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Might have been something she ate – or didn’t

November 4, 2016

The U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship is a real test of stamina for the two golfers competing in the final round of 36 holes. By then, they have already played seven rounds of golf over six days – two medal rounds and five bouts of match play. 

That may be why the USGA approached the two 2016 finalists, Eun Jeong Seong of Korea and Virginia Elena Carta, the day before the Sunday marathon, and asked what they wanted for lunch between the first 18 and the final 18 holes of the week. 

Another golf writer and I were about to interview Carta just after her Aug. 6 semifinal victory, when a USGA staffer stepped in. The lunch question was on her mind, and Carta was told she could have anything she wanted. 

Carta chose plain penne pasta with cheese, a fruit salad and a green salad with no dressing.

I wasn’t there for the same discussion with Seong, but I saw her the next day during the lunch break, sitting with her family. The tall teenager was tucking into a beautiful-looking steak, a side dish of penne pasta with tomato sauce and a couple other hearty items.

After the first 18 holes, which began at 7:30 a.m., the two golfers were even, in a closely fought contest of very good golf, including amazing recoveries from the not-so-good stuff. For example, Seong hit a snap hook to start her round, but pitched her third shot from 52 yards out to 4 feet and a tying par. 

Carta was two-up after the 10th hole, thanks to her great approach shot on the ninth and a mistake by Seong on the next. Seong cut the lead on the 14th with a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe, and made it all square with another birdie on 15, from 4 feet. Seong’s birdie on 17 put her one-up, but Carta won the next hole when Seong missed her par attempt. 

The two golfers played this first 18 in 3 hours 20 minutes, and the pace seemed to agree with them. The break came at 10:50 a.m., and the second 18 resumed at 12:30 p.m., after the self-selected lunches.

Seong immediately took the lead on the first hole, with a fine birdie from 7 feet. The match went back to even on the next hole, when Carta made a 30-foot sweeping left-to-right putt for a tap-in par that Seong couldn’t duplicate. 

Seong followed up her miss with a conceded birdie on the third hole, after Carta hit into a deep bunker on the par 3 and couldn’t recover. That was her first bogey of the entire day. 

On the fifth hole, however, as the two golfers matched each other, Carta began wearing a towel over her head, wrapping its ends across her face.  

The signs of her physical distress continued for several holes. She beat Seong on the par 3 sixth, but hit an unexpectedly fast putt on the par 5 seventh, rolling the ball off the green and into the rough. Carta’s next shot rolled back to the fringe a few feet away, and she conceded the hole to go one-down. 

Signs of Carta’s further flagging continued on the next couple holes, but she kept pace with Seong. The Korean’s lead went to two-up on the 11th hole, with yet another birdie. 

The Korean gave Carta an opening on the 13th hole, when she hit another snap hook with her driver. However, all was not well for Carta, as she slowly prepared for her approach on the par 4. As the players finished the hole, Carta’s troubles magnified.  

She told the group she felt faint, and medical backup came quickly. Carta lay down on the ground, and was reportedly dehydrated, disoriented and having trouble breathing. The USGA gave her a 15-minute break to recover, and at its end she stood up to make her tee shot on the par 3 14th. 

Both golfers hit into bunkers, but Seong’s recovery from a downhill lie was superb, leading to a par and a return to two-up. 

Carta soldiered on, blowing her cheeks and stopping to rest as she walked up the hill to the 15th green, and very slowly rising after returning her ball to the green surface for a putt. They tied that hole and the 16th, leaving Seong dormie with two holes.

Carta then made the crowd of 500 burst into cheers on the 17th hole. After hitting her eagle putt too far, she rolled her ball 30 feet up and down a slope into the hole, forcing the match to continue. It was a very gutty performance, especially given her condition. 

Then it was Seong’s turn for heroics. Both golfers hit the 18th green in two shots, with Carta 25 feet above the hole and Seong about 40 feet left. 

Seong’s putt curved from left to right, and tracked smoothly into the hole for the win. 

Again the crowd erupted, as Seong’s buddies rushed the green and showered the winner with water bottles, laughing and cheering.

Carta was completely gracious in defeat, and handled herself well in the post-round TV interview. Her coach at Duke, Don Brooks, said they would look into her diet, both that day and otherwise.

It was a hot, sunny day, as it was during every other round that week. Keeping up energy levels and staying well hydrated was critical. The championship tested not only golfing skill, but also endurance.  

Seong made history by being the first to win the U.S. Girls’ Junior and Women’s Amateur in the same year, and only the third female golfer to win multiple championships in the same year. Carta sought to be the first female since Vicki Goetze in 1992 to win the NCAA and Women’s Amateur in the same year.

Seong and Carta will see each other again. Both received exemptions into the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open, as well as multi-year exemptions into future Women’s Amateurs. 

Considering how close this match was, and how well they played, we could enjoy watching these two golfers for many years.

Oakley wins Philadelphia PGA event

Congratulations to Heritage Shores Assistant Golf Professional Zac Oakley for his Oct. 10 victory in the PAO Tour Championship held at Lehigh Country Club.  

The Philadelphia PGA Section sponsors the Philadelphia Assistants Organization as part of their ongoing support for aspiring PGA professionals. 

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