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Kuong Rides Waves of Support to Her Place in Semifinals September 30, 2015 | NASHVILLE, TENN. By Lisa D. Mickey

Far from the longest hitter in the field, Pam Kuong relies on her timely putting and positive attitude to reach the semifinals. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

The pressure was off when Pamela Kuong received an email of support from her “big boss” as she advanced deeper into the draw this week at Hillwood Country Club.

A senior vice president at Bank of America in Boston, Kuong stared at an email Tuesday night from New York-based Alastair Borthwick, the company’s head of global commercial banking. And it was the words of the Scotsman that spurred Kuong to play her way into the semifinals of this week’s national championship.

“He knew I’ve been working on a big deal with my colleagues and he knew I was here this week,” said Kuong, 54, of Wellesley Hills, Mass.

“He congratulated me and wrote, ‘Remember, the only thing I want you to focus on is your next putt.’ To have that kind of support from my big boss takes a lot of pressure off me professionally, as well as mentally for this championship,” she added.

That vote of confidence also enabled Kuong to squeeze out her 2-and-1 quarterfinal match today against a more experienced Julie Carmichael of Plainfield, Ind. Kuong now moves into Thursday’s semifinals against Tama Caldabaugh of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“I was struggling with the speed of my putts today and three-putted three of my first five holes before I finally figured it out,” said Kuong, who started playing golf at age 35 after being encouraged by one of her bank colleagues.

Kuong won only one of her first seven holes before she started giving Carmichael, the 1986 NCAA women’s golf champion and Indiana Golf hall of famer, more of a match. With one of her colleagues, Peter McCarthy, taking vacation this week to work as her caddie, the two reasoned the back nine had been where she had closed the deal on her previous matches throughout the week. Sure enough, she secured her match today on the 17th hole.

Kuong’s golf résumé is radically different than most of her peers in this week’s championship, in that the game was not love at first swing for her.

“Most of my clients are men and my colleague said that golf ‘could be the equalizer’ for me, so I reluctantly took it up,” she said. “I hated it, but pretty soon I realized the better I got, the more invitations I would get from clients to play golf with them. I was still being paid by my employer – who wanted me networking with clients – but I was out on the golf course. That was a real a-ha moment.”

Kuong, who swam, played soccer and softball in college at Ohio Wesleyan University, began taking golf lessons, and the more she learned about the game, the more she learned about the venerable New England courses near her home.

She wanted to play the famed Country Club in Brookline and one of her friends told her about a tournament there she could enter for $68.

“I told them, ‘Well, sign me up!’ because I wanted to play there,” she said. “But they didn’t tell me it was the 2007 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship. That’s a small detail they omitted.”

Kuong had never competed in a tournament before that event, but the next thing she knew, she was co-medalist in stroke-play and getting her first taste of match play. She ended up advancing to the quarterfinals.

“I actually thought the tournament was one day and I literally learned what match play was about by people telling me,” she said. “All I knew was I kept winning and had to keep canceling my appointments at work.”

After that unexpected success, her golf instructor said they needed to work a little harder on her game and the two ramped up Kuong’s practice. She had volunteered as a swim coach for 30-plus years and eventually stopped to focus on her golf game.

Once again, she heard about a tournament at Kittansett Country Club – another New England gem she wanted to play – and signed up. What she didn’t know was that it was a sectional qualifier for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Desert Forest Country Club in Carefree, Ariz. Kuong got into that championship – her first USGA event – as a first alternate.

“I didn’t even know what a USGA championship was,” she said. “And once I got there, I was like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ Fortunately, I was paired with (defending champion) Diane Lang and she helped me understand what was going on. She took me under her wing.”

A more experienced Kuong entered the 2008 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur, and this time, she walked away as the winner with one of her bank clients serving as her caddie. She repeated as champion in 2010.

She went on to win numerous New England and New England Senior Women’s Amateur championships and was the 2012 Massachusetts Player of the Year.

This week’s performance marks her career-best showing at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. She reached the Round of 16 in 2013 and the Round of 32 last year.

At this week’s championship, the pride of Charles River Country Club has a chance to make the many friends who guided her in the game proud and her colleagues at the bank beam at the giant steps the diminutive 5-foot-nothing player has made in Tennessee.

“I’ve been getting so many supportive emails from members at my home club, and my colleagues back at the bank told me everything’s covered – to just go play,” she said.

By reaching this week’s quarterfinals, Kuong has already qualified for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur Championship, which will be hosted by Wellesley Country Club in her hometown.

“It’s a huge relief to already be in that tournament,” she said. “Now, I can plan my schedule around the end of September next year for this championship at home. I can’t wait.”

She still has the chance to arrive there as the defending champion.

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