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HYDE PARK, Massachusetts – It was a storybook day of qualifying on Wednesday at George Wright Golf Course. Valeria Ramirez, a native of Bogota, Colombia, played in Massachusetts for the first time ever in her life and shot an even-par 72 to earn medalist honors and her way into the Championship Proper. The U.S. Girls’ Junior is being held at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland from July 12-17.
Grabbing the other two qualifying spots were a pair of sisters: 17-year-old Morgan Smith (Westford, MA) and 16-year-old Molly Smith (Westford, MA). Molly shot 1-over 73 and Morgan finished 3-over 75. Qualifying for the girls got underway on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., but play was postponed at 2:45 p.m. due to inclement weather. Play resumed on Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.
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It was a day of firsts for Valeria Ramirez on Wednesday. Her first time playing in Massachusetts, her first time traveling away from home without her mom, and she qualified for her first-ever USGA event. Ramirez, who resumed play on the eighth hole, had been feeling comfortable through the first portion of her round on Tuesday before the rain kicked in.
“I started really solid,” she said. “It was really good, I just made some birdie opportunities that I got. Today was way different. The greens were slower than yesterday, but I started with a birdie at hole nine. I started my round really well, but I just tried to keep going. I just missed some putts for birdie and I end up making bogey on hole 13, but then I made a great shot on hole 17 and that came up for me. It was really good.”
Ramirez’s scorecard had two birdies, but the one that came on 17 was undoubtedly her biggest shot of the day. After a strong tee shot that put her past the pin, she had a long look for birdie. Ramirez took her time, made the proper read, and calmly stepped up to sink the putt and get herself back to even for the round.
“It was really good that I had another player putt first, so I got an idea of how the break was,” Ramirez said. “I just figured out that it was a little bit fast with a lot of break. It was giving me a chance, I was trying to take a lot of chances today and hope it ended up working.”
Ramirez, who had her caddy Rodrigo and her father Mario watching her play, is excited for the opportunity to pack her things and head to Maryland for the first time ever next month. “I’m extremely excited. It was my goal and I ended up getting my first qualifier as a first place, so I’m really excited about it,” Ramirez said.
Normally, Ramirez will travel once or twice a month to play in tournaments, with both of her parents on the road with her. Though her mother could not make the trip this time, she still shared a moment with her after the round concluded.
“I was FaceTiming her because she’s back in Bogota and she was scrolling all the time on the leaderboard,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “I think she’s extremely proud of me and I am thankful…It was my first time traveling only with my dad and he supports me every single day.”
Now, Ramirez can pack her bags for Chevy Chase, Maryland, and the appropriately named Columbia Country Club next month. Though she’ll be far from home, her family will be by her side and success in new territory seems to be something Ramirez can create quickly.
“I want to get into match play,” she said of her goal for the Girls’ Junior. “I think getting into match play is way different than playing for a medal, but it’s about getting a little bit lucky and playing some aggressive golf. I think I could do a really good job in match play.”
Success in the game of golf is nothing new for the Smith family. On Wednesday, Molly and her older sister Morgan got to share a moment together when they both played their way into the Championship Proper next month in Maryland. It’s the first USGA event for both girls and after last year, the fact that they qualified together is all the more exciting.
In 2020, the girls had qualified to play together at U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, but the event was cancelled due to COVID-19. Now, their first USGA event will still be together, albeit this time as competitors. “I’m really happy and I’m really proud of Molly,” said Morgan, the eldest sister by one year. “We’ve both been working really hard on our game, so this is definitely very exciting. It’ll be great to finally get the opportunity to play in a USGA event.”
When play was delayed Tuesday afternoon, Molly was leading, shooting even-par through seven holes. Her strategy from that point on was less about scoreboard watching and more about just playing solid, consistent golf.
“I got through seven holes yesterday, and I finished with a birdie, so I was kind of waking up in a good headspace coming in,” Molly said. “I knew where I stood, but that didn’t really change my game plan. I still went out and tried to do the best I can to shoot the lowest score possible. I didn’t hit too many great shots that had good birdie looks, but I did hit a lot of shots that were just on the green so I could just two-putt them.”
For the most part, Molly recorded a clean card. A bogey on 17 was the only blip as she finished her round on Wednesday. For Morgan, she recorded a birdie on hole 10, but bogeys late on holes 12 and 18 left her with some concerns as she closed out her round.
“I was one over going into today,” Morgan said. “I go out and bogey seven. I get up and down from the bunker on eight, which was really good, then I settled into the round. Unfortunately, I bogeyed the 18th, and I didn’t know where the other two girls that were in contention stood, so that was a little nerve-wracking, but I got the job done, so I’m pretty happy.”
Going down to Maryland next month is pure excitement for both girls and they’ll hope to bring their best golf with them too. “I think just the experience and the opportunity to play against the best people in the country, I’m really looking forward to that,” Molly said. “There aren’t a lot of events that has everybody there and this is one of them, so that should be really fun and it will be good to have that level of competition.”
Both girls want to do their best to win. Of course, they’ll be keeping an eye on each other too. “Obviously, I want to beat her, but I want her to do well,” Morgan said with a laugh regarding her sister. “You got to go into the tournament trying to win. We’ll see, I know there’s a lot of good girls there.”
QUALIFIERS (Names; Cities)
Valeria Ramirez (Colombia); 72
Molly Smith (Westford, MA); 73
Morgan Smith (Westford, MA); 75
ALTERNATES (In Order)
*Christine Mandile (Winchester, MA); 77 (1st Alternate)
*Isabel Brozena (North Reading, MA); 77 (2nd Alternate)
–(a) Denotes Amateur
*Both alternate spots won in a playoff
George Wright has continually been honored as one of the top municipal courses in the country. Most recently, the course was ranked as the No. 3 course on GOLF.com’s list of the 30 best municipal courses in America. The high distinction is nothing new for a course that has been honored time and time again over the years.
“It’s a great distinction. Frankly, I was shocked, really, when you look at that list and see the names that are up there,” said Len Curtin, the Superintendent at George Wright. “The neat thing about this place, and a place like Bethpage Black, is that these were classically designed golf courses. They’re old, designed by a couple of the greatest architects that ever lived, but they weren’t specifically designed to host golf championships. These are just two old golf courses that happen to be really good. So, in that sense, I’m very proud that we’ve been able to get George Wright to the point where it is.”
Keeping a course like George Wright in peak conditions throughout the year while dealing with often harsh New England weather is no small task, but Curtin and his staff manage to get the job done. It’s hard to find a better deal elsewhere than the $50-$57 dollar fee a non-resident pays to play at the course.
“We’ve relied very heavily on a core group of guys that we have, which is basically myself and four seasonal people that have worked for us for years, like a decade,” Curtain said.
He also gave praise to the job that Head Pro Scott Allen and his staff do at the course.
“It’s really a reflection of the hard work that gets done by our staff and also how Scott manages his people,” Curtin said. “It’s not all about the conditioning of the golf course, it’s also about the experience people have coming in the door. His staff has always been courteous, professional, and they do great work as well.”
“The conditions that we’re putting out right now are as good as a lot of the private country clubs around here,” Allen said. “It’s a struggle for us to keep that all year long because we don’t have the budgets that they do, but the city gives us the resources and they give us the money to do all these course improvements.”
As for the actual course itself, there are a number of great features, but Curtin points to the par threes as being the best part of the course. Coming from someone who has played at the likes of Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge, as well as worked on the grounds crew at the 88th U.S. Open at The Country Club in 1988, Curtin has seen his share of memorable courses and holes over the years.
“I’ve never played a golf course that collectively had four better par threes than we have here,” he said. “They’re all different, they’re all difficult, they’re all unique and they’re all really, really good holes. I would say that’s my favorite feature. If I had to pick one hole or one view, it would probably be 17 with the elevated tee and the stonewall in the back. There’s some great views, it’s a tough piece of property, but it’s really cool piece of property. There isn’t a forgettable hole.”
Established just one year after the Junior Amateur, the Girls’ Junior is also fully of a rich amount of history dating back to 1949:
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