CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Erynne Lee laid the gauntlet Tuesday morning at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, then stepped back and let the college kids fire their cannons.
Lee, teeing off in the third group of the morning at Charlotte Country Club rattled off three straight birdies at Nos. 3-5 and never looked back, putting up a 6-under 66 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying. The round helped her rocket up the leaderboard after opening with even-par 72 Monday, even though things didn’t feel that much different.
“Throughout the whole round, I didn’t think I was at 6 under,” Lee said. “I just felt like I was making a lot of putts and that’s all. It didn’t really feel like I was shooting a really low number.”
Lee, closing out a month spent on the road playing amateur and junior events, arrived in Charlotte with a hot putter, and has managed to make a lot of putts while keeping the big numbers off her card. She has been the picture of consistency so far this week, and is enjoying a course that sets up nicely for her game.
“I’ve hit almost every single fairway and mostly all the greens,” she said. “It’s a really nice course that suits me well. It’s not that tight and it’s pretty wide so you can hit it anywhere.”
Jaclyn Sweeney couldn’t agree more, and but for an inability to put it in the fairway at the 18th – “I better not make it to the 18th hole in match play because I cannot hit that fairway to save my life. I don’t know what it is,” she said of the par-4 closing hole – nearly walked away in sole possession of medalist honors.
Sweeneey, who has announced that she will leave Arizona State a year early and turn pro following this week’s tournament, got on a roll on the back nine, carding three birdies in a five-hole span starting at the par-4 13th to move to 7 under entering the final hole and take sole possession of the lead. With just one other group left on the course on a calm summer evening, Sweeney missed the fairway at the 18th, then left her approach on the front of the green, with more than 60 feet to a back pin. Minutes later she unknowingly stood over a 5-footer to take medalist honors, but barely missed the short putt on the left side, ending stroke play at 6-under 138.
“I really wanted to come in here and play well, this is my last amateur event,” Sweeney said. “I really just wanted to prove to myself and prove to a few other people that this is the right decison for me.”
The run at medalist honors marks the end of a summer that saw Sweeney struggling with both her game and her future. After a bought of homesickness during her junior season followed by the unexpected news that ASU would lose sophomore Jennifer Johnson to the pro ranks, Sweeney began to seriously consider a senior season that would mean playing as an individual. In the end, she decided to try her hand as a professional, and will play both Futures and LPGA Q-School in the fall.
“I had gotten a lot of questions, what’s your team going to do, what are you going to do, what’s going on, and I really had no idea how to answer them,” Sweeney said. “I made the decision, I waited way too long to tell Missy and Melissa and I really love them all, called them all and it was a very, very difficult conversations to have.”
Despite it being her final romp as an amateur, Sweeney doesn’t feel much differently.
“If you play scared golf, you’re not going to score well,” she reasoned.
It seems Ohio State’s Rachel Rohanna follows the same advice. Her aggressive style of play helped her to a 7-under 65 in Monday’s opening round, but made for an interesting back nine Tuesday. Rohanna cruised through her opening nine in even par, but made double bogey at No. 1 (she started at No. 10) from 70 yards out in the middle of the fairway, and followed it with another double at No. 2 when she landed her ball in the lip of a sand trap.
Rohanna shook it off and went on to birdie the next three holes, dropping a 60-foot birdie putt at No. 5 to cap off the comeback. A birdie at the ninth, her final hole, got her to 1-under 73 for the day and a 6 under total, solidifying her place at the top with Sweeney and Lee.
It was a far cry from Rohanna’s record-breaking opening round, but in her mind there wasn’t much difference between the two rounds.
“I was shooting for another sub-par round,” Rohanna admitted at the end of the day. “A 65, I just played lights out so I knew it was possible though again because I did have nine birdies. Obviously there were a couple shots out there. Seriously just like a 70 I would have taken, that would have been nice to be 9 under.”
NCAA champion Caroline Hedwall and Alabama’s Brooke Pancake also took up residence at the top of the leaderboard in the morning with rounds of 68 and 72, respectively.
For Pancake, who finished fourth alone, the real stress is over now that she’s safely aboard the match-play bracket.
“It’s always nice to be given a good seed going into the first match but knowing that you’ve made the cutline going in, you qualified to get here and you made the cut, the hard part is done,” she explained.
For Hedwall, who will turn pro after the World Amateur Team Championship in October instead of returning to Oklahoma State for her junior season, the rest of the week looks to be just as grueling. Hedwall opted out of the caddie option this week, and is shouldering her own bag despite considerable North Carolina heat.
“It feels good, and I’m used to it from college,” Hedwall said with a shrug.
Hedwall finished as part of a three-way tie for fifth at 2-under 142 that included Lisa McCloskey, the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links runner-up, and GB&I Curtis Cupper Sally Watson.
Doris Chen, the U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, finished T-8 after a triple-bogey at the 16th abruptly ended a late-round charge for medalist honors.
For the first time in two years a mid-amateur earned a spot on the match-play bracket. That honor went to Meghan Stasi, 32, who advanced through stroke play for the first time in six years.