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The Loop

Last takes out first at Women's Amateur

August 10, 2011

BARRINGTON, R.I.—Eventful.

OK, so maybe there are more imaginative ways to describe what the last two days have been like for Elyse Smidinger, a 17-year-old from Crofton, Md., playing in her first U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. But there are hardly any more appropriate.

With a 2-and-1 victory over co-medalist__Jihee Kim__ Wednesday at Rhode Island CC, the former state gymnastics champion who gave up the sport in eighth grade to pursue golf, vaulted herself into the second round of match play, a spot Smidinger couldn't have imagined being in only 15 hours earlier.

Indeed, after posting a two-over 73 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying Tuesday at just before 6 p.m., giving her a seven-over 149 total for 36 holes, Smidinger was certain she had failed to qualify for match play. Still, she hung around the RICC clubhouse waiting to learn officially, when she began to notice something.

The scores weren't getting much lower.

In fact, the opposite was happening. "Maybe I should hit a few putts," Smidinger admitted thinking to herself at one point, a notion that proved wise when Brittany Henderson bogeyed her last hole while playing in the last threesome of the day. That left five players tied for 64th place at 149, forcing a playoff for the final match-play spot.

With new life, Smidinger, who had made pars on her last five holes in stroke play to hold steady coming down the stretch, made two more in the gloaming by the Narragansett Bay and claimed the 64th seed.

Perhaps it's because Smidinger had experience in playoffs of this kind. To qualify for the Women's Amateur in the first place, she had to beat Olivia Lansing in a playoff, after Smidinger made birdies on her final two holes in regulation.

Of course, the playoff win meant that the high-school senior-to-be who intends to go to Denver starting in the fall of 2012, was going to face the No. 1 seed, Kim, who had shot rounds of 66 and 70, in the first match off on Wednesday. Unlike Kim, however, Smidinger had experience in match play competitions, having twice been runner-up in the Maryland Amateur. And being from a family of athletes—her mother was a swimmer at Maryland while her brother and sister both played soccer in college—she understood the idea of never giving up.

"I knew I had nothing to lose," Smidinger said. "Just go out there and give it my all."

After the two halved the first two holes with pars to start their match, Smidinger won the third and fourth with a par and a birdie. "The first four holes, I hit every shot, every iron shot [solid]," Smidinger said. "I started thinking, 'I can do this. I can compete against her.' "

Smidinger extended the lead to 4 up after nine holes, playing solid if not spectacular golf. (Kim was the equivalent of four over for the first nine holes.) As the match progressed, Kim fought back, winning the 14th and 15th holes with pars to get to 2 down. The two halved the 16th hole with pars before Smidinger closed out the match with a 20-foot birdie on the 17th hole.

"I wanted to make it to match play and just take it from there. So we're taking it from there," said Smidinger, with a chuckle, hoping her week at Rhode Island CC will continue to be, well, eventful.