The 17-year-old junior golfer now in second place after starting the day 26th
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – It is not unreasonable to state that, since Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis on Sunday of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, no one has played Pinehurst No. 2 better than Emilia Migliaccio did on Tuesday.
Migliaccio, among the top-ranked junior golfers not only in North Carolina but in the world, carded a brilliant 4-under 67 in the second round of the 114th Women’s North & South Amateur to move from a share of 26th place to start the round all the way to second and just three shots off the lead, still held by Maddie Szeryk.
“I hit every green and every fairway, so, um, that’s going to help,” quipped Migliaccio, who is just 17 years old. “(In the first round), I missed the greens in some poor spots, which cost me some strokes. So (Tuesday) my mom (her caddie) and I focused on ‘middle of the green, middle of the green,’ which is what everyone has told us to do, and I did that on every hole.”
“It’s such an honor to be here. This is THE bucket list of every golfer, to play here.” -Emilia Migliaccio
Both are remarkable feats for Migliaccio, who was 10 shots better in the second round than her first on another difficult day on No. 2. Migliaccio’s round was the only one under par on Tuesday and included five birdies, three of which came on the course’s three par-5s.
“The most important thing for me was to play freely,” she said. “I know my game is solid, so there was no reason for me to be nervous over a putt or nervous over a shot.”
Migliaccio won the North Carolina state 4-A championship when she was a freshman at Athens Drive in 2013, and came into the North & South with three wins this season already to go with four runner-up finishes. A Wake Forest recruit, she has won the last two Scott Robertson Memorial Golf Tournaments, a championship whose previous champions include Paula Creamer, Brooke Henderson, Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan and Smylie Kaufman.
But this round was a little extra special.
“It’s such an honor to be here. This is THE bucket list of every golfer, to play here,” Migliaccio said. “And I get to play so many rounds. I’m just so fortunate.
“The U.S. Open was here just a couple of years ago. I watched Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson here,” Migliaccio added. “That was such a cool experience.”
As brilliant as Migliaccio was, she and the rest of the field are still chasing Szeryk, the Texas A&M star. Representing Team Canada this week, Szeryk followed up her first-round 69 with a gutsy 72 to remain at 1 under par for the championship.
“It was definitely a grinding day,” said Szeryk, who owns a slew of Texas A&M school records. “I didn’t hit the ball as well as I did (Monday), but I had a lot of really good up-and-downs.”
Szeryk got as low as 3 under for the championship, but was offset by four bogeys.
“I was able to keep it together,” she said. “I tried not to make any big numbers, which can happen out here.”
They sure can. For the second straight day, the stroke average was higher than 79, and again, there were more double bogeys – 124 to 123 – than birdies.
Still, several top players coming into the championship find themselves in the thick of the hunt for one of 16 match play seeds, which will be determined by a final round of stroke play on Wednesday. Big Ten Champion, Purdue’s August Kim, had the second-lowest round of the day with an even par 71 to share second place with Migliaccio and Florida’s Kelly Grassel at 2 over for the championship.
“I played pretty well all the way through,” Kim said. “Of course, I missed my share of greens and didn’t put myself in a some good spots, but my putting and short game were really solid. And because of that, I wasn’t really afraid of the course, and I think that was a big deal. I think a lot of the girls fell into that pitfall.”
Katelyn Dambaugh, the runner-up for the Annika Award and the highest-ranked player in the field, struggled to a 78, but is tied for 15th at 9 over. Stanford’s Casey Danielson, who was the 2014 Women’s North & South medalist, shot 76 and is tied for 10th. Alabama’s Cheyenne Knight, who made the cut in her LPGA Tour debut in April, is tied for 18th.
The Women’s North & South Amateur is the longest consecutively running amateur championship in the United States. North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey as well as Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
As much as the North & South is a championship with a great past, it also continues to foster a great legacy. Ten of the last 13 Amateur champions have joined the LPGA Tour, three of whom have won major championships – Pressel, Tseng and as of Sunday, Lang, who won the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.