Cobb County native Margaret Shirley reached the finals of the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship for the third straight year, but came away with her second tough loss in the title match.
Shirley, the Executive Director of Atlanta Junior Golf, lost 2&1 in the finals in Louisiana to Virginian Lauren Greenlief, who was seeded second among the 64 players who advanced to match play. Shirley, the fourth seed, was just the eighth female and 12th player in USGA history to reach the finals of the same event three consecutive years.
Among the other players who have made it to three straight USGA finals are Bob Jones, Tiger Woods, Hollis Stacy and Juli Inkster.
Shirley, the defending champion, tied for fourth in stroke play qualifying and easily won her first match 6&5 before scoring a narrow 1-up victory in the second round. Shirley was 2-down after 9 holes before winning four of the next seven.
After a decisive 4&2 win in the third round, Shirley was all square after 11 holes in the quarterfinals, but won three of the next five holes for a 3&2 victory. Shirley again fell 2-down in the semifinals, but won holes 8, 9 and 11 to go 1-up and closed out the match with a birdie on the par-5 17th, her third winning birdie of the match on a par 5.
That sent Shirley into the finals against Greenlief, who turned 25 shortly before the tournament to reach the age minimum. Greenlief threatened to blow the match open early, winning three of the first six holes, two with birdies, while Shirley needed clutch par putts to halve the other three.
Shirley won holes 8 and 12 to close the gap, and had a chance to pull even but missed an 8-foot birdie putt at the 14th and a 3-footer for par at the 15th. Greenlief won the match when she rolled in a birdie putt of some 35 feet at the 17th, with Shirley missing from inside 15 feet in an attempt to send the match to the 18th.
Shirley played her college coach at Auburn and was an assistant on both the Georgia and Auburn women’s teams before joining the staff of Atlanta Junior Golf. She played briefly as a pro and won two mini-tour events in Florida, but regained her amateur status, and won her third Georgia Women’s Open title in 2013.
Suwanee resident Mercedes Huarte reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s Mid-Am before losing 1-up to Greenlief. Huarte, seeded 10th after stroke play qualifying, won her first two matches 7&6 and 4&3 before rallying from 2-down after 11 holes to win on the 19th hole in the third round. Huarte won five holes against Greenlief and was all square after 13, but Greenlief won holes 14 and 15.
Also qualifying for match play was St. Simons’ Danielle Davis, who lost 3&2 in the first round. Deb Jackson of Johns Creek, Jiropon Carlson of Macon, Sue Rheney of Greensboro and Beth Williams of Atlanta all competed in the tournament, but did not advance to match play.
Pictor wins 3 in Women’s Senior
Marietta’s Brenda Pictor reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur in Nashville, losing 2&1 after a late comeback came up short. Pictor lost holes 9, 10, 11 and 12 to fall 5-down, but won three of the next four holes to make it to the 17th.
Pictor, seeded 46th in the 64-player field, was 1-down after 14 holes in her opening match, but won holes 15, 16 and 17 to win 2&1. She led 4-up after 12 and won 2-up in the second round before an easy 6&5 win over the No. 3 seed in the third round. Pictor was 2-up at the turn before winning the next four holes to close out the match.
Augusta’s Laura Coble earned the fourth seed and went 19 holes in each of her first two matches, winning the first and losing the second. Coble was 2-down after five holes in the first round, won five holes – three with birdies – to take the lead before losing the 18th to send the match to extra holes. She was 2-down after 10 holes the next day, won holes 11 and 13 to pull even and birdied the 18th to extend the match.
Cheryl Grigg of Sea Island was the 13th seed but lost her first round match. Leslie Elkins of Roswell and Bonnie Grizzard both competed in the tournament, but did not qualify for match play.
Leonard, Hall win U.S. Senior matches
Bill Leonard of Dallas and Jack Hall of Sea Island advanced to the third round of the U.S. Senior Amateur in New Jersey, as did former Georgia Amateur champion Rick Cloninger, now living in South Carolina.
Hall tied for fifth in stroke play qualifying, with Cloninger tying for 12th and Leonard 16th along with Athens’ Doug Stiles and Savannah’s Doug Hanzel. Also qualifying for match play were Atlanta’s Mark Burden, Peachtree City’s Jack Kearney and Marietta’s Jeff Belk.
In his opening match, Hall won holes 16 and 17 after trailing 1-down to win 1-up, and took his second match in 20 holes before losing 1-up to the 10th seed who went on to reach the finals. Leonard won 2-up in the first round and birdied the 19th hole to knock out the No. 17 seed the next day. He was 1-up after 11 holes against the No. 1 seed in the third round, but lost 1-up.
Cloninger drew Belk in the first round, with Cloninger winning 1-up. Belk won holes 4, 5 and 6 to lead 2-up before Cloninger took the next three holes to regain the lead. Cloninger won his second match 3&1 before losing on the 20th hole in the third round.
Kearney also won his opening match 2&1, taking a 4-up lead after 11 before losing the next three holes. He won the 15th with a birdie and held on for the win before losing 3&2 to the No. 1 seed in the second round.
In other first round matches, Burden lost 3&2, Stiles lost 2&1 and Hanzel fell 5&4 to Paul Simson in a battle of former Senior Amateur champions. Augusta’s John Gibbs and Atlanta’s Jorge Cora failed to advance to match play.
Noll takes 2 Mid-Am matches
Dalton’s David Noll reached the third round of the U.S Mid-Amateur Championship in Vero Beach, Fla., the best showing of five Georgians to advance to match play.
Also making it through stroke play qualifying was Alpharetta’s Bob Royak, former tour players Rob Butler and Michael Pearson of Atlanta, and Mark Harrell of Lookout Mountain.
Noll, seeded 29th, won his first two matches 4&2 and 3&1, taking four of the first six holes and carding six birdies in the second round. He failed to make a birdie in the third round and lost 3&2.
Royak won his first match on the 19th hole after leading 2-up after 12. He won holes 15 and 16 in the second round to take a 1-up lead, but lost holes 17 and 18 to an eagle and a birdie and was eliminated 1-up.
Pearson made a stirring comeback in his opening 1-up victory, going eagle-birdie-par-birdie on holes 14, 15, 16 and 17 to erase a 3-down deficit, and closing with a birdie at 18 to halve the hole and win the match. He was all square after seven holes in the second round, but lost the next three holes and dropped a 3&2 decision.
Harrell knocked out the No. 7 seed 1-up in the first round with a winning birdie at the 18th, but lost 1-up in the second round after leading 1-up after 15. Butler fell well behind early in his first round match and lost 3&2.
Also qualifying for the tournament but failing to reach match play were Matthew Swan and Jack Larkin of Atlanta, Rob Benton of Douglas, Scotty Scott of Hoschton, Travis Steed of Macon, Dave Womack of McDonough and Fred Rescigno of Suwanee.