Grand Valley's Chipman Relishing Underdog Status at Old Waverly August 7, 2019 | West Point, Miss. By Tom Mackin

Katie Chipman is the first player from Division II Grand Valley State to qualify for match play in the U.S. Women's Amateur. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

Katie Chipman misses competing with four of her Grand Valley State University teammates in the 103rd Michigan Women’s Amateur this week in her home state. But she’s quite happy to be in Mississippi right now.

After all, the rising junior qualified for the 119th U.S Women’s Amateur Championship, where she has become the first player in school history to advance to match play.

That meant Rebecca Mailloux, who recently completed her 11th season as the school’s women’s golf coach is making the 12-drive to support Chipman in person in Wednesday’s Round of 64, fulfilling a promise she made to her player last week.

“I told her if she qualified for match play, I would travel down there to see her play,” said Mailloux. “This opportunity may never come around again and if I stayed home I might regret not doing it.”

Having the championships fall during the same week wasn’t an issue for Chipman.

“I knew both were scheduled for this week, but my goal was to qualify for this championship,” she said. “I was hoping to be in Mississippi and not in Michigan. Now that I’m here, I just want to keep playing better and better.”

The Plymouth, Mich. native has done exactly that so far, shaving seven strokes off her first-round 76 by shooting a 3-under par 69 in Tuesday’s final round of stroke play to earn an 11:20 a.m. CDT tee time against incoming Mississippi State freshman Ashley Gilliam.

“I didn’t have to shoot anything too crazy today, but things just pulled together and I stuck some good approach shots,” said Chipman, who made three birdies on each nine on Tuesday at Old Waverly Golf Club. “That felt pretty good. I just told myself to swing free, aim at the pin and try to get as close as possible. I did that few times for tap-in birdies.”

“Katie is the most talented player I have ever had come through the program,” added Mailloux. “The key for Katie, and I think she’s finally coming around to this, is convincing her she is just that good. She’s such a humble person. It’s taken her a long time to convince her how good she is. We’ve been working on that the last couple of years. Clearly an experience like this will help her even more.”

Despite coming from a NCAA Division II school located in Allendale, Mich., the 21-year-old Chipman hasn’t been totally overwhelmed during her first USGA championship, especially competing against the likes of Division I All-Americans and elite juniors.

“I knew that this was way different than anything I’ve played in before,” said Chipman. “It didn’t scare me. I thought it was pretty cool to be on the range with your last name on a sign and hitting balls out there with some of the best amateurs in the world. I was just excited to be here.”

Even with nine collegiate victories so far, the two-time Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year and 2018 second-team Division II All America admits to feeling like a slight underdog. “Especially being someone who doesn’t play golf all year round because we’re stuck inside for two or three months up in Michigan.”

That harsh winter weather forces her team indoors for practice at the Kelly Family Sports Center (named after former head football coach Brian Kelly, now head coach at Notre Dame University), a facility on the school’s campus. Inside players can hit up to 100-yard shots into nets, use a practice putting green, practice on some simulators and use TrackMan technology.  

A stronger level of competition is another advantage Division I golfers enjoy, according to Chipman. “In Division II you may go to smaller tournaments during the season, but they’re playing big tournaments against really good schools all year round. That helps the individual players that much more.”

But once you tee it up, all credentials are tossed aside. That will be especially true in match play on Wednesday. “My mindset is to beat whoever is it I’m playing that day. I try to not think of the specifics. My dad (Brian Chipman, her caddie this week) is more of the numbers guy and looks at the stats. I just go play golf and play my game. I try not to get caught up in if I’m playing a highly ranked or someone who plays at a Division I school.”

According to her coach, Chipman has always had a good ability to focus on her game and the golf course she is playing. “That’s something you can't always teach,” said Mailloux. “You either have that ability or you don’t. To the degree that she needed it, she’s got a better ability than most to do that now.”

Having plenty of match-play experience is something Chipman can draw from after advancing that far in three of the past four Michigan Women’s Amateurs.

“Last year I made it to the Sweet 16 and two years ago I made it to the finals, so that was a lot of golf,” she said. “I really do like match play because it helps me be more aggressive and also to know when to be more calm and reserved when you need to.”

With practice rounds and the two stroke-play rounds behind her, Chipman is feeling right at home among the higher profile competition.

“I can hit the same shots they can and drive the ball just as far as they can. I did a little comparison with some of the other players here and I know I’m not that far behind. If I can just stay positive with my thoughts, I can get it done like I did today.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA digital channels. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.