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RUMFORD, Rhode Island – With heat indexes climbing into triple-digits, players were battling one another as well as the steamy weather conditions during the first round of the New England Women’s Amateur Championship on Monday at Agawam Hunt (par 71, 5,825 yards). For most players, staying nourished and hydrated was the key, but in addition to those teenage standout Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club), having enough dry gloves was the key.
Smith, 16, holds a one-shot lead at 1-under-par 70 to lead the field of 92 total competitors split between the Championship Division and Tournament Division. Wearing a blue polo from Twin Hills Country Club where she won the Mixed Four-Ball Championship for the Stone Cup with her father Phil, Smith missed some key birdie chances and par saves but made up for it by rolling in a 40-footer for birdie on the 7th.
Mia Grzywinski (CC of Farmington-CT) and Dree Fausnaugh (Pease Golf Course-NH) both shot 71, while Angela Garvin (The Ranch Golf Club), a rising junior for the University of Maryland, is three back at 2-over.
First played in 1957, the New England Women’s Amateur Championship is a 54-hole stroke play competition that is contested annually in one of the six New England states, with hosting duties rotating among the states every six years. The field will be cut to the low 70 players (and ties) after 36-holes. The cut will be evenly distributed (by percentage) in each of the two divisions.
Molly Smith, a rising junior at Westford Academy, was anything but fazed being matched with Angela Garvin and Lauren Thibodeau (Windham CC-NH), both NCAA Division I players for the University of Maryland and the University of Louisville, respectively.
“It’s very good if you try to keep up with them,” Smith said. “I knew they’re out there they were hitting good shots, but I was sort of just focusing on my own shots.”
Having qualified for the US Girls’ Junior Amateur the week prior, Smith had a thought over the weekend that she wanted to play less conservatively, aiming for more pins instead of just the front of greens. She used some prior course knowledge to her advantage and was able to execute on several occasions. On the par-5 4th, hitting a 3-wood to 10-feet and sinking the putt to make her first shot of the day. On the 12th, she hit her second shot of the green from 180 yards but chipped to a foot on the third for a tap-in birdie.
“This course, I wouldn’t call it soft, but it’s very receptive to shots,” Smith said. “A lot of the time today I tried to play the yardage, and then hit a club that I know can get me to the hole instead of playing to the front edge of the green, which is what really has kind of killed me in past tournaments, or has not allowed me to make as many birdies as I want to.”
Even with two more rounds in front of her, Smith said she’s confident her swing can stay together for the remaining 36 holes.
“I actually read somewhere recently, that if you’re swinging well, things will come, [and] you’ll start making putts and things will go in,” Smith said. “There’s still a lot of golf to play. I think if I can just keep swinging well and be patient out there then it should go well, hopefully.”
Megan Buck began this week trying to pull off a repeat victory, something Shannon Johnson did in 2018 and 2019. Johnson, who was runner-up last year, withdrew prior to this year’s championship.
“I haven’t been playing golf lately, but last couple days, I practiced and felt a little bit better, but I definitely have confidence coming in as the defending champion,” said Buck, the stroke-play medalist at the 2020 Mass Women’s Amateur Championship. “It’s a different golf course, totally different place, but I still have that confidence knowing that you’re able to do it.”
Buck’s title defense got off to a rough start. On the par-4 opening hole, she hit into a pair of bunkers and then hit over the green for triple-bogey. Despite a bogey on the second holes, she pulled together a tremendous rally with four consecutive birdies between holes 3-6, helping her finish 4-over 75, 5 shots off the lead.
“I was actually proud of myself that I did stay pretty calm,” Buck said. “I just came into the tournament knowing you have your moments and sometimes things aren’t going your way. I didn’t know that it’d be right off the bat on the first hole, but at the same time I knew we have so many holes to go [so I’m] just staying patient, but it can be difficult to do so I was proud of myself, to stay calm and get those few birdies to settle myself back.”
Three of those four birdies, her only ones of the day were par-5s. “It’s definitely some scoring holes out here. Hit good shots to take advantage because then there’s some tricky holes and a lot of trouble out there so take advantage if you can score on go from there.”
Garvin was off to a hot start Monday as she was 3-under on the front nine, including a chip-in for eagle on the par-5 6th. Garvin, the 2019 Mass Women’s Amateur and Mass Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship, went to the NCAA Championships this year with the University of Maryland as the team’s alternate.
Fantastic hole-out for eagle on the 6th by Angela Garvin of @TerpsWGolf!
— Mass Golf (@PlayMassGolf) June 28, 2021
Mia Grzywinski, a rising junior at Quinnipiac University, was first in the clubhouse at even-par. A rising junior at Quinnipiac University, Grzywinski had two birdies on each nine to finish Round 1 (place).
Grzywinski came into New England with confidence as well as she won the Hartford Women’s Open earlier this month in her home state of Connecticut.
Gryzwinski said her start was a good sign. After breaking her hybrid the day prior she hit a 6-iron off the tee on the par-3 second hole for birdie. She then followed up with another birdie on the par-5 3rd.
“I was not expecting that,” she said. “I actually called my caddy before the round and said if I can just get through the first three holes that would be great because I think those are all really tough to come out of the first three.”
If anybody was used to Monday’s stickiness it was Florida resident Dree Fausnaugh, who is in New England to visit family. In her New England Women’s Amateur debut, she made birdie on holes 4, 7, and 8 and made par on the last three holes to finish out for par. Other than maybe attacking the shorter par-5s more aggressively, she said she hopes for more of the same Tuesday.
“I missed a few putts, but overall I played pretty solid, so I just kept it in the fairway most of the day, which is really important here,” Fausnaugh said.
Elizabeth Derwin (Brookmeadow CC) finished T2 in the Tournament Division alongside Nancy Diemoz (Montaup CC-RI). Derwin, who won Mass Golf’s Curtis Bowl Scotch and Cris Eaton Chapman tournaments earlier this year, made birdie on the par-3 2nd to help keep her in contention.
Kibbe Reilly (Wannamoisett CC-RI), a longtime competitor in the USGA, NEGA, and Rhode Island Golf Association events, has the lead in the division with a 9-over-par 80.
The New England Women’s Amateur has been won by a player representing Massachusetts 29 times.
Past winners include Pat Bradley, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1991, won the championship in 1972 and 1973 as a member of the Florida International University women’s golf team. Joanne Goodwin, who like Bradley is enshrined in the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, won the title in 1957 and 1958. Tara Joy-Connelly, who will be inducted into the Mass Golf Hall of Fame this October, won in 1995 and 1996.
Mae Murray Jones, of Vermont, holds the record for most event wins, with four straight between 1959-1962.
Below is an approximate yardage chart for the Championship that was used during practice rounds. Yardages will change each day of the Championship, and all yardages are subject to change due to numerous factors.