"It was as much as a four- or five-club wind," said Marissa Dodd, a 17-year-old from Allen, Texas, playing in just her second USGA championship, who talked about hitting a 4-iron more than 240 yards on one hole, setting up a 100-yard birdie putt. "It's windy in Texas, but not necessarily this windy."
"All I know is on the first hole," described UNLV's Derek Ernst, "I had 108 yards to the hole and we played it for 150 yards."
Still, Dodd and Ernst navigated the winds successfully, taking out their respective opponents to advance to Saturday's 36-hole finales. Dodd defeated UCLA All-American Tiffany Lua, 2 and 1, and will face another Bruin, Brianna Do (a 2-and-1 winner over Annie Park) for the women's title; Ernst outlasted Jonathan Randolph 3 and 2, and takes on Corbin Mills (a 5-and-3 winner over Harris English) for the men's crown and a likely invitation to the 2012 Masters.
Do agreed that Friday's conditions were as difficult as she has encountered since the start of match play. "We were halving holes with bogeys at times when in the morning today, you could make birdies and pars," she said. "It's a pretty difficult course out there with the wind."
The 21-year-old Lakewood, Calif., was on the UCLA roster last season, but wasn't among the starting five that traveled to Texas and claimed the NCAA Championship in late May. Since February, she has been working on swing changes with a new instructor, James Oh, a former U.S. Junior champion, and is playing in her first tournament since early in the spring semester.
"I guess my hard work has been paying off," said Do with much satisfaction, confirming that missing out on competing at NCAAs served as motivation.
Do's journey to the final has been arguably the toughest. She beat former U.S. Girls Junior champion Kristen Park in the first round, defending WAPL champion Emily Tubert in the third round and UCLA All-American Stephanie Kono in the quarterfinals (the second straight year she defeated her Bruin teammate).
In Dodd, Do (pronounced Dough) will face an energetic, gregarious golfer set to start her college career in the fall at Wake Forest. A former ballerina who took up golf in middle school because she was looking for a sport to play, Dodd seems to be finding her stride at an opportune time, enjoying adapting her game to the links courses at Bandon Dunes Resort while interacting with her father/caddie Mark.
Indeed, the Dodds (dad is a former professional soccer player) are constantly chattering on the course. The two even have their own separate handshake, a fist bump followed by an explosion.
"It's just to keep things light," said Dodd, who recently failed to qualify for the U.S. Girls' Junior but earned a spot into the event by virtue of reaching the WAPL final. "I want to have fun out there. That's my goal any time I'm playing."
The start of the match with Lua., however, wasn't so much fun, Dodd noting that the excitement of reaching the semifinals might have gotten the best of her as she lost the first two holes to Lua. Eventually she calmed down, winning the next two holes and taking the lead for good on the eighth.
A 15-foot birdie on the ninth hole gave Dodd a 2-up lead, but she slipped on the 10th when her 4-iron went long during her downwind approach shot on the par-4 383 yard hole. Her 100-yard putt wound up 20 feet short and she would settle for a double-bogey 6.
Dodd would play smart if not spectacular golf the rest of the way, closing out Lua with pars on the 16th and 17th holes.
While the women's semifinal matches were tightly contested, the same couldn't be said for the men's contests. Ernst, a senior-to-be at UNLV, took the lead on Randolph on the second hole and never looked back, taking a 5-up advantage after 11 holes. Ultimately it was the fourth straight match in which Ernst did not have to play beyond the 15th hole.
"I'm not thinking very much out there, not as much as I have in other events I'm played," said Ernst, who is competing in his eighth USGA championship.
Mills, a rising junior at Clemson, continued his impressive run at Bandon Dunes when he took a lead on English on the second hole and never allowed his opponent a chance to gain any momentum. The Easley, S.C., is trying to become the first medalist at the APL to claim the title since another Clemson student, D.J. Trahan, pulled off the double in 2000 at Heron Lakes GC in Portland, Ore.
U.S. AMATEUR PUBLIC LINKS CHAMPIONSHIPS
(All times PDT)
7:00 a.m.—Brianna Do, Lakewood, Calif. vs. Marissa Dodd, Allen, Texas
7:10 a.m.—Corbin Mills, Easley, S.C. vs. Derek Ernst, Clovis, Calif.