Margaret Shirley reached the finals of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, losing in 19 holes in the championship match to Julia Potter, who was the qualifying medalist with Shirley placing 3rd.
This year, Shirley was the qualifying medalist with Potter taking third. The two players again made it to the championship match, with Shirley reversing the 2013 outcome.
Shirley, an Atlanta native and resident, scored a 5&3 victory in the recent finals in Indiana , becoming the second Georgian in two years to win a USGA title. Savannah’s Doug Hanzel won the 2013 U.S. Senior Amateur.
“It’s surreal,” Shirley said after her victory. “It just doesn’t feel real right now. It’s obviously the pinnacle of our sport, a USGA championship. To be able to say I’m a USGA champion now is incredible. It really is.”
Shirley has been a fixture in golf in the Atlanta area since she was one of the state’s top junior players. She played her college golf at Auburn and played briefly as a professional before regaining her amateur status.
After abandoning a career as a professional, Shirley turned to college coaching, and worked as an assistant at both Georgia and her alma mater before joining the staff of Atlanta Junior Golf as its Manager of Rules and Competition.
Shirley, who played her high school golf at Lassiter in east Cobb, has won the Georgia Women’s Open three times, most recently in 2013, with her first two wins coming while she was a member of the Auburn golf team.
After winning the second of her three Georgia Women’s Open titles in 2008, Shirley turned pro and enjoyed some success at the mini-tour level. She won two tournaments in Florida, but barely made enough to cover expenses. After playing professionally for six months, she decided that wasn’t for her.
“I love golf, but knowing you still have championships like this to compete in, it was kind of an easy decision for me to go get a real job, so to speak, but still be able to compete,” Shirley said. “It’s hard, because a lot of players coming out of college that have played forever, some of them just might not know what else to do.
“I just hope people see that you still have opportunities to play golf. You’re just not having to base your living off of it or how much money you’re going to have off how you play, which is really nice. If I won today, great; if I didn’t, that’s OK, too. I still have a job to go to on Monday.”
Shirley was just the fourth stroke play medalist to win the U.S, Women’s Mid-Amateur, repeating Potter’s feat of 2013. It was the third time in USGA history that two finalists met in a rematch the next year.
From start to finish, it was an exceptional week of golf for Shirley, who shot 73-69—142 (2-under par) to earn medalist honors in stroke play qualifying. The 69 was the lowest score in the tournament and tied for the second lowest in tournament history. Her 142 total also tied for second best all time in the event.
Only three players shot even par 144 or lower, with Potter 3rd at 144. The next lowest score in qualifying was 151.
Shirley opened match play against a player she defeated by 21 strokes in qualifying, but had to go to the 18th hole to score a 2-up victory. Shirley was 3-up after playing the front nine in 2-under, but bogeyed holes 10, 11 and 12 to lose all three. Shirley parred in from there, winning the 15th to go 1-up and the 18th to close out the match.
The second round match for Shirley was not nearly as stressful, as she birdied four holes on the front nine to take a 5-up lead at the turn, winning 5&4.
Shirley’s toughest match came in the third round against Tobi Herron, one of two Indiana residents she faced en route to her title.
After Shirley birdied the par-5 sixth to go 1-up, Herron won the next three holes – the first two with birdies – to take a 2-up lead after nine. But three straight pars at 10, 11 and 12 all won holes for Shirley, as she took a 1-up lead. Shirley parred all eight holes played on the back nine, taking a 2-up lead at the 16th and ending the match on the next hole.
Shirley never trailed in her quarterfinal match against No. 8 seed Debbie Adams of Asheville, N.C., but again had to go 18 holes to win 2-up. Shirley had 2-up leads three times, but Adams birdied holes 12 and 13 to pull even. Shirley, who bogeyed both holes, also made bogey on holes 14 and 15, but Herron matched those bogeys.
A birdie at the 16th put Shirley back in front, and she closed out her win with a par on the par-3 18th while Adams made double bogey.
Shirley faced 4-time tournament champion Meghan Stasi in the semifinals, but Shirley’s steady play was more than Stasi could match. Shirley won 5&4 despite not making a birdie, scoring pars on 13 of 14 holes and winning six of them.
The match was also a repeat of last year’s semifinals, with Shirley narrowly advancing in extra holes. Staisi led 2-up with two holes to play, but Shirley won both 17 and 18 before winning the 19th hole to reach the finals
After inclement weather halted their semifinal rematch after nine holes, Shirley won holes 10, 11 and 12 the next morning to go 5-up, with her only bogey coming on the 13th. Shirley lost that hole, but parred the 14th to win the hole and the match.
Potter defeated Shirley on the 19th hole in the championship match last year in Asheville, and had the home state edge for the rematch. Shirley had the lead late in last year’s match, but Potter won on the first extra hole.
Shirley was in control from the outset, starting birdie-birdie-par to go 2-up after three holes. Potter won the fourth hole with a par, but a birdie at the short, par-4 seventh helped give Shirley a 2-up lead at the turn. Shirley won holes 10 and 11 with a par and birdie, and also won two of the last three holes to finish off her decisive victory.
As soon as she saw the match play bracket that included Potter in the opposite half, Shirley was looking for a championship rematch.
“Obviously after last year, I was kind of hungry and was really ready to get back to this championship and give it another go. Match play is so funny. You just never know how it’s going to go, so just to be in the finals again is a huge accomplishment.
“But to come away with a win today is unreal.”
Shirley was asked if she had any memory of last year’s title match, and admitted her recall of it was minimal.
“To be quite honest, I couldn’t even remember last year’s match – what we were at the turn or anything. I had no clue. I was trying to think actually out there. I was like, ‘I wonder where I was this time last year’?
“We had a great match and I ended up poorly. That’s the only thing I can remember other than Julia’s unbelievable bunker shot on 18. I do remember that.”
Shirley will likely be able to recall the details of this year’s match against Potter much more clearly.