A Breath of Fresh Air

A Breath of Fresh Air

Stroke play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur provided a welcome respite from the turmoil so prevalent these days in competitive golf

By Alan Shipnuck
August 8, 2023

LOS ANGELES—These are rancorous times at the highest levels of competitive golf. Need a palate cleanser? May we suggest the U.S. Women’s Amateur, where the camaraderie, sportsmanship and good cheer are palpable. 

During Tuesday’s second and final round of stroke-play qualifying, former ANWA champion Anna Davis duffed a chip in front of the 8th green at Bel-Air Country Club. She stared at her caddie, utterly deadpan, but eventually Davis couldn’t suppress a rueful smile and they both dissolved into laughter. Up at the 9th green, Sweden’s Andrea Lignell (who hoofed a hilly course without a caddie, her bag slung over her shoulder) took relief from a cart path as her playing partner Latanna Stone, a Curtis Cupper from LSU, coached her through it. When an officious spectator suggested they call a rules official, Stone turned protective, saying, “She’s fine. She’s got this.” After Lignell made a twisty 8-footer to save par, Stone let out a little whoop. Behind the 18th green, a bubbly Christina Carroll, an engineering major at Delaware, was reliving her sightseeing excursions across L.A. when she noticed her playing partner Jieni Li sobbing softly outside the scoring area; Li, a Northwestern Wildcat by way of Hangzhou, China, had bogeyed the 18th hole to miss qualifying for match play by one stroke. Strangers two days earlier, Carroll wrapped Li in a big hug and whispered encouragement in her ear for a long time.

Carroll shot 78-71 to miss out on advancing to match play, but she says, “I am absolutely grateful to be here. I am so blessed to have this opportunity. L.A. is an exciting city, this golf course is amazing—no matter what the scores say, we’re all living the dream.”

Especially Briana Chacon, who earned medalist honors with rounds of 66-65. Informed she had set a stroke-play scoring record for a tournament that dates to 1895, Chacon (below) blurted, “Oh, my god, wow.” Caroline Canales, a fellow Southern California native, offered this scouting report of her friend: “She’s awesome. Very competitive, very tough. Yeah, she’s nails. Very strong, very powerful. [She plays] a big, big draw, big, high draw. I think she’s definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with later in the week.”

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A 10-for-9 playoff on Wednesday morning filled out the final spots in the 64-woman match play bracket, but plenty of keynote players had already made it through. Lignell, who finished third at this year’s ANWA, was the hottest golfer on the course for most of Tuesday as she birdied seven of her first 15 holes. A double bogey on 18 cooled off Lignell just a tad, but she still nabbed the second seed in match play with rounds of 68-65. Gianna Clemente, 15, of Estero, Fla., continued her scorching season with a 5-under 65 to take the No. 3 seed. Clemente, who qualified for the Women’s Am for the first time at age 11, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in April, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior last month and won the Junior PGA Championship last week. Davis, No. 4  in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, is also through, as is Kiara Romero, the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion.

The most inspiring stroke-play survivor is Stanford’s Rachel Heck. As a freshman in 2021 she won a school-record six tournaments and was the NCAA individual champ. As a sophomore she helped lead the Cardinal to a national championship. But three months after that crowning achievement, Heck (below) began suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which blood vessels and nerves are compressed between the first rib and collarbone. The pain, swelling and numbness became so acute that Heck opted to have the rib surgically removed. Between that long recovery and a training stint in the Army ROTC, Heck hadn’t played a tournament since last October. “My mindset is that I can only control what I can control, and I need to focus on that,” she says. “So much is out of my hands. I’m just going to put my head down and work. I have it in me. I’m a competitor. I’ve played a lot of rounds of golf in my life, so I’m just going to dig deep and find that and know that it’s in me even though it’s been a while.”

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It’s that kind of perspective and competitive spirit that has made this Women’s Am so refreshing. But now that match play is here, the energy changes a little bit. “I think it will definitely get more pressure-filled,” says UCLA’s Caroline Canales, the fifth seed. “Once the field decreases to 64 and then 32 it feels almost empty. It really amps up the pressure. It’s the U.S. Am—it’s always going to be pressure, but it’s fun, too.”

The USGA is a partner to the Fire Pit Collective but has no editorial oversight.

1 thought on “A Breath of Fresh Air”

  1. I turned on the coverage after work yesterday.
    They were having technical difficulties – so no commentary.
    Just the sounds of the course, crack of the ball, very little discussion with caddies, LA traffic, minimal crowd noise.
    It was engrossing.

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