(HOUSTON, Texas) - The first stroke-play round of her U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship debut last Saturday didn’t go so well for Kelsey Chugg.
“I was pretty upset,” recalled Chugg, 26, of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I was playing pretty well coming into this and I was mad at myself. My coach said, ‘Just go practice; get your head in the game and get your tempo back.’”
From Sunday through Thursday, Chugg kept an incredibly even keel, never needing to play the 18th hole in any of her six wins. She defeated two of the three co-medalists (2015 champion Lauren Greenlief and Marissa Mar) along the way and capped her charge with a 3-and-1 victory on Thursday over No. 56 seed Mary Jane Hiestand, 58, of Naples, Fla. Her early stroke-play struggles seemed a distant memory, and she was still in disbelief after her victory earned her a berth in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, Ala. – the first player to take advantage of that recently announced exemption.
“It’s just been a crazy week – I can’t believe I pulled it off,” said Chugg, who is the membership director for the Utah Golf Association. “This is really exciting for me to be able to bring this home for Utah and the golf community there.”
Chugg’s victory dashed the hopes of Hiestand, who was bidding to become the oldest Women’s Mid-Amateur champion by six years. Hiestand’s run to the final was much more dramatic than Chugg’s – it included a pair of 1-up wins on Tuesday and two 19-hole victories on Wednesday, including a semifinal win over No. 4 seed Shannon Johnson, last year’s runner-up, which was capped by Hiestand’s 48-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.
“I knew she was a seasoned player, and I heard she was a really good putter,” said Chugg of Hiestand, who was competing in her 43rd USGA championship. “She lived up to her name; on the first hole she drained a 24-footer for par, and it got to me.”
Chugg gathered herself and won Nos. 2 and 3. The third hole, a 352-yard par 4, provided the biggest swing of the match, as Chugg looked to be in trouble when a poor chip left her with a par putt from 38 feet. Hiestand was on in two, and her putt from just outside Chugg’s ball left her with a 4-footer for par. However, Chugg made hers and Hiestand missed, and Chugg had a lead she would never relinquish.
“She had a similar line to me [with her birdie putt], and I was like, I think I can make this,” said Chugg. “[Caddie] Chris [Schuhmann] and I agreed on the line, and I just said, keep your head down and hit the putt, and it went right in the center.”
Hiestand had chances on three consecutive holes – Nos. 7, 8 and 9 – to whittle her two-hole deficit, but every putt slid past the edge. Chugg cited her own up-and-down from a bunker on No. 7 that forced Hiestand to make birdie to win the hole. When Hiestand three-putted the par-4 10th hole for bogey as Chugg made a comfortable two-putt par, she was 3 down.
“I made nothing,” said Hiestand, whose previous best USGA finish was the semifinal round in the 2013 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. “All three of them were right over the edge of the hole. It’s a putter’s golf course and that’s my game. For me not to make anything is amazing, but you have those days.”
Hiestand slipped to 4 down after she missed the green long and left on the par-5 13th for a bogey and Chugg made a testing 5½-footer for par. Chugg suffered a couple of lapses on No. 14 (where a poor approach led to a double bogey) and No. 16 (she flew the green and failed to get up and down), but she was able to close out Hiestand on the 17th hole when her opponent three-putted and conceded Chugg’s short par putt.
“I think I just lost focus for a second on No. 14,” said Chugg, whose best previous finish in five USGA starts was the Round of 32 in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. “I was just happy not to have to play another hole, because I was leaking oil a little bit.”
“Kudos to her – she’s a real solid player,” said Hiestand. “She made everything today. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”
Chugg, who becomes the fifth player from Utah to win a USGA championship, was asked whether she might have snuck up on some of her opponents, most of whom might not have been acquainted with the former Weber State University player who has won her home state amateur title four times.
“It’s funny – on Tuesday when I was going to play Lauren Greenlief, [two-time champion] Julia Potter’s fiancé, Kiel [Bobb] told me, ‘That’s going to be a tough match – but she doesn’t know who she’s up against,’” said Chugg. “That gave me some confidence, him telling me that.”
A little confidence – along with that post-round discussion with her coach on Saturday – helped earn Chugg the Mildred Prunaret Trophy and a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Both finalists are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Golf Club of Tennessee, in Kingston Springs, Tenn. Additionally, the winner receives a 10-year U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur exemption, while the runner-up receives a three-year exemption.
The USGA relocated this championship from Quail Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., to Champions Golf Club due to extensive flood damage from Hurricane Irma. The Women’s Mid-Amateur was originally scheduled to be played Oct. 7-12.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.