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HYDE PARK, Massachusetts – The first day of the 115th Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship was held on Monday at George Wright Golf Course. Following 18 holes of stroke play in Hyde Park, the starting field of 65 golfers was reduced to the low 32 scorers who will now advance to Championship Flight Match Play on July 31. The final four spots in the Championship Flight were determined by a six-for-four playoff held this afternoon. The next lowest 32 competitors have advanced to the President’s Cup Flight.
Weather permitting, the round of 32 for both the Championship & President’s Cup Flights will be contested on Tuesday at George Wright GC. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will take place on Wednesday with the semifinals and finals coming on Thursday. Both the semifinals and finals will be 18-hole matches. In the event of a tied match, the winner shall be decided immediately by a hole-by-hole play-off.
The Championship Flight matches will begin at 8:00 a.m. with the top seed – Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea GC) taking on Cheryl Krueger (Orchards GC). The first President’s Cup Flight match is set for 10:40 a.m. That match will feature Meg Watson (Crumpin-Fox Club) against Linda Goulet (Presidents GC). Top-seeded Rachel Bechard (Ludlow CC) had a bye in the round of 32.
When it comes to winning championships, every bit of preparation and information is critical. There are few competitors in this year’s field who know that better than Shannon Johnson, which is why the Thorny Lea GC member made sure to get a look at the George Wright GC layout prior to today’s first round.
“Luckily we were able to get out last Monday and take a peek at the course,” said Johnson who already this year has won the Edith Noblit Baker Trophy and the NEWGA Championship. “Being able to play it was huge. The people who went around and looked at it had less of an advantage. You need to know exactly where you are going to hit the ball and where you are going to drive it because there are some blind tee shots. You need to know where to hit it.”
The advance knowledge of the Hyde Park course served Johnson well on Monday. She finished with a score of 1-under par 71 to capture stroke-play medalist honors and earn the top seed in the Championship Flight. Her round – the only under-par round of the day – featured three birdies on the front nine.
“It was kind of an interesting round,” said Johnson. “I hit some good shots and not so good shots. I missed some putts, and I made some putts. I didn’t even know how I stood once we got onto the back nine, and then I grinded out some pars and got in with 1 under.”
After making birdie on her very first hole of the day, Johnson scrambled to save par on her second hole and then almost turned in a birdie on the 450-yard, par 4 3rd hole. A bogey on the 5th hole was quickly erased by birdies made on the 7th and then on the 9th hole where she sent her approach from the right rough to 10 feet.
“It was a good way to start,” said Johnson, who just last week came up one stroke short to finish second at the Ouimet Memorial Tournament. “It was really good to get that one on 9 because it was a really tough pin from where I drove the ball. It was good, and I am happy.”
Although she would not make another birdie on the day, Johnson posted a 2-under par 34 at the turn and then held strong on the back nine with one bogey and eight pars. She finished two strokes ahead of her next closest competitors.
“Getting it in the fairway and having a good opportunity to stick it close is huge especially in match play,” said Johnson, who advanced to the finals of the 2016 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship. “The more times you are in the fairway the better just to get under your opponent’s skin a little bit. It doesn’t ever have to be too flashy.”
Finishing T2 at 1-over par 73 were Claire Sheldon (The Country Club) and Krystal Knight (North Andover CC), while Sue Curtin (Boston GC) was the lone player to post a 2-over par 74. Four competitors – Emily Nash (Settlers Crossing GC), Makenzie Curtis (Boston GC), Pam Kuong (Charles River CC) and Anne Walsh (The Country Club) – are T5 with scores of 3-over par 75.
Looking to derail Johnson’s momentum over the next three days is a strong field competing in the Championship Flight division. One competitor who was one of four to finish at 1-over par 73 during the stroke-play portion of the event is Claire Sheldon.
In addition to being a past champion (she won this event in 2007 and 2012), Sheldon has added motivation and an extra large fan base in town this week to support her. While the visitors will no doubt be on course cheering her along as she takes on Alia Godek (Agawam) in the round of 32 on Tuesday morning, they have actually made the trek for another reason – to attend Sheldon’s wedding on Saturday at The Country Club.
“I have a lot going on,” said Sheldon with a smile. “We really planned ahead. My mom and my sister were total champs. They slaved away the last two weekends to get all of the details finalized, so I actually feel like I am free to just go play golf. There is not a whole lot else I have to worry about. Life is really good.”
When Sheldon and her fiancé Patrick became engaged last December, they also had to factor in a move to Australia. Without consulting the golf schedule, the couple secured the wedding date at The Country Club – August 4th – and then scheduled movers for the following Monday. The Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship – an event she had advanced to the semifinals in just one year ago – was originally not in the conversation, but plans quickly changed as the summer approached.
“I wanted life to take the priority over golf so I was like I don’t need to play in the state championship this year. If it doesn’t work that is fine,” said Sheldon, a 2010 graduate of Harvard University where she was four-year member of the women’s golf team. “So we chose the date and my fiancé was the one who said you should totally play. How cool would that be if you do well and do that right before the wedding. It would be awesome. I thought it over and decided to go for it.”
With the wedding and cross-continental move covered and a free mind to play the game she loves, Sheldon has embraced the opportunity. This past weekend, she captured the women’s club championship at The Country Club and on Monday she posted the second-best score of the day, a 1-over par 73 to secure the xx seed in the Championship Flight.
“Somehow the game feels OK right now, and I’ll take whatever we get,” said Sheldon. “One thing thing I think is helpful is that while I hate losing and I definitely don’t want to lose, if I don’t win I am like, ‘great I get to go hang out with my family’. Everybody is going to be here, so having that alleviates some of the pressure.”
A native of Milton, Sheldon spent three years as the Assistant Women’s Golf Coach at Harvard University before launching Prospective Student-Athlete College in 2015 which advises and mentors prospective student-athletes throughout their college recruiting and selection process.
Following her wedding on Saturday, Sheldon will embark on her honeymoon and then begin her transition to married life in Australia. She hopes that they will be able to return home for several months each summer, but those thoughts are not top of mind.
Right now, Sheldon is simply enjoying every single minute of this week.
One day after losing in the finals of her club championship, Anne Walsh of The Country Club had a lot to smile about.
The rising junior at Boston Latin High School delivered the shot of the day – a hole in one on the 128-yard, par 3 4th hole. The ace helped her secure a T5 overall position following Monday’s round an an eighth-seed in the Championship Flight.
“It landed about four or five feet short and rolled maybe a foot and went in,” said Walsh. “I knew I hit it well, but I thought that it was going to be a little short because there was a little bit of wind in my face, but I was happy when it went in.”
It marks the first time in her golf career that the 16 year old from Jamaica Plain has ever enjoyed such a moment.
“I have never had a hole in one, and I have never seen one before either so it was exciting,” said Walsh. “It was nice because I had just made two bogies the last two holes, so suddenly I was even for the day.”
One year ago, Walsh advanced to Championship Flight match play and won her first match before being defeated in the round of 16 by Pam Kuong. Later that summer, Walsh would finish second – following a sudden-death playoff – to Emily Nash at the 2017 Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship.
A perennial standout for the Boston Latin High School golf school (in 2017 she finished second at the Massachusetts Interstate Athletic Association’s Girls’ Golf State Championship), Walsh is hoping that her ace today is a sign of great things to come.
“I think that my game is feeling pretty good this week,” said Walsh. “I played Friday, Saturday and Sunday [in the club championship], so I feel like that was a good warmup for this. I played well. I played Claire Sheldon in the finals yesterday. She was 1 under, and she won. She played really well, but we had a fun match.”
While attention will shift to match play beginning on Tuesday morning, a special ceremony will take place to honor those day-one top performers
In addition to Shannon Johnson receiving recognition for finishing as stroke-play medalist with a score of 1-under par 71, Erin O’Hara (Worcester CC) was awarded with Osgood Memorial Cup which is presented to the competitor with the low net qualifying score. O’Hara, who resides in Shrewsbury, finished with a net score of 3-under par 69 to finish one stroke ahead of Kim Walecka (CC of New Bedford).
O’Hara, who finished with a gross score of 7-over par 79 and will compete in the Championship Flight bracket on Tuesday, comes from a family of golfers. Her brothers Terry and John were both longtime golf professional at Cyprian Keyes Golf Club. One year ago, John was named head men’s golf coach at Assumption College.
A highlight of O’Hara’s round on Monday was an eagle (gross) on the 422-yard, par 5 7th hole. It was one of only four eagles scored by any competitor in the field on Monday.
O’Hara did not compete in last year’s Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, but two years ago she advanced to Championship Flight match play as the No. 31 seed where she was defeated by Allison Paik in the round of 32. She also fell in the round of 32 in 2015.
Fifteen minutes before play officially began at the 115th Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, a crowd of spectators, competitors, participants from The First Tee of Massachusetts and representatives from Mass Golf and the City of Boston gathered around the first tee for a historic moment.
Anne Marie Tobin, a seven-time winner of the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship, was on hand Monday to strike what was the first-ever ceremonial first drive to kick off the 115th playing of the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship.
“Anne Marie Tobin has been a trailblazer for Mass Golf,” said Jesse Menachem, Mass Golf’s Executive Director/CEO during the opening ceremonies. “She has done so much in many different ways and her impact has been realized both on and off the course. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have her as part of the Bay State golf scene and to be a part of this historic week.”
Despite not having played golf – competitive or recreational – in more than 10 years, time appeared to stand still at 7:45 a.m. when Tobin struck a perfect drive down the fairway which drew huge applause from the crowd that had made its way to Hyde Park this morning.
“I hit a couple of balls over there earlier and I don’t think that they went 20 yards combined, so you all brought me good luck,” said the always humble Tobin, who stands as the winningest female golfer in Massachusetts history.”
In addition to capturing the Women’s Amateur Championship a record seven times (1988, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’95 and 2000), including a string of five-straight victories from 1991 to 1995, Tobin claimed seven Grace Keyes Cup titles over a span of 18 years and was the Women’s Player of the Year in 1994, 1995 and 2000. She was officially inducted into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame in 2016.
While her performance on the golf course has been unmatched, her advocacy for the game off the course has been equally impactful. She stands as the first woman elected outright to what was formerly called the MGA Executive Committee and also was the first woman to complete a full two-year term as president of the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund. In 2008, she was bestowed the Ouimet Fund’s Richard F. Connolly, Jr. Distinguished Service Award.
During the opening ceremonies on Monday, Tobin reflected on the work that was done by a small group of women nearly 25 years ago. At that time, what was then called the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts (WGAM) began talks about merging with the Massachusetts Golf Association (MGA). Although the efforts at that time did not lead to any major change, it no doubt set the stage for what transpired on January 1, 2018 when the two organizations were merged as one as Mass Golf.
“I know that on January 1st when the merger was official it was a big day for a lot of us,” said Tobin. “I want to congratulate Mass Golf for doing what they are doing. This is such an innovative concept to come to one of the best courses in Massachusetts and have these women have the treat of playing such a beautiful Donald Ross golf course.”
On hand to witness the ceremonial first drive were Dennis Roache, the Director of Administration of Boston Parks & Recreation Department at the City of Boston, as well as Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.
Summer Concert Series Continues Thursday: Following the conclusion of the final match on Thursday afternoon, the celebration will continue with a free summer concert show sponsored by the City of Boston. The featured performer will be singer-songwriter Ava Suppelsa (@AvaSuppelsa). Suppelsa’s show is part of the 2018 Summer Concert Series at George Wright GC. Click here to learn more about the 2018 Summer Concert Series.
Quotable: Defending Champion Hannah Ghelfi on posting a 4-over par 76 after never having played the course before today: “It’s definitely tricky. I wasn’t able to play a practice round, and I paid the price. I tripled the 5th hole. You have to hit it straight and you have to hit your target. It will be a really good course for match play.”
Spotted on Site: Lee Khang, father of Rockland native Megan Khang who currently competes on the LPGA Tour, was on site at George Wright GC Monday serving as caddy for Gabrielle Shieh. While his daughter is competing on the professional circuit, Khang is currently serving as an instructor for Shieh as well as several other young rising high school players. In June, Megan Khang finished tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open, earning $104,505 and vaulting her over a $1 million in career earnings.
Kudos to The First Tee Kids: A handful of participants from The First Tee of Massachusetts took a front row seat during the first round of play. The youngsters, who take part in summer programming at William J. Devine Golf Course, served as assistants at the starter’s tent and scoring stations and took tours of the course with Mass Golf rules officials. Under the guidance of certified The First Tee coaches including Jim Tobin who was on hand at George Wright GC on Monday, participants learn all aspects of the game of golf in addition to being active learners in The First Tee Life Skills Experience.
Future Site: Competitors in this year’s Championship can look forward to competing for the title on August 12-15, 2019 at Weston Golf Club, host site of the 2019 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship. It will mark the seventh time in event history that Weston Golf Club has hosted this event. The club had previously opened its doors to the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship in 1925, 1928, 1939, 1948, 1975, and 2011
For complete coverage of the Massachusetts Amateur Championship, visit MassGolf.org or follow Mass Golf on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @PlayMassGolf and by using the hashtag, #MassWomensAm.