Scores 3rd win in event with 5-stroke margin…
Margaret Shirley’s third Georgia Women’s Open title came in significantly easier fashion than her first two.
Shirley, who won the tournament in 2006 and ’08, claimed her third title with a decisive 5-stroke victory in the 2013 Volvik Georgia Women’s Open at Brookfield Country Club. Shirley finished with a 36-hole total of 6-under 138, five shots ahead of Carmen Bandea, who claimed low professional honors, and Jessica Haigwood.
In her first victory at Canongate-on-White Oak, Shirley needed a playoff to win. Two years later, she scored a narrow 1-shot victory at Summer Grove. Her recent win was not nearly as closely contested, as she pulled away from her only two challengers midway through the final round.
Shirley, who is the Manager of Rules and Competitions at Atlanta Junior Golf, had played only one competitive round of golf in almost a year, a U.S. Amateur qualifier several weeks earlier.
Work responsibilities have limited Shirley’s playing schedule in recent years. She had not competed since almost reaching match play in the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur. At the time, Shirley was an assistant coach on the Auburn women’s team, but left that job earlier this year after encountering health issues that prevented her from traveling.
Shirley’s health concerns have since abated, and she has joined the Atlanta Junior Golf staff, where she helps run the organization’s extensive tournament schedule.
“I love what I do with Atlanta Junior Golf,” Shirley said after her victory. “It’s a great organization.
“Junior golf is so important. It’s the future of the game. And Atlanta Junior Golf is where I got my start.”
Shirley grew up in east Cobb in a golf family and was one of the state’s top juniors before enjoying a successful college golf career at Auburn. She played briefly as a professional before working as an assistant coach at Georgia and Auburn for two years each.
Both of Shirley’s wins in the Georgia Women’s Open came while she was a member of the women’s golf team at Auburn. She came close to winning in 2010 while she was a coach at Georgia, finishing one shot behind Emilie Burger, a member of the Georgia team at the time.
From 2003-10, Shirley finished 5th or better every year in the Georgia Women’s Open except ’09, when she placed 7th. She missed the 2011 and ’12 tournaments because of the tournament’s residency rule, but once she returned to Georgia, became eligible for this year’s event.
Shirley took the lead after the first round after a 4-under 68, with Haigwood (69) and Bandea (70) joining her in the final group the second day.
“I got off to a strong start,” she said of her opening round, which began with three consecutive birdies on holes 10, 11 and 12.
“I cooled off a little bit after that,” she added, but managed three more birdies in her round against two bogeys for her 4-under score.
Haigwood, a Roswell resident who played her high school golf at Brookfield, birdied four of her first six holes in the opening round and matched Shirley’s total of six birdies on the day, shooting 69 with three bogeys. Haigwood will be a freshman on the Augusta State women’s team this Fall.
Bandea, a Johns Creek resident, also had six birdies in her opening round of 70, including all three par 5s on Brookfield’s back nine. All six of her birdies came on the first 12 holes of the round, but she played her last six in 1-over. Bandea, who has enjoyed some success on the Canadian Women’s Tour, has played well in the Georgia Women’s Open, with seven finishes of 7th or better in the tournament, including five top 4s since 2007. She lost in a playoff at White Oak in ‘07.
Haigwood briefly took the lead in the final round when she birdied the opening hole and Shirley bogeyed. But Haigwood quickly gave the lead back when she took double bogey on the difficult second hole, and Shirley reclaimed the lead for good.
Shirley increased her lead to two when she hit the flagstick with her approach on the par-4 fifth after her tee shot sailed well to the right, leaving her a sharply uphill second, which wound up about four feet from the cup. She reached the par-5 sixth in two, with Haigwood and Bandea matching Shirley’s birdie to remain two and three strokes off the lead, respectively.
Two more outstanding second shots produced short birdie putts for Shirley on holes 7 and 9, increasing her lead to four as the group made the turn. Both Haigwood and Bandea carded birdies on the short, par-4 10th, with Bandea holing a long putt over a ridge and Haigwood almost driving the green.
But Bandea bogeyed both the 11th and 12th, while Haigwood’s hopes of victory ended when she hooked two drives out of bounds on the 12th and wound up with a 9 on the par 4.
Left with a 5-stroke margin, Shirley played her last six holes in even par, offsetting a sloppy bogey on the par-5 14th with her second birdie in two days on the long, par-4 17th.
Bandea also birdied the 17th, but had to settle for a tie for 2nd when she missed a short par putt on the par-5 18th while Haigwood birdied. Haigwood was 2-under after her quintuple bogey on the 12th, coming right back with a birdie at the dangerous 13th.
“I can’t complain,” Shirley said of her play in the tournament. “I’m just getting back out and playing. It’s fun.”
Shirley said her inaction was due largely to her schedule while she was coaching at Auburn, with her current job at Atlanta Junior Golf presenting her with more playing opportunities.
Having played so sparingly over the past year, Shirley said she adopted a “nothing to lose” outlook on her tournament appearance, and responded with a strong effort considering her minimal recent competitive experience.
When she wound up with a sizeable lead midway through the final round, Shirley said she “tried not to think about it.
“You can get too defensive in that situation,” she said, proving her point with her bogey at the 14th. But she played solidly after that, highlighted by the birdie at the 17th, where she barely cleared a greenside bunker on her second shot and got a favorable bounce off the downslope.
“I got some lucky breaks,” Shirley offered, with her key birdie on the seventh aided by a friendly roll off the ridge behind the hole location.
Tying for 4th at 148 were pro Mari Chun of Alpharetta and amateur Mercedes Huarte of Suwanee. Pro Sue Martin of Norcross and amateur Danielle Davis of St. Simons Island tied for 6th at 149.
Defending champion Kendall Wright of Duluth, who is playing on the Symmetra Tour, tied for 10th at 154 after shooting 81 in the second round. Wright, who won by four shots last year at Callaway Gardens, carded four birdies on her opening nine in a 73 the first day. But she managed just one birdie the final round, which included two triple bogeys and a double bogey.
Brookfield, which hosted an LPGA Tour event in the 1970s and ‘80s, provided the tournament participants with an outstanding venue, and Volvik’s presence as title sponsor was a promising development for the tournament, which has struggled to attract the state’s top female players in recent years.