Round 1 Storylines: Streak Continues for Three Sides April 28, 2018 | Tarzana, Calif. By David Shefter, USGA

Samantha Sommers (above) and partner Olivia Herrick are one of three sides to compete in the first four championships. (USGA/Darren Carroll) 

U.S. Women's Amateur Four-Ball Home

Olivia Herrick and Samantha Sommers haven’t stopped smiling since arriving at El Caballero Country Club for the 4th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

For starters, golf courses are just starting to open in their native Minnesota. Before Thursday’s first official practice round, the two hadn’t played since late October, and their qualifier at Windsong Farm in Independence, Minn., was extended a day due to weather.

But they are also one of three sides to have qualified for every U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball, an event they always have circled on their competitive calendars.

“It’s incredibly unique,” said Herrick, 29, of Roseville. “There’s literally no other championship like it.

“Any time you can play with a partner, it just adds a really different experience. It’s more engaging. You feel so emotionally devoted to what someone else is doing. There is 100 percent pure joy rooting for your teammate the whole round and wanting them to succeed. You feed off each other.”

Herrick and St. Cloud resident Sommers, who turns 29 on Sunday, also feel fortunate to be competing in this championship again. For the third time in four years, they got into the field as alternates.

Coincidentally, Dawn Woodard and four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi were informed last week by the USGA that they were in the field after being first alternates at their qualifier in Oklahoma on Sept. 14. The third four-time participants – 2006 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur runner-up Thuhashini Selvaratnam and Mari Mieswa – qualified on Jan. 29 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

All three sides would like to become the first mid-amateurs to engrave their name on the trophy. Sommers and Herrick advanced to the quarterfinals two years ago but failed to advance last year as the former was coming off a bout with pneumonia.

“Being from Minnesota is tough,” said Sommers, referring to the lack of actual on-course preparation. “You do as much as you can indoors, but when you’ve got 2 feet of snow on the ground [most of the winter], it’s tough playing against these girls coming off their college [and high school] seasons. We’re mid-ams. We have family and jobs.”

Here are four more storylines to follow for Saturday’s first round of stroke play:

Taking the Fourth

Like the aforementioned sides, Katie Miller also will be competing in her fourth consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. But her story has a twist.

Miller will be playing alongside a fourth different partner.

For the inaugural championship, Miller partnered with Amber Marsh Elliott, a former University of North Carolina assistant coach who recruited her to the Chapel Hill campus, and they advance to the quarterfinals.

A family illness forced Elliott to take a sabbatical from competitive golf, so Miller, 33, of Jeannette, Pa., teamed up with fellow Ligonier (Pa.) Country Club member Katie Obush for the 2016 championship at Streamsong. Again, her side advanced to the quarterfinals, losing to the eventual runners-up for a second consecutive year. But when Obush’s job obligations forced her away from the competition, Miller turned to former Purdue standout Aurora Kan. The two had become friendly through Pennsylvania amateur events, but the duo had an early exit in the Round of 32.

“I have this rule: if you are exempt or win [the championship], you have a standing obligation [to your partner],” said Miller, who has survived sectional qualifying for each of her four WAFB starts. “If you’re not … it’s fair game [to switch partners].”

When Kan turned professional, Miller sought out a fourth different partner. This time she landed 2015 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Lauren Greenlief, whose original partner, Alexandra Austin, also turned professional last fall.

Earlier this year, Greenlief and Miller won the International Four-Ball in Florida.

New Champions

The chance for a repeat winner ended last fall when Taylor Totland joined the Symetra Tour, leaving Alice Chen without a partner (she did not enter this year). Kaitlyn Papp and Hailee Cooper, the 2015 champions who competed last year, also did not enter. Papp is finishing her freshman season at the University of Texas and is thus focused on postseason play.

Chen and Totland ended the two-year victory run of teenagers. Inaugural champions Rinko Mitsunaga (Georgia) and Mika Liu (Stanford) are also involved in the college postseason and did not file an entry.

One duo to keep an eye on: future Duke University teammates Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd. The side carded an 11-under 61 in the final sectional qualifier on April 11, the lowest score ever recorded in the four years of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Shepherd also is the reigning U.S. Girls’ Junior champion.

Welcome Back

Susan Curtin may list Westwood, Mass., as her hometown, but the 47-year-old’s roots are in Southern California. Qualifying for a third consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball with partner Pam Kuong afforded Curtin a chance to go “home.” She was born in Canoga Park and played on the boys’ team at golf power Westlake High in Ventura County. Her teammates included future PGA Tour pro Charlie Wi and current University of Southern California men’s golf coach Chris Zambri. The school also boasts 2017 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Matt Wolff as one of its alums. In the early 1980s, Curtin was the only female participant in the junior program at Westlake Golf Course.

During those days, Curtin, the reigning Massachusetts Mid-Amateur of the Year, also had a chance to play El Caballero Country Club, the site for this year’s Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.

That familiarity with the course and area translated into some added responsibilities. Curtin managed to secure a rental home for several Massachusetts players in the field. Besides Kuong, Megan Buck, Shannon Johnson, Chelsea Curtis and Claire Sheldon are sharing the residence.

Curtin is hoping the third time will be the charm at the Four-Ball. The past two years, she and Kuong failed to qualify for match play. Maybe coming back to Southern California will provide some magic.

Role Change

For the past several years, Megan Buck has been by Shannon Johnson’s side, offering encouragement and course management suggestions as she plodded through the draw at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship. In 2016, Johnson reached the championship match and was a semifinalist last November with Buck serving as caddie. But this week, the roommates who both work for Ping – Buck on the apparel side and Johnson as an equipment rep – will both be playing shots.

Not only are the two roommates, but they also play out of Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, Mass., which is the home club of reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Matt Parziale.

Because of job conflicts, neither had ever attempted to qualify for this championship, but with an earlier competition date, both found room on their schedule.

Buck, 29, will certainly lean on the 35-year-old Johnson for experience. While Buck competed at Northern Arizona University, this is her first USGA championship. Johnson, a 2006 graduate of Indiana University, has posted a 9-2 match-play record the past two years in the Women’s Mid-Amateur.

“It will be great playing with someone that’s been in that situation several times recently,” Buck told Global Golf Post. “I can lean on her. That will take a lot of that pressure off.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org

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