By Stan Cole
PINEHURST, N.C. – In a field full of top collegiate talent, two of the younger players finished Monday’s opening round in a 3-way tie atop the leaderboard in the 115th North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2.
Jennifer Chang of Cary and Yujeong Son of Norman, Okla., finished at even-par 71 along with Valerie Tanguay of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec. Aneka Seumanutafa of Emmitsburg, Md., who won last week’s North & South Junior Girls Championship, is in fourth place at one-over-par 72.
The top 32 players in the 90-golfer field after Tuesday’s second round will advance to the match play portion of the event.
Playing in hot and muggy conditions on the historic Donald Ross design that stretched to 6,332 yards, no one in the field finished in red numbers Monday.
Defending champion Kristen Gillman of Austin, Texas, is one of seven players in a tie for fifth place at 2-over-par 73. Thirty-six individuals finished the day at 6 over or better on a day that produced nearly five times as many bogeys (504) than birdies (115).
A semifinalist in the 2016 North & South, Chang was the first player to sign for an even-par round on the day. Her approach on the par-4 18th hit the flag stick to leave her 20 feet, which she two-putted for par.
“I only made a few errors, those three bogeys, but I came back with three birdies and overall I was really happy with my round,” said Chang, who has verbally committed to play at Southern Cal. “You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself because at No. 2; you never know what can happen. You can go from making birdie to making triple (bogey) at any time.”
Son, who is just 16, but has won the last three Oklahoma State Women’s Amateur Championships, was in shape to hold the lead before a double-bogey on her final hole of the day, the par-3 9th. Starting from the 10th tee, she made eagle when she holed out from 128 yards on the par-4 13th, and stood at 3-under through 14 holes before making bogey on the par-3 6th.
“Honestly, it was good, but it wasn’t great. I had some mistakes, but covered up with long birdie putts,” said Son, who had four birdies and the eagle. “You have to keep it in play, and not mess up too much on the putting because the greens are really hard out here.”
Tanguay, who plays collegiately at Oklahoma, also started from the 10th tee, and was 2 over through six, but birdied the par-5 16th. She played bogey-free golf over her final 12 holes – mixing in a birdie on the par-4 7th, to finish even.
“My irons were solid. My driver was not, but even if I was in the bunker, I was able to manage it, bring it on the greens and make two-putts,” said Tanguay. “You have to be really patient, not to get frustrated if you make a bad shot.”
Seumanutafa was 3 over through her first six holes, but made four birdies over the next five holes and finished her round at 1 over.
“I struggled the first three holes, but brought it back,” said the 2016 Maryland Junior Girls Amateur champ. “Winning the Junior North & South actually boosted my confidence coming into this week. I shot low here last week, so I know I can compete with all these college girls out here.”
One year after winning the 2016 North & South, Gillman was even through 10 holes Monday, but did not let three bogeys in a four-hole span spoil the day. She birdied the 478-yard 16th to finish at 2 over.
“It’s definitely really cool to be the defending champion, but I didn’t feel any extra pressure out there,” said Gillman, who plays at Alabama and won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “Today I made a lot of pars. I had the three bogeys and one birdie, but it was pretty steady. I hit most of my greens, kept it in the right places and had a lot of easy par putts.”
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, four of whom have won major championships – Pressel, Tseng and Lang, who won the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. 2011 Women’s North & South Champion Danielle Kang won her first major championship recently at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The Women’s North & South has drawn the top amateur women from around the country and is the longest consecutively running women’s amateur championship in the country. Its first championship was played in 1903.