GREENWOOD, S.C. — For several individuals in the 144-player Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic field, this week has been about more than getting ready for another Epson Tour event; it has involved chasing dreams.
A total of 37 players that eventually made their way to The Links at Stoney Point Golf Club first stopped at Dunwoody Country Club, just outside of Atlanta, on Monday to compete in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open Sectional Qualifying Round. One day, 36 holes and four spots up for grabs.
Medalist honors belonged to current Epson Tour player Christine Song (Fullerton, California). She fired 70-70 to finish at 4-under par overall.
“Honestly I didn’t even have my A-game, and I was pretty surprised myself,” Song said after qualifying for the U.S Women’s Open for a third time in her career. “It’s going to be kind of tiring because we have to travel a lot, but I’m really excited for it.”
Another current Epson Tour standout Ssu-Chia Cheng (Taipei, Chinese Taipei) finished tied for second with 2017 Epson Tour graduate Katelyn Dambaugh (North Charleston, South Carolina), both just one shot back of Song.
“It was extremely exhausting, but I’m very excited to play in this year’s U.S. Open,” said Dambaugh, a LPGA Tour rookie. “It has always been a dream to play in this event. I haven’t been playing well all year and this really helps give me a little confidence boost going forward.”
The final qualifying spot came down to a three-way sudden-death playoff between another 2017 Epson Tour graduate in Emma Talley (Princeton, Kentucky), Sophia Popov (Heidelberg, Germany) and Demi Runas (Torrance, California).
When the dust settled, it was Talley who punched her ticket to Alabama on the first playoff hole. Runas and Popov come out of the qualifier as the first and second alternate, respectively.
For Talley, the experience will be extra special. Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club, site of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, was the home course the last few years for the former University of Alabama four-time All-American.
“I have never been so nervous at a tournament and I have never wanted to play in a tournament so bad,” said Talley. “I love Shoal Creek so much. I am so excited to be back there.”
Song, Cheng, Dambaugh and Talley will now begin preparation for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open in Shoal Creek, Ala., from May 29-June 3.
PKBGT EXEMPTION SMITH SHARES CONNECTION WITH ADAMS
Even though they did not meet until Monday, Lori Beth Adams (Burlington, N.C.) and amateur Kayla Smith (Burlington, N.C.) have a unique relationship that was formed long before coming together in Greenwood this week.
Both from Burlington, N.C., Adams attended Western Alamance High School. On the other hand, Smith is a junior at Walter M. Williams High School. When they talk about cross-town rivals, these two schools are the dictionary definition.
“Kind of like a little rivalry going on,” said Adams, who graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and was a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Player of the Year as a junior for the Seahawks. “I’ve heard of her in Burlington. It’s really cool to connect and finally talk to her.”
Growing up, Adams played at Indian Valley Golf Course, while Smith is a member at Alamance Country Club. Even though their respective schools may draw battle lines, it is the exact opposite for the Tar Heel State natives.
“Just teaching her how Epson [Tour] works and showing her the golf course,” Adams said. “We’ve heard of each other and I’ve been wanting to meet her because everybody talks about her at my golf course.”
This will be the second time Adams competes in the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic, so she can provide some background for Smith, who will be making her first Epson Tour start at The Links at Stoney Point Golf Club.
It won’t be her first time playing the course, however. Smith won the Women’s Health Classic Junior Challenge on the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls’ Golf Tour (PKBGT) right here in late March to secure exemption into the event.
“Having this opportunity to get exposed to this certain level of play is absolutely incredible,” said Smith, who has been the North Carolina 3A State Championships runner-up each of the last two years. “It’s a huge step. I’m trying not to go into this thinking too seriously, but just enough to where I know my game, concentrating on what I need to do and just doing it.”
Seeing their relationship grow from a word of mouth connection to a form of mentorship is what bonds these two players. It also instills a sense of confidence for Smith, having someone in her corner.
“I’m actually excited to see exactly how this works. Obviously it’s going to be nerve-racking,” Smith said. “Lori Beth has been a great part in helping me understand how everything works and introducing me to it, very appreciative of that.”