A year ago, nine former Women’s North & South Amateur champions competed in the U.S. Women’s Open. This year, at CordeValle, eight previous Women’s North & South Am champs are in the field.
That’s one more than the number of former U.S. Amateur champions.
Ten of the last 13 champions at Pinehurst have gone on to earn LPGA status. A couple of those – Yani Tseng (2005) and Morgan Pressel (2004) – have won major championships.* Of those 10, they’ve combined for more than $27.6 million in earnings, 19 victories and 208 top 10 finishes.
*Make that THREE! Congrats to 2003 North & South champ Brittany Lang on winning the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open!
— Pinehurst Resort (@PinehurstResort) July 11, 2016
And two of the last three champions include Ally McDonald – on pace to earn her LPGA Tour card via the Symetra Tour this year – and Bailey Tardy, who went on to star at Georgia for her freshman season and is playing in her second U.S. Women’s Open.
The field at the Women’s North & South Amateur is always among the deepest in the country. And 2016 is no exception.
So, who might win the 114th 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 Bailey Tardy.) The championship begins Monday with the first round of stroke play.
KATELYN DAMBAUGH – Dambaugh was the 2015 Women’s North & South medalist a year ago, carding the only under par round during three rounds of stroke play on Pinehurst No. 2. She reached the semifinals of the event before falling in a blockbuster match with Bethany Wu. The lefty is ranked as the No. 2 amateur in the world by Golfweek, and a lot of it has to do with her spectacular college career at South Carolina. Dambaugh, a rising senior, was a First Team All-American this season, the ANNIKA Award runner-up, won the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional and set a school record for scoring average (71.62) and top-5 finishes in a single season (6). Dambaugh was the runner-up at the SEC Championship – setting a new record for lowest round (65) – and was under par in 10 of her 12 postseason rounds.
KRISTEN GILLMAN – Gillman won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Who did she beat? Brooke Henderson. Good enough for us.
MARIA TORRES – So who beat Dambaugh to win the SEC title? Florida’s Maria Torres, ranked fifth in Golfweek’s amateur rankings. Torres was the 2016 SEC Golfer of the Year – the first Florida golfer to earn the honor since 1990 – had a 71.83 scoring average over 32 competitive rounds, and finished with 10 Top-25 finishes and five top-10 finishes. Torres represented Puerto Rico in the 2015 PanAmerican Games, finishing tied for 16th.
CHEYENNE KNIGHT – Ranked as the sixth-best amateur by Golfweek, Knight backed up a stellar junior career with a great freshman season with top-ranked Alabama. Knight won the 2014 Texas 4-A state title, then won the 5-A state title in 2015. Knight, who was fourth at the NCAA Championship, also made the cut in her LPGA Tour debut, finishing tied for 29th and breaking par at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in April.
CASEY DANIELSON – Danielson was the Women’s North & South medalist in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 8 and helped defending national champion Stanford reach the NCAA Championship finals this season before the team finished as the runner-up. Danielson posted three top-5 finishes, including a second and two fourths this year, and placed tied for sixth in the NCAA Championship. In high school, Danielson won four individual state championship titles and was her class valedictorian.
AUGUST KIM – Ranked 43rd by Golfweek, August Kim is the reigning Big Ten champion. The Purdue senior set a tournament record at the Big Ten Championship and went on to finish in a tie for 32nd at the NCAA Championship. Kim shot a team-high 12 rounds under par this season.
ANNA REDDING – Redding won the 2013 Girls’ North & South Junior, then came back and finished as a semifinalist in the Women’s North & South a year ago, losing to the eventual champion, Tardy. Redding had a solid freshman season at Virginia, ranking fourth on the team in scoring average and appearing in the NCAA Championship. Redding was fifth at the ACC Championship and closed the regular season with back-to-back top-10 finishes.
MADDIE SZERYK – Szeryk owns a host of Texas A&M school records. She’s tied for Texas A&M’s career lead in stroke average with 72.00 entering her senior season in 2016-17 and holds the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on A&M’s single-season stroke average list. Szeryk ranks second on Texas A&M’s career par or better rounds list and ranks first and third on Texas A&M’s season par-or-better rounds list.
BRIGITTE DUNNE – Dunne won the 2014 Girls’ North & South Junior before enrolling at SMU. Dunne narrowly missed match play in the North & South a year ago, and comes into the 114th edition off a freshman season in which she appeared in 12 tournaments and played 34 rounds to a 74.59 scoring average.
SARAH BAE – Long a North Carolina prep golf standout, Bae won the 2010 Girls’ North & South Junior. She spent her first two collegiate seasons at High Point, where she was Big South Conference Player of the Year. Bae now plays for N.C. State, where she collected two top-20 finishes.
Honorable mentions: Kacie Komoto (ranked 48th by Golfweek); Marianne Li (formerly the top-ranked junior in Washington state); Kelly Whaley (daughter of Suzy Whaley, current Secretary of the PGA of America); Haley Mills (three top-10s with Texas during freshman season); Jessica Porvasnik (four top-10s at Ohio State this season).