U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Despite Long Odds, Mid-Amateurs Not Conceding to Young Stars
August 7, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn.
By Bill Fields
Even given the recent extreme youth movement in elite women’s golf, the milestone is a bit jarring. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the last time a mid-amateur (someone 25 or older) won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
Runner-up in the 1977 championship to Beth Daniel, 28-year-old Cathy Sherk, of Canada, hoisted the Robert Cox Trophy the following summer with a 4-and-3 win in the 36-hole final over career amateur Judy Oliver.
Simply qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur has become a stiff challenge for mid-ams at a time when precocious juniors as well as elite collegians are prepping for potential professional careers. Only a handful of mid-ams have even made deep runs in the championship the past several decades compared to their male counterparts in the U.S. Amateur.
The last mid-amateur to win the U.S. Amateur was John Harris in 1993, but a couple have come close since then, including 1995 runner-up George “Buddy” Marucci, 1998 runner-up Tom McKnight and 2005 semifinalist Austin Eaton III. The lone mid-amateur to make a U.S. Women’s Amateur final since 2000 is Katharina Schallenberg in 2006 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club near Portland, Ore.
Last year, Tennessee native Sophia Schubert, 21, was the first non-teen to win the title since Amanda Blumenherst nine years earlier.
Ina Kim-Schaad, 34, of New York City, had to make it through six playoff holes at her qualifier to make it to The Golf Club of Tennessee, where five mid-ams qualified to play: Clare Connolly, 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief, Kim-Schaad, four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi and Katy Winters.
Those four were joined by four exempt players older than 24 – the two most recent U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champions: Julia Potter-Bobb and Kelsey Chugg; and a pair of 56-year-olds: Martha Leach and Ellen Port. Port, a seven-time USGA champion, got in by virtue of her 2016 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur triumph, while Leach received a special exemption from the USGA after finishing tied for 10th (low amateur) in last month’s inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship at Chicago Golf Club.
Kim-Schaad was once an up-and-coming player herself, finishing runner-up in the 2000 U.S. Girls’ Junior before playing four years at Northwestern University. She gave up competitive golf for a decade while working in the financial industry in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
“They just have this fearless, blind confidence,” Kim-Schaad said of the new wave of talented female golfers. “They’re not scared of what might be out there, they just zone in on a target and play. I think it’s youth. I think I used to be the same way.”
Regaining her skills has been a challenging journey.
“People say: ‘Oh, it’s just like riding a bike. You’ll be fine.’ I’m like, no, no, no, no. It’s really not,” Kim-Schaad said of returning to competition. “Some of the things I used to be completely oblivious to as a junior and a college player, but your mind just doesn’t stop at my age. We overcomplicate things a lot more than we need to, and I’m really trying to work on not doing that.”
Having taken a career hiatus, Kim-Schaad has been able to practice and play a lot. A change in her job has also been a boost to Greenlief, 27, who has claimed the Virginia Women’s Amateur title the past two years. A management consultant who travels 200 days annually for her job, she has been working closer to her Ashburn, Va., home for the last three months, which has provided a lot more continuity for her game.
“It’s been a big help being able to practice almost every day after work,” she said. “Typically, I would struggle when I played Friday afternoon, get a bit better on Saturday, then Sunday kind of be back in a groove. Then I’d restart it the next weekend after being gone Monday through Thursday.”
Winters, 27, of Andover, Kan., was a professional for four years, competing occasionally while working in business. A trading operations supervisor – “It’s kind of a hybrid operations and IT team.” – Winters regained her amateur status this year just in time to enter the U.S. Women’s Amateur and successfully qualified for the first time.
“It’s really great to be competing again,” Winters said. “A friend of mine who has also gotten her amateur status back and I say we want to be Ellen Port in 30 years.”
Potter-Bobb, 30, of Indianapolis, Ind., is director of member services for the Indiana Golf Association, while Chugg, 27, of Salt Lake City, Utah, holds a similar position with the Utah Golf Association.
Stasi, 40, of Oakland Park, Fla., has more freedom to play, as her husband, Danny, owns a popular restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
Connolly, 25, winner of the 2017 Maryland State Women’s Amateur, caddies full time at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., in the summer and at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort in the winter.
“I feel like one of the oldest people here and I’m only 25,” said Connolly, who has her 40-year-old brother, Chris, serving as her caddie.
“[Chris] has taught me pretty much everything I know. That’s the way I got into golf. It was the only way to hang out with my older brothers. They said if you don’t keep up, we’re leaving you in the fairway. You develop a tough skin.”
Connolly has also learned quite a bit from her caddie experiences, even from guys who carry high handicap indexes. “I’ve learned to hit different shots from all over the place. I’ve seen great up-and-downs, and some who just pick up the ball. It’s been a great experience. I’ve met a ton of great people in and out of golf.”
Potter-Bobb’s motivation is twofold.
“I’ve been looking forward to this all year to see how I stack up against the future generation of women’s golf,” she said. “At the same time, I’m taking vacation, so I want to enjoy it. But I also want to showcase that mid-ams are a very strong group of women who enjoy the game and play the game well. I want to let people who are going to be in the mid-am range that you can still compete at a high level and the USGA gives us an opportunity to do that.”
And, as Greenlief said, regardless of how a player fares, “This is a lot better than being in the office.”
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.