U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Trio of Newcomers Make Their Mark, Vow to Return September 24, 2018 | St. Louis, Mo. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Analise Pansa (left), Gina Bamberger (center), and Joan Gossett Oates played together in their U.S. Women's Mid-Am debuts. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur Home

Joan Gossett Oates was trying to explain how it felt to compete in a USGA championship this week, 15 years removed from her last appearance.

“Being back, being part of the camaraderie, knowing you can do this…” said Oates, her voice trailing off. “You want to say ‘Same old, same old,’ but it’s not – it’s like a surprise, a delightful surprise.”

In April, Oates was asked to play in a fundraiser for Vanderbilt University, her alma mater, at The Golf Club of Tennessee, site of the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur last month. Oates, the younger sister of 1999 U.S. Amateur champion David Gossett, had qualified for the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur and wanted to play the course that was hosting the most important championship in women’s amateur golf, even though she hadn’t played seriously in a long time.

“I had played only a few nines before that day,” said Oates, 36, of Germantown, Tenn., a registered nurse who has a 2-year-old daughter. “But I startled myself with how good my foundation was. I decided to pursue this a little bit, played some public courses around Memphis, and I was better than I thought I would be.”

Oates got a Handicap Index so she could try to qualify for the Women’s Amateur. “And once I did that, I said I’m so doing the Women’s Mid-Am,” she said with a laugh.

Sure enough, she landed a spot at Norwood Hills Country Club for this week’s 32nd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur with a sectional-qualifying round of 72 at Montgomery (Ala.) Country Club on Aug. 20. What was her brother’s reaction?

“Jaw dropped,” said Oates. “Everyone had their jaw dropped, including myself. It felt awesome.”

She was joined on the tee at 12:22 p.m. CDT on Saturday – the first day of the championship – by Gina (Clark) Bamberger and Analise (Johnson) Pansa, both of whom were making their USGA championship debuts after similar long hiatuses from the game.

“When I was a competitive player, all I ever wanted to do was play in a USGA championship,” said Bamberger, 27, of Murietta, Calif. “To me, that was the cream of the crop.”

Bamberger, the daughter of 1969 NCAA individual champion Bob Clark, shot 76 at Glendora (Calif.) Country Club on Aug. 27 to get into the field, and she played well enough over the weekend to make the match-play bracket by two strokes. Bamberger is the No. 56 seed and squared off Monday against Courtney McKim at 9:15 a.m.

Like Oates, Bamberger’s return was triggered by a brush with a USGA championship.

“My mom and I played Flint Hills National last year, right before the U.S. Junior Amateur,” said Bamberger, who played at San Diego State University and graduated in 2013. “We saw what the conditions would be like for the U.S. Junior and it was awesome. I decided that I wanted to be competitive again, even if it’s not at an elite level. I’ve always loved it so much.”

Pansa, 30, of Milwaukee, Wis., graduated in 2011 from Boston University, where she captained the women’s golf team. She spent the next seven years pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy and establishing herself in the profession.

“I would play once a month in the summer for fun,” said Pansa, who works at the Curative Care and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. “School took a lot of time and I couldn’t really practice that much.”

Pansa’s friend, Molly Braid, is a golf instructor at Westmoor Country Club in Brookfield, Wis. “Molly and I started to play a lot and I really started enjoying the game,” said Pansa. “She said, why don’t you go play in tournaments? She was a big motivator for me.”

Pansa had missed out in four previous USGA qualifiers, but she made it through on Aug. 17 at Westmoor.

“It has been unreal to be here – the experience of a lifetime,” said Pansa, who missed the cut for match play by five strokes. “Everyone has been welcoming and friendly. During the practice round, [2017 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion] Judith Kyrinis was giving us tips and helping us calm down.”

Pansa hopes to join forces with her friend Braid on another golf front connected to her job.

“I work with kids, trying to help them learn to walk, and Molly would like to teach golf to kids with disabilities,” said Pansa. “She and I are trying to figure out a way to combine our passions and do that. I think it would be a lot of fun.”

Pansa, who attended the International Junior Golf Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C., discovered a valuable lesson in her time away from competition. “I’ve realized that when you play for pure enjoyment of the game you have more fun and play better,” said Pansa. “I played much better the second day. It definitely makes you want to come back here next year.”

Having daughter Joanna, 2, is another factor in Oates’ golf rejuvenation.

“I want her to see Mom doing something enjoyable and doing things well,” said Oates, who missed out on match play by two strokes. “There’s a buzz when you’re on the range and all these ladies are hitting solid shots. After 15 years, you realize, maybe I shouldn’t let that all go.”

Bamberger’s father walked Norwood Hills as his daughter played in her first USGA event.

“When she told me she wanted to try to qualify, I said, don’t be disappointed because it’s really tough to do,” said Clark, who played for two years on the PGA Tour in a 10-year pro career. “And my goodness, she made it easily. I’m really proud of her. College sets them up so well to be good players.”

“Besides my wedding, this has been the best week ever,” said Bamberger as she eyed her husband Alexander’s reaction. “I can’t wait to start practicing and get into more championships. The Women’s Amateur, Women’s Open and Women’s Mid-Am, those are the three I will always sign up for now.”

Bamberger was the first alternate for the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis. She and her father traveled to Missouri, but no one withdrew. Now they are back in the city, their shared dream from nearly a decade earlier finally realized.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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