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Cornett Flying High as Quarterfinals Run Forces Travel Adjustment September 13, 2017 | PORTLAND, Ore. By Tom Mackin

Patricia Cornett, 63, was supposed to be flying to China on Wednesday. Instead, she's eyeing a U.S. Senior Women's Amateur title. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

Dr. Patricia Cornett was supposed to be on a flight to China Wednesday morning to deliver a medical education talk this weekend in Beijing. Instead, she’s competing in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur quarterfinals at Waverley Country Club in Portland. She couldn’t be happier.

Defeating two higher-seeded opponents on Tuesday forced some quick changes to her travel plans.

“It’s kind of like, oops. I feel very badly,” Cornett said about having to notify her Chinese hosts. “Then I was going to fly from China to Northern Ireland on Sunday for the Senior British Women’s Amateur that starts a week from today at Royal Belfast. I still may be able to do it.”

Just qualifying for the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship was an achievement for Cornett, 63, of Mill Valley, Calif. She had not done so since 2013, largely due to a strong contingent of senior women golfers in the very competitive Northern California region.

But her 3-and-2 win over Brenda Pictor in the Round of 16 earned Cornett an exemption into next year’s championship at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club in Vero Beach, Fla.

“I’m excited because I don’t have to qualify next year,” said Cornett. “Whoa, how great is that!”

On paper, the match against Pictor was Cornett’s easiest so far this week. While facing Akemi Nakata Khaiat, of Japan, in the Round of 64, Cornett never took the lead and was dormie on the 16th hole.

“She was making putts left and right,” said Cornett of Khaiat. “It was pretty discouraging. I had to make a 10-foot par putt on 16 to stay in it, and then I made pars to win 17 and 18. I birdied the first extra hole to win.”

In the Round of 32 against fellow Stanford University graduate Karen Wilson, of Rancho Mirage, Calif., Cornett maintained a 1-up lead from the 11th hole onward.

“I knew what an incredible game she has, so I just tried to hang in there the best I could,” said Cornett. “That’s how you survive in match play.”

Hitting every green except for two, as she did in her match against Pictor, also helped.

“The irons came alive today and I started really striping some great ones,” she said. “I’m very pleased about that. My putting was nothing great, but I made a nice birdie on that diabolical par-3 11th.”

Another good omen is that even after walking two practice rounds, two stroke-play rounds and 53 match-play holes, Cornett feels good physically. It’s no surprise then that her favorite event at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where she is a member, involves playing all 45 holes on the property in one day while walking.

“I love a double-round day when you get to go for that second 18,” she said. “ I think it’s one of the greatest things in golf. I actually feel stronger when I do that.”

Cornett hasn’t had much time for golf recently after taking a new job at the University of California-San Francisco, where she does clinical work in non-malignant hematology and serves as associate chair for the education department of medicine while also working in the school of medicine to redesign the medical student curriculum.

“There are so many new things to learn and new patients to meet,” she said. “It’s crazy trying to get everything right. Golf is an escape from all of that.”

She is no stranger to USGA championships, having played in more than 60, beginning with the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 1971. Her best finish is runner-up in the 1987 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. She is a four-time USGA championship semifinalist: 1976 and 1982 Women’s Amateur, and 1992 and 1999 Women’s Mid-Amateur. She also played on the USA Curtis Cup Team in 1978 and 1988, and captained the Team in 2012.

“She’s not able to play every day with her really busy schedule,” said her husband and caddie, Mike Iker. “This is the most intense golf she’s had in a long time. I think it’s because the course is set up so she can reach the holes. There are 14 here that have fairway bunkers in play for her, so it demands different abilities. She loves the course.”

With her short-term travel plans now somewhat settled, Cornett can focus on her quarterfinal match against Terrill Samuel, of Canada.

“I would like to get a little medal out of this venture,” she said. “That would be my next goal now that I have the exemption for next year. My collection of five medals (all USGA championship semifinalists receive medals) needs a sixth.”

And how will she accomplish that?

“You basically just have to grind it out,” she said. “Never give up, never surrender.”

Tom Mackin is an Arizona-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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