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SEEKONK, Massachusetts – There’s an old saying in golf: you can’t win a tournament on Day 1, but you can lose it. After Round 1 of the 71st Women’s Stroke Play Championship for the Baker Trophy on Monday at Ledgemont Country Club, Rebecca Skoler (Pine Brook Country Club) and Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club) have positioned themselves atop the leaderboard, setting the stage for a competitive find round Tuesday. Skoler holds the lead at 3-under-par 70, and Smith is one stroke back.
In the Tournament Division, it’s a three-way tie. Kelly Sullivan (Bedrock Golf Club), Barb Hecimovich (Beverley Golf & Tennis Club), and Mary Hunt (Gannon Municipal Golf Course) all share the lead with a score of 86.
After a shotgun start Monday, the second and final round will begin with tee times, beginning at 7:30 a.m.
For Skoler and Smith, not only were they the lone two competitors to shoot under-par, they’re also among the youngest in the field. Skoler, 19, just completed her first year at the University of Virginia where she is a member of the women’s golf team, and Smith, 16, plays for Westford Academy.
Skoler’s first year on the UVA campus did not include any golf competition. Between COVID-19 and an injury to her right hand, she took a red-shirt year to gain an extra year of eligibility. Playing in the Women’s Stroke Play Championship was something she was excited for after the way last year unfolded.
“Last summer, this was supposed to be my first event coming out of quarantine,” said Skoler, the 2020 Massachusetts Girls’ Junior Amateur champion. “I was super excited to get back to competitive golf, and then my hand started bothering me. I had to withdraw just a few days before and ended up getting a cortisone shot the next week. I was then chipping and putting for two weeks total last summer without being able to hit.”
Skoler competed in the summer, but by the time she got down to campus in November, the hand pain had returned. She had surgery that kept her out until January, but with the recovery process behind her, she’s enjoyed getting back to competing. She got off to a good start competing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and continued the momentum with her performance on Monday.
Five birdies, including four on the par-5s, were major keys towards Skoler grabbing the lead.
“I think the par-5s are definitely big scoring opportunities here because, for me, I was able to reach almost all of them,” she said. “I’m trying to play them like par-4s so that I can get in the mindset of getting it on the green.”
Skoler also said she appreciated having her father, Michael, on the bag.
“It’s really nice,” she said. “In junior golf, you don’t get to have a caddy a lot, but my dad’s favorite thing to do is to caddy for me, and it’s really nice to have him on the bag, especially being gone all year in college away from him.”
Much like Skoler, Smith came into this event with some momentum. Three weeks ago, she won the Mixed Four-Ball for the Stone Cup with her father, Phil. Four birdies, as well as an eagle on the par-5, 7th hole, helped to propel Smith within striking range of Skoler.
“I hit 3-wood off the tee because I thought I could maybe hit driver into the water,” Smith said of the eagle. “I liked the putt because I’m kind of a right-to-left putter, but on those putts, I have a lot of confidence, especially when they’re kind of downhill. I know I won’t leave them short, I just got started on a good line and it was going in all the way through.”
Monday was Smith’s first time ever playing at Ledgemont CC, and she plans to use the course knowledge she gained in Round 1 as a competitive advantage going into Tuesday.
“I think definitely going into tomorrow, the physical aspects of my game are there, I think I just need to strategize around the course a little bit better,” Smith said.
A few competitors from the Griscom Cup were at Ledgemont on Monday to take part in the Women’s Stroke Play Championship. Allison Paik (Cape Club of Sharon) and Danielle Lee (Renaissance) are T3 after shooting 77, while team captain Chelsea Curtis (The Country Club) finished with a 79 and currently stands at fifth overall in the Championship Division. Lee is also tied with Smith for the best Net score in the Championship Division.
Paik, the 2020 Mass Women’s Amateur champion, had birdies on holes 8 and 11 as part of her efforts in Round 1. Lee was a first-time selection for the Griscom Cup competition in 2021 and on Monday she birdied two holes to stay towards the top half of scorers.
The three-way tie atop of the Tournament Division should continue to be closely contested heading into Round 2. Kelly Sullivan had a birdie on Hole 8 as part of her efforts to grab a share of the lead. Mary Hunt also had a birdie on the day as she shares the leading spot with Sullivan and Bard Hecimovich.
Frances Rush (Brookmeadow Country Club) and Ann Dawson (Gannon Municipal Golf Course) both sit tied for third place with marks of 14-over-par-87. Two strokes back of the leaders and holding scores of 15-over-par-88 are Elizabeth Derwin (Brookmeadow Country Club) and Cathy Flatley (Presidents Golf Course).
Rush also leads in the Net Division, finishing with a 2-over 75. Four players, including Dawson and Hunt, are two strokes behind.
Yiji Starr (Wayland Country Club) is still fairly new to Mass Golf, but competing at a high level in a competitive environment is nothing new to her. Starr is a two-time National Champion in the card game Bridge. In 2015, she won the Smith Life Master Women’s Pairs at the Spring North American Bridge Championships (NABCs). In 2018, she added a second national championship to her resume in the competitive, strategy-based game. Starr picked up on the game from her colleagues, but her success almost never came to be.
“I actually quit bridge when I started playing golf (in 2011). I said you know what, one sport was enough,” Starr said. “Somehow, I got talked into playing. So, I said, ‘this is my last hurrah, I’m going to just play one more year, and then I’ll quit altogether.’ I was a bit frustrated I was not getting to the next level, next thing I know, I won a national title. My friend said you can’t quit, you have to keep going. So, I went for another two or three years, and then won the second one.”
Starr had been playing Bridge for 20 years before the level of success she wanted came to life and now she’s still in the early years of her golf journey. While she took up the sport back in 2011, the Women’s Stroke Play Championship is just her fourth Mass Golf event. The presence of COVID actually allowed Starr to work on her game and lower her handicap to the point where she was eligible to compete for more. Golf fills her spring and summer seasons and in the fall and winter, she plays a third sport: curling.
Between golf, cards, and curling, Starr says that all three share similarities. “There’s actually quite a bit of similarities,” Starr said of Curling and Golf. “Like carving ice, to read how the ice curls is very much like reading a putt.” The same is true with Bridge and Golf.
“One of the things in Bridge is if you mess up something, you just had to put it out of your head, otherwise you’re going to mess up the next five hands and you’re just going to compound error,” she said. “In golf, I think it’s the same thing. If you blow up a hole, you have to put it out. In bridge, they have a saying: you have to have a short memory, whatever happened the last hand, it’s over, it’s in history, don’t think about it. I think golf is the same thing, you have to put it out of your head.”
If Starr’s golf career unfolds in any manner like her Bridge career did, she may have success coming her way in the future.
Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk is playing host for the 71st playing of the Women’s Stroke Play Championship for the Baker Trophy. Get to know a bit more about the venue for this year’s championship:
Split tee times on Tuesday will begin at 7:30 a.m. Leader Rebecca Skoler will be teeing off on Hole 1 at 8:40 a.m. where is grouped with Molly Smith, who trails her by just one stroke. Sullivan, Hecimovich and Hunt will be teeing off on Hole 10 at 9 a.m. as they compete in the Tournament Division.
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