One of the attractions of the USGA’s Open Championships is the fact that both pros and amateurs can qualify for and play in these national championship tournaments. The pros are playing for glory and a big paycheck; the amateurs for glory alone. Nineteen amateurs qualified for a spot in the field for this week’s U. S. Women’s Open, played June 27-30 at Sebonack Golf Club on New York’s Long Island, and only six, including Livermore teen Casie Cathrea, made the cut to play the weekend.
Those six amateurs are a remarkable group – as they would have to be to find themselves playing the weekend in the biggest championship in women’s golf – and while the top female professionals chase the cup and the paycheck, these six young women are involved in an incredibly close race for the title “Low Amateur”.
How close is the race for Low Am? This close – only three strokes separate the top and bottom of the group. The top three – World #1 female amateur Lydia Ko, USC star and 2013 U. S. Amateur Publinx silver medalist Doris Chen, and the Bay Area’s own Casie Cathrea, are tied at 227 after fifty-four holes of golf. The remaining trio – Yueer Feng of the People’s Republic of China, Nelly Korda, youngest in the field at 14 years old and the younger sister of LPGA star Jessica Korda, and Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, one of nine Canadians in the tournament, of whom only she and one other made the cut – are strung out at 1-stroke intervals behind the leading three, at 228, 229, and 230, respectively.
Following the trend toward higher scores which afflicted most of the field today – only 14 of 68 players improved their scores from Friday to Saturday – all of the amateurs saw bigger numbers on their scorecards today. Five of the six carded identical scores of 79; only Brooke Henderson broke that streak. Encountering more trouble with the Saturday setup, Henderson carded an 83 today – but she owns the low round of the six, the 71 she posted on Thursday.
The vagaries of the USGA’s course setup has been a learning experience for at least one of the six amateur contenders: Casie Cathrea, a rising college freshman who will be playing her college golf at Oklahoma State University in the fall, had this to say, on Twitter, after Saturday’s round:
“Thanks to @usopengolf for teaching a 17 yr old girl golfer you CAN NOT aim at flags on day 3 of a US Women’s Open”.
Casie’s stats for today’s round show where her troubles lay. While “Fairways Hit” and “Greens In Regulation” figures are unchanged from the second round, but she had trouble in bunkers – as the 1-for-4 “Sand Saves” figure shows – and most of all, on the greens, as the bump-up from 29 to 35 putts shows. Those six putts account for the entire increase in her score over the previous day’s round.
Casie’s Bay Area fans will be rooting for her in the race for Low Amateur honors, but unless network coverage shows some highlights of the race for Low Amateur they won’t be able to see her or any of the other amateurs play, because the six amateurs have tee times that are spread out from 7:44 AM to 8:50 AM EDT, and will be finished before the broadcast window opens.
The golf world will be watching the race at the top of the field at the U. S. Women’s Open quite closely, and rightly so, since the 54-hole leader, South Korea’s Inbee Park, is edging up on a remarkable achievement – winning three straight professional majors in one season, a feat accomplished only once before in the women’s game, by the redoubtable Babe Didrikson Zaharias, in 1950. It is a shame, however, that this remarkably close competition between the six amateurs will be lost in the glare of the spotlight focused on Inbee Park.