the championship], you have a standing obligation [to your partner],” said Miller. “If you’re not… it’s fair game [to switch partners].”
That philosophy played out in Miller’s favor in January at another four-ball competition. In 2015, Charlotte Daughan teamed with Sarah Matin to win the International Women’s Four-Ball in Florida. When Matin became pregnant and was unable to play in the 2016 event, Daughan contacted Miller. The duo won, defeating Tara Joy-Connelly and Meghan Stasi in a playoff.
With Obush unavailable for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball because of job responsibilities, Miller turned to an old acquaintance. Nine years ago, she defeated Kan, then just 13, in the Pennsylvania Women’s Amateur at Manufacturers Golf & Country Club en route to the first of her two state titles (Miller captured her second in 2015). Miller recognized a blossoming talent who was mature beyond her years. When she saw Kan, now 23, of Boothwyn, Pa., at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur, she inquired about her availability for the Women’s Four-Ball.
On a blustery and chilly late October day at Northampton Country Club in Easton, Pa., the duo shot an impressive 5-under 67 to claim medalist honors. Despite not having played together before, there was instant chemistry. Kan’s consistency freed Miller to play more aggressively, a style that is conducive to the four-ball format.
“She is consistent and hits a lot of good golf shots,” said Miller. “Most of the birdies were made that day when she was already in the hole for par … [and] I would have a free run at it.”
Miller and Kan are one of 57 sides who will qualify from 26 sectional sites, 22 of which have been completed. Seven sides are exempt, including the defending champions, Texas teens Hailee Cooper and Kaitlyn Papp, and 2016 USA Curtis Cup teammates Bailey Tardy and Monica Vaughn.
For the third consecutive year, a mother/daughter tandem will be in the field. Kay and Abbey Daniel, of Covington, La., carded a 66 at Vinoy Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla. Kay has qualified for 10 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and reached the quarterfinals in 2015.
Sisters Sarah and Jessica Spicer, of Bahama, N.C., shot 65 in their sectional at Legend Oaks Golf Club in Summerville, N.C.
Brigitte Dunne, of Camarillo, Calif., and her former Southern Methodist University teammate Alexandra Rossi, of Austin, Texas, posted a 66 at Sherrill Park Golf Course in Richardson, Texas.
Four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Stasi, of Fort Lauderdale, and Dawn Woodard, of Greenville, S.C., qualified for a third consecutive year, shooting 66 at Turtle Point Yacht & Country Club in Killen, Ala.
Thus far, the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball has been dominated by teenagers, with each of the first two winning sides being under 19 years of age, and three of the four players being 16. Rinko Mitsunaga was 18 and about to graduate high school when she teamed with Mika Liu to win the inaugural championship at Bandon Dunes.
Miller is hoping to change that trend, and she’d also like to end her streak of breaking in a new partner every year.
“We’ll see,” she said. “I am hoping to walk away from next year’s [championship in South Carolina] with an exemption and we won’t have to worry about it.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.