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SOUTH HADLEY, Massachusetts – Right up until the last putt Wednesday, Longmeadow native Annie Dai (MIAA) said she had never envisioned what it would be like to win a Mass Golf event, never mind, one of its oldest championships.
But with a tap-in for par on the 18th, it finally became real for Dai (pronounced ‘Day’) as she bested the field by three strokes to capture the 88th Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship. Dai, a rising sophomore at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, Mass., shot a two-day total of 2-over 146, closing out with a 3-over 75 in the second and final round at the Orchards Golf Club (par-72, 5,620-yards).
She also became the first person since Angela Garvin, also a Western Mass native, to win the Girls’ Amateur Championship before age 16. Garvin, a three-time champion who won the Girls’ Junior three times, now plays for the University of Maryland.
“I’ve been playing this tournament for several years since I was little, and it never really occurred to me that one day that I’ll actually win this, so it means a lot to me,” Dai said.
In addition to Dai’s Championship Division victory, the following divisional winners were honored: Silver (Handicaps 10.2 and higher): Lindsay Hong (Hopkinton Country Club); Junior-Mite (Under age 14) – Kaitlyn Doe (MIAA); and Most Improved: Miriam Pearlstein (KOHR GOLF)
After two double bogeys on the front nine, including on the opening hole (par-4, 348-yards), Annie Dai needed something to turn things around. Just like the day before, she turned to her putter to get it done.
On the 9th hole (par-5, 450-yards) Dai pushed her drive to the left, but she was able to get on the green in three and then converted the 10-footer for birdie to make the turn at 2-over overall.
She then found trouble again on the par-3 10th, as her 7-iron cut right and into a damp area in the rough. Her chip-on barely held the green, but she stepped up and made the 20-footer to save par.
“I was relieved,” she said. “It was a big putt.”
At the turn, her playing partner Renna Chang (Youth on Course) held the lead at even-par, but consecutive double-bogeys on holes 11 and 12 gave Dai a window to rally. Dai made birdie putts on holes 13 and 15 and almost had another on the 16th that hit the cup and spun out to the right.
It didn’t much matter, as Dai made the par and then capped off her round by hitting a 6-iron from the left rough onto the green with the flagstick tucked in the back on the top shelf, and she two-putted her way to the title.
Dai said of her improvement in her game, it’s been putting that’s stood out the most.
“I feel like even if I don’t hit the green then I’ll still have a chance at par,” Dai said.
Dai, who played in her first Mass Women’s Amateur last year at Essex County Club, said she now has more confidence heading into the Championship Proper this year.
“Last year I didn’t so great and didn’t make the cut, but now after this, I’m feeling a lot more confident,” Dai said.
Playing in her final junior event, Christine Mandile (Winchester Country Club) rallied to finish tied for second. Mandile, who will ship off to the University of Richmond in a month’s time, shot the day’s low round of 73. She finished the championship 5-over 149, splitting runner-up honors with Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club), who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur last week.
Mandile finished in style, as she made a downhill putt for birdie on the 18th in front of the crowd mostly seated in painted red Adirondack chairs overlooking the green.
“This is a super fun tournament, and I’m glad that this was my last one to end on,” Mandile said.
Smith was 1-under through the first nine, making birdie on the par-5 3rd (440-yards) but three bogeys on the back-nine knocked her off pace. A couple of near-misses for birdie on the 11th and 18th ended up being costly.
Emma Abramson (The Ridge Club) shot 77-74–151 to finish tied with Chang, who shot a 7-over 79 in the final round.
Lindsay Hong walked away with some hardware in her first-ever Mass Golf event as she took home the Silver Division title. Hong shot rounds of 90 and 93 to win the title by four strokes. More importantly, though, she enjoyed the camaraderie with her playing partners, Rosie Leonard (Sharon Country Club) and Olivia Cutting (The Haven Country Club), the only other players in the division.
“We did talk a lot,” Hong said with a chuckle. “It was actually a really good time. They are all super nice, and it was really nice playing with them. They were really supportive, they were helping me the whole time, encouraging me, and staying positive, and it really helped.
The closest battle in the competition came from the Junior-Mite Division (9-holes each day), as 12-year-old Newton native Kaitlyn Doe edged Abby Zhu (Indian Ridge Country Club) by one stroke. Doe made birdies on holes 4 and 6 to finish with a bogey-free round of 34 to finish the tournament 3-under 69.
Zhu, an Andover native who won the 2021 New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association Junior Championship, also had a bogey-free round, making her lone birdie on the 9th.
YOUTH ON COURSE WEEK: Several players in this year’s field aren’t actually affiliated with a specific club. Instead, they represent Youth on Course, a nationwide program where for the annual fee of $15, youth ages 6-18 have access to affordable rounds for $5. Mass Golf is a participating member with over 20 of its member clubs offering rounds of golf for only $5 for its members.
As we celebrate Youth on Course Week, golf associations across the country are recogizing those who have benefited from the program. Among them is Champa Visetsin, 12, who competed at Augusta National this past April in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals.
This fall, members of the Mass Golf Community will participate in the 100 Hole Hike to raise money to support the program. To learn more about how to participate and/or contribute to the program, CLICK HERE
STATE TOURNEY SUCCESS: Less than a month ago Ellie de Andrade (Boston Golf Club) and Jacqueline Cingel (MIAA) were celebrating with teammates after leading the Notre Dame Academy girls golf team to the 14th state championship in program history.
Other players in the Girls’ Junior Amateur also found success as individuals. Piper Jordan (Boston Golf Club), a rising junior at Hingham High School, earned medalist honors with a 1-over 73 to take medalist honors, and Ursuline Academy’s Victoria Veator (MIAA) was just two strokes back with a 75.
At the Girls’ Individual State Championship at The Ridge Club, Isabel Brozena (Indian Ridge Country Club), edging out Emma Abramson, who was playing on her home course.
DID YOU KNOW?: PGA Tour pro Richy Werenski is from South Hadley and The Orchards was his home club as a youth golfer. Werenski, an Ambassador of Mass Golf, earned his first professional victory in 2016 at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. A plaque with his photo and signature hangs on the wall in the clubhouse and reads, in part, “In my heart, no matter where I ever live, The Orchards will always be my home club.”
PLAYING WITH A HALL OF FAMER: Kayla Maletto, also a member of Youth on Course, had the opportunity of a lifetime last fall when she got to play a round of golf with Betsy King, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1995.
According to Maletto’s own website, “I was able to get really comfortable around her,” Maletto wrote. “I asked questions, told her about my past, learned interesting things about her, and more. I had a great time and was so proud to play well in her presence by shooting an even-par (72) on a very difficult course. My confidence soared in the realization that Betsy was impressed with my game. Playing with a Hall of Fame legend is something I will never forget.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Next month, Amanda Adams and Victoria Adams, both of Winchester Country Club, will compete alongside their mother Tracy Welch in the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship. Welch won the title in 1998 and 2006, but for the first time, all three are in the field competing as individuals in a state amateur championship.
There are more family tournaments coming up, too:
August 3 @ Shaker Hills Country Club (Registration Closed)
August 4 @ Brookmeadow Country Club (Registration Closes July 22)
CLICK HERE to register now.