Although Mariah Stackhouse was unable to capitalize on her first opportunity for a victory in her young pro career Sunday, her strong showing and runner-up finish in the Symetra Classic at Atlanta National left her with positive feelings going forward.
Stackhouse, who grew up in Riverdale on Atlanta’s south side and now lives in Alpharetta in the metro area’s northern suburbs, had the lead for much of the tournament, but lost a final round battle to Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen, the highest-ranked player in the field.
Madsen, ranked 79th in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, shot a final round 68 for an 11-under 205 total at one of the state’s most demanding courses, edging Stackhouse by two strokes.
The two players took turns leading after the first and second rounds, with Madsen opening with a 65 to lead Stackhouse by a shot before Stackhouse moved two ahead after 36 holes with a 69 the next day.
Although a few other players challenged for the lead in the final round, Stackhouse and Madsen were the only players to hold at least a share of the lead. With the two combining for eight birdies over the first 10 holes, there was constant change in the battle for the lead.
Madsen pulled ahead at the turn with four straight birdies at holes 6, 7, 8 and 9, the final four holes on the back nine for Atlanta National’s members. Stackhouse matched Madsen’s birdies at 6 and 8 to stay close, but missed a short birdie putt at the par-5 ninth, a long par 4 for the members, to temporarily lose her lead.
Stackhouse moved into a tie at the top with a birdie at the short par-4 10th after a precise approach shot, and regained the lead when Madsen three-putted the 11th for bogey. But Stackhouse retained her lead for only two holes, with bogeys at 14, 16 and 17 dropping her two behind Madsen going to the par-5 18th.
After a big drive and an excellent long iron approach, Stackhouse put herself in position for a possible eagle on the final hole and hopes of a playoff. But Madsen also gave herself a shot at eagle, with both two-putting for birdie. Stackhouse closed with a 72 for a 9-under 207 total.
Stackhouse admitted after the round she was “disappointed” that she didn’t win, but said she would take “nothing but positives” from her best tournament showing as a professional.
“I played well all week. I shot nine-under and that was my best performance. I haven’t been shooting those numbers. I have no regrets.”
Stackhouse was the leader in the clubhouse when she completed her 6-under 66 in the opening round, but Madsen passed her by playing her final four holes in 4-under with an eagle on the 18th for a 65. An eagle at the ninth and a birdie (almost an eagle) at the 18th highlighted a second round 69 for Stackhouse.
That put her two ahead of Madsen, who salvaged an even par 72 with birdies on her final two holes. She was still one ahead when things began to unravel on the uphill par-4 14th. For the second day in a row, Stackhouse hit her second shot to the severely elevated green past the putting surface, and missed her par attempt after a nice chip. The shot that hurt Stackhouse the most was her tee shot on the downhill par-4 16th, which came up well right of the fairway behind a tree and forced a sideways chip-out, resulting in a bogey.
That dropped Stackhouse one behind Madsen, with the lead growing to two when Stackhouse bogeyed the 17th, a long and difficult par 4. Stackhouse’s tee shot carried about three yards too far and wound up in a tough lie just off the fairway on the sharp dogleg right. She said her “club got stuck” in the rough as she attempted to hit a long iron close to a flag cut in the corner of the green behind a bunker.
The shot came up well short but Stackhouse almost saved par after an excellent pitch. Madsen missed the green wide right, but as she did for much of the round, displayed her deft short game to come away with a par and a 2-shot lead.
Madsen, the Rookie of the Year on the Ladies European Tour in 2015 and No. 6 in the LET Order of Merit last year with a victory, earned $22,500 for her Symetra Classic win and moved up to third on the money list. Stackhouse tied for second with Ecuador’s Daniela Darquea, who improved from fifth to second in earnings.
The top 10 on the money list at the end of the season are exempt on the LPGA Tour for 2018. With $12,507 for her share of second, Stackhouse is now 11th in earnings and well-positioned to make a run at the top 10.
Thailand’s Benyapa Niphatsophon remained No. 1 in earnings after her fifth place finish.
Stackhouse was not the only player from Georgia to post a top-10 finish, as Perry’s Avery George tied for ninth at 211 after scores of 71-70-70. Missing the cut were Druid Hills GC assistant Karen Paolozzi , Lavonia’s Jessica Welch, Newnan’s Jean Reynolds, Milledgeville’s Ashlan Ramsey and Jonesboro’s Lacey Agnew. Paolozzi, a sponsor exemption, and Welch, who got into the field as an alternate, missed by two shots and Reynolds missed by three.