U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S AMATEUR
After Long Hiatus, Ingram Relishes Return to Competition August 27, 2019 | Cedar Rapids, Iowa By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Sarah Ingram won three U.S. Women's Mid-Amateurs and played in three Curtis Cups before a 20-year hiatus from the game. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

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Before Monday, the last time Sarah LeBrun Ingram played a round of match play was in 1996 and she had persimmon woods in her golf bag. The three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion won the last of her titles in 1994, and she was the low amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1995. That low-amateur finish was accomplished while she was seven months pregnant with her second son, and the combination of family responsibilities and physical woes caused her to mostly give up the game for about two decades.

“I probably played a total of 20 or so rounds in that time,” said Ingram, 53, of Nashville, Tenn. “I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I got out of the game because I couldn’t bend four of my fingers. I was also ready to step back from golf at that time to raise my children.”

Ingram also got deeply involved in volunteer work, though with improved medication, she started to enjoy playing doubles tennis and riding horses competitively. Golf took a distant backseat until her home club, the Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs, was selected to host the 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Ingram was the club’s co-chair for the championship last August, and then came another major commitment: the call from the USGA to captain the 2020 USA Curtis Cup Team in Wales next June.

“I really had no idea that would happen,” said Ingram, a three-time Curtis Cup player in 1992, 1994 and 1996. “After seeing Ellen Port, Virginia [Derby Grimes] and Robin Burke captain and having attended two of those three Curtis Cups, there was definitely a thought that I would like to do it. But I didn’t really expect it, or if it did happen, that it would be so soon.”

Ingram probably didn’t expect to be talking about a match-play victory in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur a few months ago, but on Monday at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Country Club, she played even-par golf (with concessions) over the first 11 holes on the way to a 4-and-3 victory over Marion Reid of Canada. Ingram had earned the No. 36 seed after weekend stroke-play rounds of 75-81, and she takes on 2004 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Corey Weworski, the No. 4 seed, on Tuesday morning in the Round of 32.

“I’ve always loved match play and I’ve really been looking forward to playing it – it’s always suited me,” said Ingram, who along with her three Women’s Mid-Am titles was the runner-up in the 1993 U.S. Women’s Amateur to Jill McGill at San Diego Country Club. “I was a little more relaxed today for sure. I was nervous on Sunday, and having a later starting time didn’t help me. I really wanted to get to match play because so many tournaments have gone to stroke play these days.”

Ingram began to practice in earnest last fall, after she hosted seven-time USGA champion Port at her home for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and was inspired to see Port become the oldest player since Anne Sander in 1994 to earn a spot in match play.

“Part of what makes you a good mental player is having a lot of experience under your belt,” said Ingram after her victory. “I have a lot of experience, but it was a long time ago and I’m having to try to build new experience. There are times when I don’t feel confident about hitting certain shots, the nuances of them. I’ll ask myself, how did I do this before?”

Ingram has been guided through stroke play and match play by caddie and host club president, Mike O’Donnell, whose presence Ingram called “very calming.”

“This is a great match-play course,” said Ingram of the Donald-Ross designed layout. “In stroke play, I was just trying not to make a huge mess of things. I think I played more tentatively and made some holes tougher than they needed to be. Not having a lot of competitive rounds under my belt, a lot can go wrong. I can be a little more free in match play.”

When her run in this championship is over, she will turn her attention more fully to her captaincy of the 2020 Curtis Cup, which will be played June 12-14 at Conwy Golf Club in Caernarvonshire, Wales.

“I feel a little more comfortable with it than I did a few months ago, but I’m still working my way back to the game and being in the know of who’s who,” said Ingram. “I went to the Women’s Amateur [at Old Waverly in early August] and that’s always helpful to watch them play. Just getting to know some of them has been really fun.”

Ingram seems to be relishing her return to competition, which now includes nearly as many rounds under 80 as above.

“I want to do as well as I can,” she said. “Physically I feel very good. It’s a work in progress with my swing. Today I hit some nice pure shots, and my misses are getting less terrible. I’m getting closer.”

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

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