By Alex Podlogar
Think about that for a second.
Nine of the last 12.
Nine of the last 12 North & South Women’s Amateur champions have drawn paychecks as members of the LPGA Tour. The equation is near perfect. Win the North & South Am, go on to professional success at the highest level.
After that championship lineage took a minor break a couple of years ago to allow Ally McDonald to put the finishing touches on an All-American collegiate career at Mississippi State, the link between the North & South and the LPGA Tour was back in lockstep in 2014.
Just weeks after the U.S. Women’s Open wrapped on Pinehurst No. 2, the top collegiate player in the country, UCLA freshman Alison Lee edged Lori Beth Adams over 19 holes to win the 112th Women’s North & South Amateur. A couple of months after that, Lee, the inaugural winner of the Annika Award, named after Annika Sorenstam for the top college player of the year, turned pro after winning LPGA Tour Qualifying School. And in May, Lee nearly won for the first time on the LPGA Tour when she finished third at the Kingsmill Championship. She’s already won nearly $300,000 on Tour this season.
The 113th Women’s North & South Amateur returns to Pinehurst No. 2 for all five days, with three rounds of stroke play beginning on Monday. The top 16 seeds from stroke play will advance to match play, and the championship will be decided on July 17.
One last note: nine former North & South Women’s Amateur champions are competing in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open this week. North & South champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
So, who might win the 113th edition of the prestigious event? Here’s a look at the top contenders. (A note: As deep as this field is, it would surprise no one if the eventual champion is someone who is not on this initial list – just like Ally McDonald in 2013.)
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: Adams was the runner-up to Lee a year ago, even holding the lead as the pair stepped to the 17th tee of No. 8. Adams comes into the North & South as one of the event’s most experienced players, and not just because she’s capped a solid collegiate career at UNC-Wilmington. Adams will be playing in her sixth North & South event, and has made no qualms about admitting how much this tournament means to her. A tough grinder who never gives away a hole, Adams is perfect for match play, and comes into the 113th North & South off three recent top-6 finishes and an appearance in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open.
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: Might the UCLA lineage continue? Wu is the top-ranked junior player in the world and has committed to play for UCLA. Wu has twice won the ANNIKA Invitational on the American Junior Golf Association circuit, one of the major titles of all of junior golf, and followed that with a second-place finish in the Junior PGA Championship. A big part of the future of women’s golf will be on display in the North & South.
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: Even at 53 years old, and even on a No. 2 that will be set up very similar to U.S. Women’s Open conditions, Leach has to be considered among the top players in the field. The 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion has competed in a staggering 55 USGA events, including the recent U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes. Leach knows the North & South Am very well, and her sister, three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Hollis Stacey, won the Women’s North & South in 1970.
Rising Senior at Stanford
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: She’s one of the top collegiate players in the nation, and her rally during the NCAA Championship match clinched the title for Stanford in May. Stackhouse is also familiar with Pinehurst, having reached the match play of the 2013 North & South. The first African-American to make the Curtis Cup team, Stackhouse helped lead the United States to victory in 2014. And perhaps unrelated, she owns what is possibly the best Twitter handle in golf.
Stanford Recruit, Class of 2017
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: One of the elite junior players in the world, just two months ago Liu teamed with Rinko Mitsunaga (more on her later) to win the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Bandon Dunes. Recently, Liu won the 2014 Women’s Western Amateur and the Southern Women’s Amateur. A two-time AJGA Rolex All-American, Liu qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior from 2011-14 and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she reached the Round of 32 in match play.
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: See above. The Georgia recruit comes into the North & South with one USGA championship already under her belt – the aforementioned U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. But she’s also won three times already in 2015: the AJGA Wells Fargo Junior Classic, the Kathy Whitworth Invitational and the IMG Junior Honda Classic.
SHE’S A CONTENDER BECAUSE: Stephenson earned the No. 9 seed out of stroke play in the North & South a year ago, falling in the Round of 16 in match play at No. 8. She then advanced to the Round of 32 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur later in the summer and currently ranks 7th in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. A Clemson recruit, Stephenson has a decorated junior career, making national news when she was became the first golfer to be named All-State at the 4-A level in both boys’ and girls’ golf in South Carolina.
MORE CONTENDERS: There are so many in this field to mention, but here are a few more names you may see come match play: TAYLOR TOTLAND (A win, two 2nds at Furman this year); ROBYNN REE (Ranked 13th on Golfweek Junior rankings); SOPHIA SCHUBERT (Won as a freshman at Auburn this season); SIERRA SIMS (Wake Forest); BRIGITTE DUNNE (2014 North & South Junior Girls’ Champion).