Ellen Port, 50, of St. Louis, Mo., and Jane Fitzgerald, 50, of Kensington, Md., advanced Wednesday to the championship round of the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at the par-74, 6,220-yard Hershey Country Club West Course. The 18-hole final on Thursday starts at 8:30 a.m. EDT.
Port and Fitzgerald, who are both playing in their first USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, won their semifinal matches comfortably after each player had to work hard to defeat their quarterfinal opponents earlier in the day. In the semifinals, Port was a 6-and-4 winner over Lecia Alexander, of Stafford, Texas, while Fitzgerald dispatched Lisa Schlesinger, the top seed from Laytonsville, Md., 4 and 3.
The 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play.
The USGA Senior Women’s Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Port, a four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, including in 2011, held a one-hole advantage after the outward nine in the semifinals, then won five consecutive holes. She made pars on all five, including getting up and down from the front of the par-4 11th. Meanwhile, Alexander, who rolled to an 8-and-7 triumph in her quarterfinal match, struggled after the turn. She missed a short par putt on No. 10 and found greenside bunkers that led to bogeys on holes 12 and 14.
"Every match has its own character," said Port, who won in dramatic fashion in the quarterfinals against 2004 Senior Women’s Amateur champion Carolyn Creekmore by hitting her approach to within 6 inches for birdie on the 18th and deciding hole. "I stayed in the moment. I didn’t have a lot of feel around the greens. I had some uncharacteristic shots for me with wedges in my hand. I tried not to get frustrated with myself and I did a pretty good job of that. I let the bad shots go and knew that I had some good ones in me."
Fitzgerald pounced on Schlesinger, the championship’s stroke-play medalist for the second consecutive year, early in the match. She made a birdie from short range on the second hole to take the lead for good and gave herself a 3-up cushion by curling in a right-to-left breaking, downhill 20-foot putt on the par-5 7th.
"She hits it better than I thought she did," said Schlesinger, who reached the Senior Women’s Amateur semifinal round for the second year in a row. "Early on, those two holes that I missed those short putts were painful. That was two holes that I gave her. I was disappointed because I don’t usually miss those putts."
With a two-hole lead after the outward nine, Fitzgerald extended her advantage by winning holes 10 and 11. She sank a 7-foot birdie putt on the 10th and made a two-putt par on the 11th. It was a comfortable margin for a player who had to birdie Nos. 16 and 18 in the morning to rally for a 2-up quarterfinal win over Joan Higgins, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titlist from Glendora, Calif., and needed 19 holes to advance in the third round.
"This makes me feel great," said Fitzgerald, a graduate of nearby Penn State University. "I’ve been playing a long time with this dream. I hit the ball better this afternoon, I felt more confident. I drove it well and had some good chips."
The USGA Senior Women’s Amateur championship match will feature competitors who have not played against each other in nearly two decades. Fitzgerald remembers that first-round loss to Port at the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
"I know her and I know her record," said Fitzgerald about Port, who hopes to become the 10th player to win five USGA women’s championships. "Her experience is a big strength."
Hershey, Pa. – Results of Wednesday’s quarterfinal and semifinal round of match play at the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, played at the 6,220-yard, par-74 Hershey Country Club (West Course)
Lisa Schlesinger, Laytonsville, Md. (149) def. Brenda Pictor, Marietta, Ga. (155), 4 and 3
Jane Fitzgerald, Kensington, Md. (162) def. Joan Higgins, Glendora, Calif. (158), 2 up
Ellen Port, St. Louis, Mo. (150) def. Carolyn Creekmore, Dallas, Texas (164), 1 up
Lecia Alexander, Stafford, Texas (164) def. Julie Harrison, Baton Rouge, La. (164), 8 and 7
Jane Fitzgerald, Kensington, Md. (162) def. Lisa Schlesinger, Laytonsville, Md. (149), 4 and 3
Ellen Port, St. Louis, Mo. (150) def. Lecia Alexander, Stafford, Texas (164), 6 and 4
Hershey, Pa. – Pairing for Thursday’s championship round of match play at the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, played at the 6,220-yard, par-74 Hershey Country Club (West Course)
Championship (18 Holes)
8:30 a.m. – Jane Fitzgerald, Kensington, Md. (162) vs. Ellen Port, St. Louis, Mo. (150)