Crofton's Smidinger, 17, leads way again with even-par 72 October 4, 2011 By David Shefter, USGA

Rachel Dai, 14, of Suwanee kept defending champion Georgia in the hunt at the Women's State Team Championship with a career-best 67 on the Palmetto Course. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Savannah, Ga. – It wasn’t the birdie fest from the first round, but Elyse Smidinger’s even-par 72 on Wednesday morning helped Maryland to a one-stroke lead over Texas midway through round two of the 2011 USGA Women’s State Team Championship being conducted on the 6,067-yard Palmetto Course at The Landings Club.

The 17-year-old from Crofton, who made eight consecutive birdies and nine overall in carding a first-round 68, only mustered three birdies in the second round against three bogeys.

Adding an 81 by 53-year-old Lisa Schleslinger of Laytonsville, gave Maryland a 36-hole total of 8-over-par 296 in the 3-count-2 format. Andrea Kraus’ 83 did not count in the team score.

Lurking is Texas, which received a 3-over-par 75 from 56-year-old  Anna Schultz of Rockwall and a 76 from Mina Hardin, 51, of Fort Worth. Both are past USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champions; Schultz in 2007 and Hardin in 2010.

Texas and Maryland are also past runner-ups in this championship – the former in 1995 and the latter 10 years ago.

Tennessee, another past runner-up (1999), stood alone in third place at 10-over 298, followed by defending champion Georgia (299).

South Carolina, which posted a 5-over 149 in Tuesday’s first round, was among the teams with an afternoon starting time.

Smidinger, who started at No. 10, began her second round much like Tuesdays, with bogeys on two of her first four holes before collecting birdies at the par-5 14th and par-3 15th. She turned at 1-under 35 after collecting a second consecutive birdie at No. 18.

On the outward nine, she made just one birdie (No. 8) against two bogeys.

A lot of people were telling me to out there with no expectations, said Smidinger, a senior at Arundel High who has verbally committed to attend the University of Denver next fall. But it was like, why can’t I do it again?

The Kid, as Maryland’s Kraus calls her young teammate, provided a major boost with Schlesinger faltering from Tuesday’s opening-round 75.

Kraus, playing in her 27th USGA championship (includes Women’s State Teams) , competed in the 2001 WST when her squad failed to catch Minnesota, which was playing in front of the home crowd at Woodhill C.C. in Wayzata.

We really want a USGA championship, said Kraus. We’ll be in the hunt. The best approach [for us] is to play each shot and put everything else behind, and we have an ‘on’ day. It’s golf, so anything can happen.

Texas has also had its share of close calls at this event. The Lone Star State finished one stroke behind Pennsylvania in the inaugural championship 16 years ago. The team also shared third in 2005 and placed seventh in 2007 when it was held in suburban Houston at Carlton Woods. Schultz, Hardin and 49-year-old Robin Burke, who had a non-scoring 79 on Wednesday, have all played in multiple Women’s State Teams, and put themselves in position to raise the Judy Bell Trophy.

We’re right where we want to be, said Schultz. I’m thrilled. I can’t wait. All three of us are hitting it well and I know there’s a low score out there for tomorrow.

Schultz said the wind, which picked up as the morning morphed into afternoon, made things a bit more challenging.

It swirls a lot out here, said Schultz. You’ve got to add a club, sometimes two, depending on how hard that wind is coming. It was hard to pick a club.

Rachel Dai of Suwanee, Ga., didn’t seem to have any wind issues.  The 14-year-old Milton High freshman tied a championship record with a 5-under 67 to keep the defending champions in the hunt for a possible third Women’s State Team title. Georgia, which also won in 2005 up the road at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton, S.C., also received a 7-over 79 from veteran Laura Coble of Augusta. Brenda Corrie Kuehn (1997 for North Carolina) and Kathy Hartwiger (2009 for Alabama) had previously shot 67s at the Women's State Team.

Dai’s performance certainly left people impressed.

I saw a 67 on the board and said, ‘Good for you,’ said Tennessee’s Calle Nielson, who had a 74 after opening with a 69 on Tuesday.

Added Coble: That 67 was huge. That’s an awesome score. We’ll take it.

Starting on No. 10, Dai made the turn at 1-under 35 with birdies at 11 and 17 and a bogey at 14. She heated up with a 6-foot birdie at the par-5 second, then holed a 20-footer at the par-4 fourth. She converted a 12-footer at the fifth and closed the bogey-free second nine with a 3-footer at the 301-yard eighth hole.

For Dai, it was her career-low round by two strokes, surpassing the 69 she registered four months ago at Piedmont Driving Club.

Today, I just went out and played, said Dai, who lost in the first round of this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Olympia Fields (Ill.) C.C. I was thinking about a little improvement [from Tuesday].

Also improving from Tuesday was Jennifer Lucas of Tennessee. The 30-year-old from Knoxville trimmed five shots from her opening-round effort and coupled with Nielson’s 74, put the Volunteer State in a good position for Thursday’s final round.

While the Tennessee men own a State Team title – it won in 2003 behind the play of current PGA Tour pro Brandt Snedeker, the women were second 12 years ago when the competition at Golden Horseshoe G.C. (Green Course) in Williamsburg, Va., was shortened to 36 holes due to a final-day thunderstorm.

Nielson, a recent University of Virginia graduate, was only 11 at the time and was in high school when the men won its championship.

We’re happy with where we are, said Nielson, who advanced to the final stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School at last week’s Stage II event in Florida. We’ll go into tomorrow with a chance.

As for the team’s mindset, Nielson said it won’t change from the first two days.

It won’t be any different from today, she said. You can’t be conservative. I think we’ll get it together tomorrow.

David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. E-mail him at