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FRAMINGHAM, Massachusetts – The first of two days of the Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship was held on Wednesday at Framingham Country Club. This premier girls’ amateur championship features competitors who range in age from 9 to 18 who compete in four divisions over two days.
Competitors between the ages of 14 and 18 are taking part in 18 holes of stroke play in the Championship & Silver Divisions on both Wednesday and Thursday, while those under the age of 14 are featured in the Junior-Junior and Mite Divisions which includes 9 holes on each of the two days.
In addition to trophies awarded to the champions in each division, the competitor who shows the most improvement in score from day one to day two will be recognized with prizes. The overall most improved will also have their name engraved on the Pippy O’Connor Trophy.
See below for highlights from each of the four divisions.
Rebecca Skoler (Pine Brook CC) is making the most of her Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship debut.
Skoler, a 16-year-old from Needham who will be a junior at Beaver Country Day School in the fall, carded an even par 73 on Wednesday to jump out to a three-stroke lead heading into the second and final round of 18 holes on Thursday.
“I started off pretty calm, and I think I was hitting the ball really well,” said Skoler. “My putting wasn’t great, but I was hitting the ball well enough to make some short birdie putts. That worked well today.”
As part of the first group on the golf course, Skoler set the pace early by making par on her first six holes. She carded her first birdie of the day on the 321-yard, par 4 7th hole when she hit her approach to two feet.
Although she would follow that up with a bogey on the 111-yard, par 3 8th hole, she still made the turn at even par 36.
“It is very narrow, so if you hit it straight of the tee you can do pretty well,” said Skoler about the Framingham layout. “It’s not that long, but off the tee it is kind of challenging. If you play the course smart, then you can play well I think.”
Skoler’s course management skills were on full display on the back nine. She countered two bogies with birdies made on the 12th and 18th holes to post an even par round.
She now stands atop the leaderboard of a championship that until this year she had never even thought to enter
“I don’t know that I have ever been around for it or my dad even knew to sign me up,” said Skoler. “But once we heard about it and I found out that a lot of the girls that I play with in other events were playing in it, we signed up.”
Three strokes back of Skoler is a logjam of impressive talent. Four competitors – Molly Smith (Mount Pleasant GC), Morgan Smith (Mount Pleasant GC), Anne Walsh (The Country Club) and Kaitlynn Washburn (Scitutate CC) – all finished with scores of 3-over par 76.
Tied for sixth at 4-over par 77 are Emily Nash (Settlers Crossing) and Hannah Blonder (Norwood CC), both of whom advanced to the Championship Division match play at last week’s Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship.
“Today’s round I played OK, but I wasn’t super sharp,” said Nash, who earlier this summer made a commitment to play golf at Elon University. “I didn’t really have any huge mistakes. I was pretty consistent.”
In the 10-person Silver Division which included competitors with a Handicap Index of 10.1 or less, Emma Abramson (The Ridge Club) jumped out to a six-stroke lead after posting a score of 18-over par 91 on Wednesday.
A highlight of Abramson’s round came on the 329-yard, par 4 14th hole where she made birdie. It was one of just two birdies made on Wednesday by Silver Division competitors. The other birdie was scored by Ahria Desai (Nashawtuc CC).
In second place behind Abramson is Phoebe Chamian (Nashawtuc CC), while Keira Joshi (MIAA) and Alyssa Patterson (Norfolk GC) are in third and fourth place, respectively.
All competitors between the ages of 11 and 13 are competing for the Junior-Junior Division, which features 9-holes played on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Leading the charge with a score of 1-under par 35 is Olivia Arone (The Ridge Club), who finished as the only Junior-Junior Division golfer who was under par for the day. She began her round by making a seven-foot birdie putt on Framingham CC’s 1st hole. Although she would make three straight bogies beginning on the 2nd hole, Arone saved her best for last by playing her final four holes at 2-under par with birdies made on the 5th and 7th holes.
In second place with scores of 2-over par 38 are Jillian Johnson (Hatherly CC) and Erika Redmond (Shaker Hills CC). Johnson was 1-under par through her first three holes after carding a birdie on her second hole of the day. She was even par until she posted a double bogey on the 9th hole. Redmond, who was playing in the second Junior-Junior Division group of the day, registered birdies on her first two holes of the day en route to her T2 finish after day one.
Lily Nguyen (NEPGA Jr Tour) and Piper Jordan (Boston GC) are T4 at 3-over par 39, while Dixi Han (Cyprian Keyes GC) is in seventh place overall with a score of 7-over par 43.
The youngest golfers on the course – those who are ages 10 and under – took part in 9 holes on Wednesday in Framingham.
In first place following an impressive 2-under par 34 performance was Maddie Smith (Mount Pleasant GC). The 10-year-old made par on her first two holes before posting her first of two eagles on the day. She made eagle on the 3rd and 7th holes to go along with birdies made on the 5th and 9th holes.
Just one back of Smith is Kylie Heffernan (Twin Springs GC), who turned in a round-one score of 1-under par 35. Heffernan exploded out of the gates by carding birdie on four of her first five holes. Although she would make three bogies down the stretch, she still finished under par and stands second overall.
In what is the tightest divisional race following day one, Evelyn Parkerson (NEPGA Jr Tour) stands in third place with a score of 1-over par 37, while Champa Visetsi (MIAA) and Sophie Redmond (Shaker Hills CC) are close behind in fourth and fifth place.
More than 1,000 miles away from Framingham Country Club, a field of the world’s top female amateurs are competing for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Tennessee.
The starting field of 156 was reduced to just 64 on Tuesday for the start of match play and the buzz from that site has stretched across the nation.
Locally, the Bay State cheered on Dover’s Sophie DiPetrillo, who made birdie on four of her first five holes on day one before succumbing to a challenging CC of Tennessee layout. Another golfer with Bay State roots – Alexa Pano – has continued her march into match play less than a month after finishing as runner-up at the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship. Pano resides in Florida, but she was born in Westborough and was raised for a short time in Massachusetts.
In Framingham, the excitement over women’s golf was palpable as a record number of young competitors are featured in this year’s Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship. It’s no surprise given that a recent industry report noted that girls under the age of 18 represent the fastest growing sector in the U.S. golf population since 2010.
“The number of young girls who we have seen begin to play in organized events has been increasing rapidly,” said Cathleen Beach, Mass Golf’s Director of Women’s Events & Player Development. “It is so rewarding to see that golf has become a part of their lives at an early age and is continuing through the high school and college years.”
To Beach’s point, last week’s Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship featured more high school and collegiate competitors than ever before with many of those same young competitors making the trek to Framingham this week.
“I feel like when I was younger there were a few girls, but now when I come to these events I see so many more younger kids coming out and it’s definitely nice,” said Emily Nash, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2018 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship. “I also feel like they can watch the LPGA and these girls doing really well and they have role models to look up to.”
Included in the list of notable standout competitors who are on site this week and represent the bright future of women’s golf are Nash, Hannah Blonder, Anne Walsh and Alia Godek. All four competitors advanced to match play in the Championship Flight last week.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Golf Association and Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts successfully merged to become one entity known as Mass Golf. The bringing together of two organizations with a combined 200 years of history represented a key moment for Bay State golf.
“The merger was important because it put us in a better position to represent golf as a whole,” said Beach, who previously had served as executive director of the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts. “As one organization, we are able to pool all of our resources to give more golfers – both male and female – a chance to play and an opportunity to make golf a part of their lives from the youngest to the oldest players.”
Mass Golf is now able to offer experiences for all types of golfers. The more elite players can test their skills at USGA qualifiers held across the state and Mass Golf Championships such as the Women’s Amateur Championship. Those looking for less competitive experiences have a wealth of options (all located under the PLAY section at MassGolf.org) that includes Women’s Tournaments, Team Tournaments and one-day Member Days.
There are also other organized groups that are making a difference at the grass-roots level. The Girls Independent Golf League (GIGL) is a program that runs one-day events for girls of all skill levels and ages was founded by one of this week’s participants – Jillian Barend – along with her parents and sister Sara.
“We get about 200 at every tournament which is really great to see,” said Barend, who notes that GIGL promotes a fun, all-girls team setting. “When I started playing golf it was just me and a bunch of boys, so it is a lot different now. It is good to see a lot more girls play.”
Most of the GIGL one-day Jamborees are held at The Links at Mass Golf, which is owned and operated by Mass Golf and serves as headquarters for The First Tee of Massachusetts program.
“What we have tried to do is implement the idea of team,” said Barend, a junior at North Attleboro High School who was named a Boston Globe 2017 Girls’ Golf All-Scholastic after becoming the first-ever girl member of the boys’ varsity team. “I think that it resonates with a lot of girls because they feel like they are part of a team or community and that kind of helps them.”
Considering that the average age at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship this year was 19.53, the future for girls’ golf is clearly bright.
“Just a few years ago there would be no one playing in these tournaments, and now there are so many more girls than I can imagine,” said Rebecca Skoler, the Championship Division first-round leader. “Also, the LPGA is growing and there is a lot more interest in it so that is really cool to see especially as we are growing up. Everything is also getting so much more competitive.”
Birdies & Smiles: Whenever day-one leader Rebecca Skoler makes a birdie, a huge smile appears on her face but it’s not just for the reason most would think. For every birdie that Skoler makes, donations are made to support the B Fund, an organization that raises funds and awareness for families caring for critically ill children. Skoler launched the fundraising program through the American Junior Golf Association’s Achieving Competitive Excellence Grant Program and to date has raised more than $15,000.
“It’s something that my family started years ago,” said Skoler. “It’s something that I love to do. Every time I make a birdie I think that I raised $150 for the B Fund. I always think about that when I play.”
GIGL Leader: In addition to performing well on the course, Jillian Barend is making a difference growing the game. Barend, along with her parents Dave and Sara and sister Sara, founded the Girls Independent Golf League (GIGL), which has grown to become one the fastest growing girls-only golf leagues in the region. Each all-day golf event typically draws more than 200 girls aged 4 to 18. Most of the Jamborees are held at The Links of Mass Golf, a par-3 facility in Norton which is home to The First Tee of Massachusetts.
Seeing Smith Triple: Viewers of the leaderboard were seeing triple on Wednesday. A total of three Smith girls are included in this year’s Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship field. Morgan Smith and Molly Smith are competing in the Championship Division, while Maddie Smith currently stands atop the Mite Division leaderboard. The Smith family has taken the local golf scene by storm in recent years. Their father Phil Smith won the 2007 Massachusetts Mid-Amateur Championship, and – dating back to 2014 – Morgan and Molly have teamed with their father on three occasions to win divisional titles at the Massachusetts Father & Daughter Championship.
Missing in Action: One name that was originally on the starting times sheet but disappeared come Wednesday morning was Angela Garvin, a winner of this event in 2015 and 2016. Seven days removed from advancing to the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, Garvin withdrew from this week’s event due to an injured wrist. Garvin, who will be entering her senior year at Agawam High School, made a verbal commitment to play Division I women’s golf at the University of Maryland last fall.
Past Champions: With the absence of Angela Garvin, Emily Nash is the lone past champion of the Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship. One year ago, Nash defeated Anne Walsh in a one-hole playoff at South Shore Country Club to claim the 87th title. Other 2017 divisional champions in the field this week include Eleanor Parkerson (Junior-Junior) and Champa Vizetsin (Mite).