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NORTON, Massachusetts – The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship is quickly approaching. The Championship Proper tees off on September 25 at Berkeley Hall Club (North Course) in Bluffton, South Carolina. Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea Golf Club) headlines the Massachusetts competitors as the winner of the event in 2018, but a talented group from the state is set to compete.
Joining Johnson will be Megan Buck (Thorny Lea Golf Club), Sue Curtin (Boston Golf Club), Tara Joy-Connelly (Vero Beach, Florida), Pam Kuong (Charles River Country Club), and Mary Mulcahy (Hatherly Country Club).
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship is open to any female golfer who has reached their 25th birthday by September 24 and does not have a handicap index exceeding 9.4.
Shannon Johnson was always among the most talented and competitive players in the state, but she really made her name in 2018. Johnson won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. Her performance that year was nothing short of outstanding.
Johnson finished as the stroke-play leader shooting 1-under par to earn the top seed in match play. She went on to defeat Brenda Pictor, 6&5, in the round of 64 and past winner Ellen Port, 2&1, in the round of 32. In the round of 16, Johnson dominated again, knocking off Jordan Craig-Nyiri, 6&5.
In the quarterfinals she defeated Clare Connolly, 3&2, to move onto the semifinals where she had her strongest performance of the entire event. Johnson defeated Michelle Butler, 7&5, to move onto the finals where she outlasted 2017 Champion Kelsey Chugg, 1-up, in a hard-fought match. Johnson carded six birdies in the final match.
The win was the height of her amateur golf career, but it also placed extra expectations on her shoulders for the future.
“I think getting to that stage and winning such a big national tournament, it shouldn’t put more pressure on you, but it does,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, people’s expectations of you grow so much and they expect you to go out and win every local and state tournament and other things like that. That’s just not how this game works at all.”
As any regular golfer can attest, consistency is the toughest part of the game. This is especially true in terms of actually recording wins.
“Golf comes in waves, you’re going to have some great rounds and you’ll have days where you’re not playing well,” Johnson said. “It’s just tough…there’s a little extra pressure I didn’t have before, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade winning that for anything and the awesome experiences that came with it.”
Though the Women’s Mid-Am didn’t occur last year due to COVID-19, Johnson has plenty of experience to draw on and she knows what it takes to survive through the brutal match play portion of the schedule.
“Match play can be so tough because there are some matches where you’re not going to play well and you have to just kind of figure it out and grind out the match,” Johnson said. “Some things have to go your way in match play. You have to get a little lucky from time to time. To go and win six matches can be a tough feat for anyone, but it just makes it that much sweeter if you do it.”
Johnson remembers well that her 2018 victory could just as easily have gone the other direction early on in her match play run.
“I remember playing Ellen Port in the round of 32 and that was a very tough match,” Johnson said. “That could have gone either way. I could have been out in the round of 32 and no one would have known my name at the end of it. Match play is such a weird thing.”
According to Johnson, one of the big keys is to treat match play as a marathon and not a sprint. That not only helps physically, but mentally as well.
“If you try to keep yourself in it for every shot, you’re going to mentally wear down,” she said. “I try and check out and look at the beautiful surroundings. I remember in St. Louis the main airport was right near and all these planes were flying over, so I’d just look at them and it was really interesting. I also have a good friend Matt Johnson who caddied for me. We’ll talk about random stuff and he’s great and can help me take my mind off of the golf part. I think I can get refocused and get back in it when I need to.”
This year’s Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship will be the third USGA event Mary Mulcahy has competed in. Mulcahy, who has won numerous Mass Golf events alongside her father John, previously played in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 2019 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship.
She’s excited to be heading back for another USGA Championship and she has a particular appreciation for the field when it comes to the Mid-Amateur Championship.
“I think Mid-Ams are really cool to be a part of just because you have people who are really talented and accomplished golfers, but also have full-time jobs and just do it on the side,” Mulcahy said. “It’s cool to just kind of see that talent and see people kind of similar to myself that work full-time, but still maintain their golf game.”
Mulcahy just recently started a new position this summer as a Financial Advisor for The Colony Group in Boston. Like so many who are passionate about golf, she can’t play as much as she would like, but the new hybrid work-from-home model has benefited opportunities to play.
“I’m a full-time weekend warrior. I usually play Saturday and Sunday, sometimes I play maybe once a week,” she said. “With this new world that we live in with the new work-from-home, it makes it easier to find some time to go hit some balls or to squeeze in nine-holes…it gives me a little bit more freedom to be able to play golf, but I still don’t play as much as I would like to or need too.”
Since she was young, Mulcahy was involved with the game. Her childhood home was on the 11th hole of Hatherly Country Club in Scituate and she watched both her father and grandfather collect Club Championships over the years.
“They were both really great golfers, so when I was little I would go out on the weekends and say I was caddying for them, but I would just go around and walk with them and watch them hit,” Mulcahy said. “That’s kind of how I learned how to play golf was just mimicking what they would do. I didn’t really get into it competitively until about high school and that’s when I really started to focus in on golf as my main sport.”
Mulcahy’s commitment would help bring her to the University of Central Florida (UCF) where she played Division I college golf. Although she always had a love for the game, after graduation she took a step back.
“At the end of the four years I was ready to focus on something different,” Mulcahy said. “I’d been golfing my whole life and I was ready to kind of settle down and find a job to start a career.”
Mulcahy spent another year and a half at UCF obtaining her master’s degree and for the first time in a long time, she took a break from competitive golf. The step away allowed her to come back and fall in love with the game all over again.
“That’s why golf is so great,” Mulcahy said. “All my friends from college who played softball, soccer, basketball, and these team sports, it’s hard to really compete at a high-level. That’s why I love golf so much because for the rest of my life I’ll be able to go to these tournaments and compete and do what I love to do.”
Now, Mulcahy is back to competing regularly in Mass Golf events and loves getting the opportunity to play and test her skills against the stiff competition in the state.
“It’s so much more fun and enjoyable now than it was when I was younger,” Mulcahy said. “I definitely think that I appreciate the competition and just the sport and being able to get out there and play golf a lot more than I did when I was younger.”
Mulcahy will have her father joining her on the bag in South Carolina and she certainly belongs amongst the elite group from the state heading South to play.
“It’s cool to be able to go down to a USGA event and to be able to be a part of representing Mass Golf,” she said. “It’s a fun group of girls and it’ll be a fun time to all be down there together.”
Johnson and Mulcahy certainly have some chops of their own when it comes to USGA events, but the other ladies representing Mass Golf all have a degree of pedigree, too. Megan Buck earned an exemption into the Championship Proper after reaching the quarterfinals back in the 2019 Mid-Amateur Championship.
Buck has had a successful summer. She teamed up with Shannon Johnson to win the Mass Women’s Four-Ball Championship for a second consecutive year and has consistently placed near the top of the leaderboard at women’s events and championships. Currently, she is third in the Anne Marie Tobin Player of the Year standings.
Sue Curtin sits seven spots below Buck in the player of the year standings and has also had a summer marked with success. In the past few months, Curtin has participated in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, and now she gears up for another USGA event.
She’s riding high coming off her performance in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship where she made it into match play. Curtin knocked off Laura Coble in the Round of 64 and Susan West in the Round of 32 before bowing out in the Round of 16. She’ll look to repeat that success in South Carolina.
Though she no longer resides in Massachusetts, Tara Joy-Connelly has left her impact in the Bay State and that is shown through her induction into the Mass Golf Hall of Fame this year. Joy-Connelly won the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur title in both 2003 and 2013. Additionally, she has won Anne Marie Tobin Women’s Player of the Year honors nine times, more than any other individual since the award was first bestowed in 1994. Joy-Connelly will look to capture some more success this year going into the field with some old Massachusetts friends.
Pam Kuong is a USGA veteran. She has played in numerous Championships and is a regular year-in and year-out at the events. Kuong is seventh in the Anne Marie Tobin Player of the Year standings and rounds out the talent and accomplished group of Bay State players competing.
The full schedule of play for the Championship is as follows:
Club: Thorny Lea Golf Club
How She Got In: Exempt due to being a quarterfinalist in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Mid Amateur Championship; Also is top 30 among age-eligible points leaders in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings
Tee Time: 8:10 a.m. off Hole 10
Club: Boston Golf Club
How She Got In: Shot 5-over-par 77 at her qualifying event hosted at Bayberry Hills Golf Course in Yarmouth on August 25 to earn the third of four qualifying spots
Tee Time: 12:50 p.m. off Hole 10
Club: Thorny Lea Golf Club
How She Got In: Exempt due to being the winner of the 2018 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship; Also is top 30 among age-eligible points leaders in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings
Tee Time: 8:20 a.m. off Hole 1
Club: Vero Beach, Florida (Massachusetts native)
How She Got In: Shot 6-over-par 77 at her qualifying event hosted at Suburban Golf Club in Union, New Jersey on August 12
Tee Time: 1:40 p.m. off Hole 10
Club: Charles River Country Club
How She Got In: Shot 3-over-par 75 to split medalist honors at her qualifying event hosted at Bayberry Hills Golf Club in Yarmouth on August 25
Tee Time: 1:20 p.m. off Hole 1
Club: Hatherly Country Club
How She Got In: Shot 6-over-par 78 to earn the fourth and final qualifying spot at the Bayberry Hills qualifier on August 25
Tee Time: 12:10 p.m. off Hole 1
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