No. 29 Seeds Austin-Greenlief Rising as Putts Start Falling May 25, 2016 | Bowling Green, Fla. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Lauren Greenlief (left) and Alexandra Austin are riding a wave of momentum since advancing to match play via a playoff. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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After a long, draining day in the 2nd U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Alexandra Austin and Lauren Greenlief had seen their 3-up lead on opponents Olivia Herrick and Samantha Sommers dwindle to one hole in Tuesday afternoon’s quarterfinals, but they felt no need to panic.

“We were both hitting solid shots and we were both in all the holes – we just couldn't get putts to drop,” said Greenlief, 25, of Oakton, Va., the 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion. “It’s one thing when people are chipping away at your lead and you’re just hitting bad golf shots and giving holes away. But I felt a little calmer because both of us were hitting it solid and we had chances. Eventually we knew something was going to happen.”

It did, when Austin sandwiched a 12-foot birdie between a pair of narrow misses by Herrick and Sommers on No. 15 to give the Virginia tandem a 2-up lead with three holes to play. They closed out the match on Austin’s conceded birdie two holes later, 2 and 1, to advance to Wednesday morning’s semifinals against Kaitlyn Papp and Hailee Cooper, of Texas.

Earlier in the day, Austin and Greenlief, the oldest side remaining among the semifinalists, eliminated Florida teens Hannah Leiner and Latanna Stone, 4 and 3.

It has been a whirlwind week for Greenlief, who competed in the LPGA Kingsmill Invitational in Williamsburg, Va., on a sponsor’s exemption last Thursday and Friday. She missed the cut (82-75), then hustled to catch a plane and made it to Streamsong Resort at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, the first day of stroke play. Austin was prepared to compete in stroke play on her own if Greenlief made the cut in the LPGA event.

After a scramble to secure her clubs, which didn’t make it onto Greenlief’s connecting flight on Friday night, the duo gritted out 36 holes of stroke play, finishing at 1-under-par 143 and earning their spot in match play with a birdie on the first hole of a 4-for-3 playoff.

“We were in a playoff to get into the event in the first place, too,” noted Greenlief. Last August, the pair shot 67 to tie for the second and final spot available in a qualifier at Glen Allen, Va., advancing into the field at Streamsong via a playoff.

“Alex and I agreed that this is a marathon tournament and you’ve got to just kind of grind it out,” said Greenlief, who paired with Abby Portyrata in last year’s inaugural Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, where they won one match before falling to eventual finalists Hannah O’Sullivan and Robynn Ree.

“They’re great players and great girls,” said Herrick after falling to Greenlief and Austin. “They just didn’t slip up today.”

Just as in their match with Herrick and Sommers, the partners have preached patience since first stepping to the tee in stroke play.

“In our first two rounds, nothing really fell for us, and then putts started to fall during match play,” said Austin, 23, a 2015 Radford University graduate who is contemplating turning professional later this year.

“I think match play kind of frees you up,” said Greenlief, who joined with Austin and Portyrata to represent Virginia last September in the USGA Women’s State Team Championship, where they finished fifth. “You know exactly where you’re at and exactly what you have to do. I think that makes it a little easier to drop some birdies.”

Asked about the grueling nature of the championship, which requires two matches in Florida heat and humidity over the final two days to earn the trophy, Greenlief pointed to her 2015 experience.

“I took some time off last summer and played 72 straight days, so I’m used to it,” said Greenlief, a management consultant. “Winning the Mid-Am in the Louisiana heat, playing all those days in a row, gets you in that mindset and it's definitely helped me out here.”

Greenlief called on Austin last year about partnering for this week when Portyrata decided to attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour. It didn’t come out of the blue – earlier this week, the two recalled their first meeting more than a decade ago at a local driving range, where they were both taking lessons.

“I’ve known Alex for a really long time,” said Greenlief, a 2012 University of Virginia graduate. “It was a natural choice, and Alex played really solid golf last year, so it was a natural pairing.”

It’s a pairing that may find its way onto a trophy, if the putts continue to fall.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org

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