By Alex Podlogar
Through eyes filling uncontrollably with tears, Anna Morgan was 8 years old again.
Elford Morgan was left of the 15th green of Pinehurst No. 2 on Saturday afternoon, directly in line with his daughter Anna’s birdie try from 15 feet. The championship was inevitable at this point. Anna was 4-up with four to play, and two putts meant victory in the 121st Women’s North & South Amateur.
But emotions don’t play on a linear timeline, and they certainly don’t play fair when it comes to fathers and daughters. Nothing was truly official….yet. The ball tracked toward the hole, like so many had already done this week off of Morgan’s July-hot putter. That it fell came as a surprise to no one, but that didn’t matter to the man wearing the purple striped shirt and “Furman Dad” cap.
As the ball rolled, his right hand first went to his mouth, then the left joined it. The ball tumbled, and so too, nearly, did the father. He bent fully at the waist, his head in his hands, and wept with joy.
Anna Morgan – his Anna Morgan – is the Women’s North & South Champion. His little girl, now a graduate of Furman, in what is most likely her last amateur tournament before turning pro, who already has her registration submitted for LPGA Tour Qualifying School, joins a list of past champions like Babe Zaharias, Peggy Kirk Bell, Yani Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Danielle Kang in this prestigious championship at Pinehurst.
“This means so, so much,” Anna Morgan said. “I’ve just been working so hard these last couple of years knowing that my plan is to play after college. Not that there’s been doubt, but at the same time, until you get one of those really big wins, it’s kind of hard to believe.”
Anna Morgan hugs her caddie Aaron Dittman after winning the Women's North & South Amateur. (Photo by Melissa Schaub)
With an emphatic 5&3 victory over Washington State’s Madelyn Gamble, Morgan now has her really big win in a championship that she came so close to winning two years ago when she was the runner-up to Duke star – and current LPGA Tour pro – Gina Kim, who went through Q School last year to earn her card.
“Gina was, obviously, such a great competitor,” said Morgan, who reached the semifinals here a year ago. “And I think I learned a lot about myself and my game in that position. And to be able to put myself in that position again this year was awesome. From the first tee shot, I felt really comfortable out there, and never too nervous.”
She was 2-up through three holes – she hit her approach on the short par-4 3rd hole to less than 2 feet – and was 3-up after a birdie on 5. Her only hiccup was a sloppy bogey on the par-5 10th, but she immediately birdied the 11th from 10 feet to take a commanding lead again. A par after Gamble’s 3-putt on 12 put her up by four holes, and though Gamble chipped in for birdie on 13 to win the hole, Morgan effectively ended the match with a dramatic birdie from 50 feet on 14.
That set the stage for the par-3 15th. After Gamble’s 20-footer slid by the hole, Morgan sidled up to her chance. With history on the line in her sixth try at a North & South, Morgan didn’t lag the putt. Not this time.
It was her third birdie in the last five holes.
Madelyn Gamble plays an approach shot during the championship match of the Women's North & South Amateur. (Photo by Melissa Schaub)
“Pinehurst No. 2 is a beast, and for some reason for the last two or three days of golf, I’ve made it look easy, and I’m still not quite sure how,” Morgan said. “But my putter is my new best friend. So I guess I’ve got my putter, and now I’ve got the Putter Boy, and I’m in a pretty good spot.”
The congratulations came from everywhere. Tournament volunteers. Rules officials. A day before, it had come from the practice range attendant who made a point to go up to her and wish her the best.
Even her opponent.
“Anna played great, and congrats to her,” Gamble said. “I know she’s been chasing this championship many times, and it’s cool to see her win.”
“This is one of the most meaningful moments to me,” Morgan said at the trophy ceremony, pausing to wipe away the tears now coming for her.
Anna Morgan comforts her father Elford as he wipes away tears following Anna's victory. (Photo by John Patota)
Elford watched from the brick path in front of Pinehurst’s clubhouse veranda, a smile etched into his face. As he soaked in the scene of his daughter photographed with the Putter Boy trophy at the Putter Boy statue, he went back to the 15th green, and then went back even further.
“I just remember her at 8 years old, and watching her play baseball as a kid, and be the best player on the field,” he said. “And then, in a small town, she’s told she can’t play baseball anymore because she’s not a boy. And that day, I came home, and Anna asked me if we could go play golf.”
Anna laughed when she saw her father in tears. Kids, man.
But her heart was in the right place.
“I was laughing because I didn’t want to cry,” she said. “It just means so much, and it obviously means a lot to him, too. I just have the most supportive family, and coaches, and friends and team, and it just seemed like so many people here and everywhere were pulling for me. Obviously, I wanted to win it for myself, but I wanted to win it for everyone else. And seeing his reaction was really sweet and exciting.”
The celebration, like the coming career, was just beginning. Tears were shed, sure, but now was time for joy. Anna’s best friends from college were in town. Her grandparents, the ones who always rooted so hard for her in past North & Souths, were ready to revel with their granddaughter.
“Rumor has it I’m due a couple of transfusions,” she said.
Raise a glass, everyone. Anna Morgan is the 121st Women’s North & South Amateur Champion.
121st Women’s North & South Amateur
Round of 32
Pinehurst No. 2
July 13, 2023
No. 1 Ashley Menne d. No. 32 Maisie Filler, 1up
No. 17 Anna Morgan d. No. 16 Katherine Schuster, 20 holes
No. 25 Sophie Zhang-Murphy d. No. 8 Anika Varma 4&3
No. 9 Chloe Kovelesky d. No. 24 Brianna Navarrosa, 3&2
No. 4 Sabrina Iqbal d. No. 29 Faith Choi, 1up
No. 20 Lauren Zaretsky d. No. 13 Megan Schofill, 2&1
No. 28 Bentley Cotton d. No. 5 Savannah Grewal, 3&2
No. 12 Justice Bosio d. No. 21 Karissa Kilby, 2&1
No. 31 Virginie Ding d. No. 2 Anne Chen, 1up
No. 15 Madelyn Gamble d. No. 18 Katie Li, 2&1
No. 7 Annabelle Pancake d. No. 26 Kary Hollenbaugh, 2&1
No. 23 Momo Sugiyama d. No. 10 Brooke Biermann, 2up
No. 30 Isabella Rawl d. No. 3 Emma Schimpf, 1up
No. 14 Grace Kilcrease d. No. 19 Catie Craig, 1up
No. 6 Casey Weidenfeld d. No. 27 Melanie Green, 2&1
No. 11 Emma McMyler d. No. 22 Camille Boyd, 4&3
Friday, July 14, 2023
Round of 16
No. 17 Anna Morgan d. No. 1 Ashley Menne, 4&2
No. 25 Sophie Zhang-Murphy d. No. 9 Chloe Kovelesky, 1up
No. 4 Sabrina Iqbal d. No. 20 Lauren Zeretsky, 2&1
No. 12 Justice Bosio d. No. 28 Bentley Cotton, 5&4
No. 15 Madelyn Gamble d. No. 31 Virginie Ding, 22 holes
No. 23 Momo Sugiyama d. No. 7 Annabelle Pancake, 1up
No. 30 Isabella Rawl d. No. 14 Grace Kilcrease, 2up
No. 11 Emma McMyler d. No. 6 Casey Weidenfeld, 7&6
No. 17 Anna Morgran d. No. 25 Sophie Zhang-Murphy, 5&4
No. 4 Sabrina Iqbal d. No. 12 Justice Bosio, 1up
No. 15 Madelyn Gamble d. No. 23 Momo Sugiyama, 2&1
No. 30 Isabella Rawl d. No. 11 Emma McMyler, 3&2
Saturday, July 15, 2023
No. 17 Anna Morgan d. No. No. 4 Sabrina Iqbal, 3&2
No. 15 Madelyn Gamble d. No. 30 Isabella Rawl, 1up
No. 17 Anna Morgan d. No. 15 Madelyn Gamble, 5&3