Barrington, R.I. – As she walked off the fourth green at Rhode Island Country Club Friday afternoon, having lost a second consecutive hole against the ůber-talented Erynne Lee to go 2 down, Brooke Pancake thought it might be one of those days when she might get flattened like … a pancake.
All of the momentum was decidedly on one side and it certainly wasn’t the start the 21-year-old from Chattanooga, Tenn., wanted in the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Even when the 18-year-old Lee gave back those two early wins with bogeys at holes five and six to push the match back to all square, Pancake still felt like the long-hitting Lee was in control.
I never felt like I could get ahead, said Pancake, but I knew I could hang in there.
First-team All-Americans with plenty of match-play experience know how to grind when their games are slightly off-kilter.
And Pancake, who has been one of the most prolific players in University of Alabama history, somehow found a way to survive a tough ball-striking afternoon.
In fact, Pancake never led until she shook hands with the Silverdale, Wash., resident on the 21st hole – the par-4 third on the course – after Lee conceded the match with a double-bogey 6.
That’s when the Crimson Tide senior could finally exhale after an emotionally exhausting day.
It definitely was a grind out there today, said Pancake, who recalled going 25 holes in a match at the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo event five years ago. I’ve gone extra holes in a couple of matches. There’s a lot of pressure out there.
On a day where she couldn’t get any birdie putts to fall, Pancake turned the match around by converting a 20-footer at the 16th hole to square the match. They halved the next two holes with pars, forcing extra holes. Lee had survived a 19-hole third-round match Thursday afternoon against Annie Park, but she wasn’t as fortunate a day later.
Pancake almost ended it on the 19th hole, missing a downhill 8-footer for birdie. Both two-putted for par on No. 20 and on the 21st hole, Lee’s tee shot nearly hit a tree 40 yards in front of the teeing ground. The ball skirted through several leaves and found the right intermediate cut of rough. She missed the green to the left with her approach and chunked the ensuing chip. Pancake lagged her birdie putt from the fringe to 4 feet, but then watched Lee take three putts from the fringe.
Unsatisfied with her ball-striking, Pancake headed for the practice facility after fulfilling media requirements with the Golf Channel and other media members.
You have to make birdies to keep moving on, said Pancake. I definitely need to hit it a lot closer … instead of trying to drain 20-footers.
Pancake won’t have much time to rest. She faces defending champion Danielle Kang in the first of two semifinal matches on Saturday.
Of course, you don’t get into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame without producing lots of victories. Pancake won four consecutive Tennessee state high school championships competing for the prestigious Baylor School in Chattanooga. The girls’ golf team has won 16 state team titles.
Her success has carried over to college. Her first two seasons on the Tuscaloosa campus were the best by any freshman or sophomore in the program’s history. She helped Alabama win its first Southeastern Conference title in 2010.
This past season, she finally broke through for her first victory at the Tar Heel Invitational and added several other top-five results, while maintaining a 4.13 grade-point average. The National Golf Coaches Association honored Pancake with its Edith Cummings Munson Award at the end of the 2010-11 season, given annually to an upper classman who not only is an All-American but also an NGCA Scholar Athlete.
Pancake even took time away from competitive golf since the NCAA Championships concluded in late May. She missed U.S. Women’s Open qualifying because of school and only played in the Tennessee Women’s Open and the Women’s Amateur sectional qualifier prior to this week’s championship. With the oppressive in Tuscaloosa, Pancake actually was happy to be indoors taking a geography class that also included lab work.
It was refreshing, said Pancake. I could take a little break and regroup. I would have still graduated on time, but it eased my [class] schedule for next year.
The time off obviously didn’t affect her game. Pancake said she’s the type of golfer who rarely loses her competitive edge, even if everything isn’t completely clicking.
Asked if she thought she stole a victory against Lee, Pancake paused for a moment and offered up a carefully calculated response.
I will definitely say I battled it out.
Sometimes at the Women’s Amateur, that’s good enough.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.