If you want to watch how amateur golfers react under pressure, Cougar Point at Kiawah Island Golf Club is the place to be. Eighteen holes for a chance to earn one of a handful of spots in next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston.
The sectional qualifying tournament at Cougar Point is the first of 18 that will be held across the country over the next couple of weeks, with 156 golfers advancing to the championship Aug. 5-11 in Charleston.
“We will probably be one of the largest sites in the country, which we usually are,” said Tiffany Priest of the Carolinas Golf Association. This year’s qualifier has 103 players registered, and they will be playing for 10 spots along with two alternate positions.
Priest said that while a lot of golfers try to treat the event the same as any other tournament, the tension begins to rise as scores are posted.
“It’s a one-shot type of thing,” Priest said. “There’s a lot of tension … You can see the pressure adding up later in the afternoon. They know what the number (to qualify) is and what they need to shoot. And we almost always have some sort of playoff. That can get pretty tense because they’re playing for a chance to go to their national championship.”
Katelyn Dambaugh and Katie Rose Higgins are among those who will be playing at Cougar Point, and they are well aware of the stakes. Higgins missed qualifying by one shot last year; Dambaugh played in the 2010 Women’s Amateur in Charlotte after earning a spot by finishing as the runner-up in the 20102 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.
Dambaugh, the Pinewood Prep star who has signed to play for the University of South Carolina, said she has been practicing a lot recently with Duke golfer Austin Cody, a former Pinewood Prep teammate, and that has pushed her to do even better.
“I’ve actually played (Cougar Point) four times over the last three or four weeks,” Dambaugh said. “For some reason, I’ve been nervous. I guess because it’s only one 18. The last qualifier I was in was 36 holes.”
Higgins, the former First Baptist star, recently won her second consecutive Carolinas Women’s Amateur title. She has played in two U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links championships and was one stroke short of making the field for last year’s Women’s Amateur.
“I’m really focusing on what I need to do, hopefully shoot under part and get through (the qualifying),” said Higgins, who is headed to graduate school at Vanderbilt where she will use her final two years of golf eligibility. She played two years for South Carolina and graduated last May.
“Knowing that the Women’s Amateur is in Charleston, there’s an extra push. You need to be relaxed. I’ve played Cougar Point a couple of times. It’s completely opposite (in style) of where the actual Amateur is. It’s pretty challenging, a really good course and I think it’s in really good shape. You’ll have to be hitting it well to get through there.”
The Women’s Amateur is one of the U.S. Golf Association’s three original championships, beginning in 1895 shortly after the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open. The only years it has not been played were 1917-18 because of World War I and 1942-45 because of World War II.
The golfers who advance to the Country Club of Charleston will participate in 36 holes of stroke play Aug. 5-6 to determine 64 players who make it to match play. The championship match is scheduled for 36 holes on Aug. 11.