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AIG Women's British Open

Why three top amateurs chose Muirfield over Chambers Bay

August 05, 2022
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Octavio Passos

GULLANE, Scotland — In chronological order, the very best courses have always offered multiple shot options, before demanding decisive decision making and strong execution. But sometimes an element of choice is introduced even before the start of a championship. Or championships. Which was the case for three of the amateur competitors at Muirfield this week for the AIG Women’s British Open.

Like, say, the decision to go for the long carry over the water, the choices available to all three women were obvious and straightforward. But the final implementation could only be reached after much careful consideration. So it is that Rose Zhang, Anna Davis and Ingrid Lindblad are in Scotland rather than Washington state. With the Women’s British Open finishing Sunday, there was insufficient time for any of the three to make it all the way to Seattle/Tacoma and the Chambers Bay course that will host the U.S. Women’s Amateur, starting Monday morning.

So it had to be one or the other. Both were logistically impossible.

For Zhang, the decision was in one way difficult, but in another not hard at all. The World’s No. 1 amateur, the 19-year-old is a past winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the current NCAA champion. With a record like that, it is safe to assume the Californian has lofty ambitions when she makes the inevitable switch to the professional ranks. So it is that a chance to test herself against the absolute best in the game won out over an opportunity to achieve something for the second time.

“Both events are so prestigious, it would have been hard to make a wrong choice,” said Zhang, who is on level par and the only amateur to make the halfway cut. “But I wanted to play here really badly. Muirfield is such a special venue, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to come back. The Women’s Amateur does have a special place in my heart. But I wanted to enjoy the major experience while I can still get it as an amateur.

“It does really suck that I have to miss the Am, but the schedule is just so tough,” she continued. “I was exempt into the Evian Masters last month and it would have been really tough to go home after that then come back over again. It did take a lot of thought though. I took until the end of the deadline to finally figure it out.”

Davis, winner of this year’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur, came to her determination more quickly. At the age of only 16, the left-hander from California has been the beneficiary of “so many opportunities” since her victory at the home of the Masters and one of those was the chance to play in her first Women’s British Open.

“Basically, I’ve decided to take advantage of as many things as I can,” says Davis, who shot 76-75 to miss the cut at Muirfield. “The U.S. Amateur is obviously on my to-do list, but it has always been one of my goals to play in an LPGA event and the major championships. So that’s why I’m here.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. But I thought it would be fun to come over here and play some real links golf. This is my first time and, yes, it is completely different from anything I played growing up in California. It was exciting, though, and a great experience. It was just so hard to come here and play well my first time.”

Davis’ biggest problems came, ironically, in the area of commitment. Over two days of almost constant crosswinds, she found it difficult to start shots “way over there over bunkers” in the hope that they will “come back.”

“They do, of course,” she said. “But it takes some courage and is hard to trust. So much trust. But I have no regrets about coming here. There will be other U.S. Amateurs for me, but not many Women’s Opens at Muirfield. Being so different, the course this week has been the best part of my trip. There is so much history. I just wanted to be part of the first Women’s Open played here.”

Of the three players, Lindblad had perhaps the easiest decision to make, given how difficult travel can be at the moment. For the Swede, who finished T-11 at the U.S. Women’s Open in May but shot 74-76 to miss the cut here, a trip to Seattle followed by at least two more trans-Atlantic flights held little appeal.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the U.S. Amateur,” said the 22-year-old LSU soon-to-be senior, who pre-qualified for Muirfield with a seven-under-par 65 at nearby North Berwick last Monday. “But it never seems to fit too well into the European schedule. Plus, Seattle is so far away. So it would have been a long way to go for just one tournament. I would have had to go there, then back to Sweden again before I go back to school. The dates are no good. So it was a relatively easy decision to make, even though I had to qualify just to be here.

“Besides, this has been fun,” she continued. “My long game just hasn’t been good enough the last two days. If you hit it in the wrong place here you get punished. And when you’re not that close to the pins it is hard to make anything. That was my story really.”

All in all then, the U.S. Women’s Amateur shouldn’t feel too bad. Those who decided to play in the southeast of Scotland rather than the northwest of the United States all had their reasons. Good ones, even if, in the end, the execution varied.