Round 1: Five Things to Watch November 10, 2017 | Houston, Texas By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Martha Leach, the 2009 champ, is one of six players in this week's Women's Mid-Amateur field to have played at Champions G.C. in 1998. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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Two factors make the 31st U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship unlike any of the 30 previous versions. For one, players are competing for a berth in next year’s U.S. Women’s Open, an exemption that was announced last month and will go for the first time to the player who survives stroke play and the 64-player match-play bracket, which ends on Nov. 16 at Champions Golf Club. The 132 players in the field take the first step toward that goal Saturday with the first round of stroke play, which will be followed by the second round of stroke play on Sunday. Here are five things to watch as play gets underway.

Return engagement: The second unprecedented factor involves Champions itself, which is hosting the championship because of damage that original host site Quail Creek Country Club in Naples, Fla., sustained from Hurricane Irma in early September. On Sept. 26, the USGA announced that Champions had stepped up to host the championship on extremely short notice after it was determined that Quail Creek would not be able to host the event, initially scheduled for Oct. 7-12. It is the first time that the USGA was forced to relocate a championship in the same year it was scheduled.

Championship legacy: Cofounded by major champions Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke Jr., the club hosted the U.S. Open in 1969, 12 years after it opened. Orville Moody, a former sergeant in the Army, claimed the championship for his lone victory in 266 career events on the PGA Tour. He’s also the last player to win the U.S. Open by enduring local and sectional qualifying. Champions previously hosted this championship in 1998, the third of three USGA championships conducted on its Cypress Creek Course.

John Harris won the 1993 U.S. Amateur at Champions and remains the last mid-amateur to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy. Six players in this week’s field competed here 19 years ago, including future USGA champions Martha Leach and Mina Hardin. Hardin, the 2010 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion, advanced to the Round of 32, while Leach made it to the semifinals. Virginia Derby Grimes, who will captain next year’s USA Curtis Cup Team, defeated 1989 champion Robin Weiss, 4 and 3, in the 18-hole final.

Women’s Open berth: The winner this week will play in the 72nd U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside of Birmingham, Ala., May 31-June 3, and the 2019 champion will be exempt into the 74th Women’s Open, which will be contested here at Champions. The club was announced as the 2020 Women’s Open host site in January 2016. The Country Club of Charleston (S.C.) will host the 2019 Women’s Open.

Battle-tested: Among this year’s 132-player field are five players who are competing in at least their 20th Women’s Mid-Amateur. Leach – the 2009 champion and the sister of six-time USGA champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member Hollis Stacy – leads the way by making her 29th start. Pat Cornett, the 1987 runner-up, is competing for the 26th time. Hardin (23), Corey Weworski (22) and Mary Jane Hiestand (20) round out the top five. Perhaps not surprisingly, four of them competed here in 1998.

New blood: Along with the veterans, the championship has its share of players making their first appearance. One example is Whitney Frykman, 31, of Seattle, Wash., who works in finance and is a certified yoga instructor. Frykman is returning to competitive golf after eight years away. The key to her return? A round she played in the summer of 2016 with her father, Dennis, at Chambers Bay, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open. Frykman, who is competing in her fourth USGA championship, earned all-Big Ten honors at Purdue University and got into this field when Margaret Starosto, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, withdrew due to injury last week. Seven players in the field are in their first year of age eligibility.

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

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