University of Illinois student a Roe and Penny Stamps Scholar August 5, 2012 By Ken Klavon, USGA

Erin Ahern knew in high school that she was good in math and science, which helped her decide to major in aerospace engineering. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Cleveland – For Erin Ahern, golf has taken a backseat to academics. But here she is in only her second USGA event and first U.S. Women’s Amateur, having the time of her life.

Despite shooting an 8-over-par 80 in Monday’s first round of qualifying at The Country Club, she came away with positive feelings.

It was pretty good, said Ahern, of Hinsdale, Ill. I was a little nervous starting, but I couldn’t make some putts.

Ahern bogeyed her first two holes and carded nine bogeys in all, but she did have a couple of highlights. On the 384-yard, par-4 13th hole, she chipped in from 50 feet for her lone birdie of the round. And on the 385-yard, par-4 18th, her finishing hole, she made a beautiful par save by knocking a flop shot within 2 feet of the flagstick.

Ahern, 19, played in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in June, getting in as an alternate. She didn’t make match play, missing the playoff by three strokes after rounds of 78-74, but that was OK. She’s playing golf for the fun of it, having picked the game up at 14 and never playing competitively in high school. She said she considered playing at the collegiate level, but her academics come first.

Golf is still fun for me, although I missed the competitive years, she said.

Ahern recently finished her freshman year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Roe and Penny Stamps Scholar. In January of her senior year in high school, she was persuaded to interview for the scholarship program, which is in place at more than 20 colleges but was in its second year at Illinois.

She was one of six incoming students to be awarded a  scholarship.

She’s not exactly sure yet what she wants to do when she graduates, other than having interests in building airplanes, rockets and various spacecraft.

I was always good in math and science in high school, so I thought engineering would be good for me, said Ahern, who is also a member of the Illinois Space Society, a group of students who are interested in space exploration and development.

She didn’t develop an interest in aerospace engineering until visiting her grandfather, who lives 25 miles from Cape Canaveral in Florida. She watched a rocket launch and became enamored with aerospace engineering.

I see academics trumping golf, said Ahern. I haven’t really decided how I can use rocket design yet, but I’d like to apply aerodynamics to make better golf clubs.

Ken Klavon is the USGA’s online editor. Email questions or comments to kklavon@usga.org.