Young and old earn berths into U.S. Women’s Open
Published in The Sanford Herald on June 11, 2009
By ALEX PODLOGAR
SANFORD — Ashleigh Albrecht, a day after two-putting for birdie to win a playoff, will graduate from high school today.
Yueer-Cindy Feng won’t have to worry about wearing a cap and gown or hearing “Pomp and Circumstance” for five more years.
But both will be in the field at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Penn., for the U.S Women’s Open in July, where they just might run into 49-year-old LPGA Tour veteran Rosie Jones.
Feng, who turned 13 in February, tied for the low round of the day with a 4-under-par 68 in the afternoon to follow a morning round of 76 and finish at even par 144 for the Open sectional qualifier at Carolina Trace’s Lake Course on Thursday, earning a trip to the U.S. Open by two shots.
“I am so excited to play in the Open,” Feng said. “I don’t know how to put it in words.”
Feng, who was born in China and moved to Orlando, Fla., just four years ago, will become one of the Open’s youngest participants in the storied tournament’s history. Two years ago, Alexis Thompson qualified at 12 years old to play in the Open at Pine Needles in Southern Pines.
“I play a lot of junior golf,” she said, referring to her play in the American Junior Golf Association, “but I’ve never played in anything this big.”
Trace Head Golf Professional Mike Krick worked with Feng around the golf course in the week leading up to the qualifier, even tinkering with her stance. He said he wasn’t surprised to see her name near the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day.
“Definitely not surprised, not with her talent,” Krick said. “I was with her for two days, and she’s extremely disciplined and extremely mature for someone who’s 13. She’s the complete package.”
And then there was Albrecht, who had the toughest trip Thursday to get into the Open.
With a thunderstorm looming and an early-morning flight back to California only hours away, Albrecht birdied the par-5 18th hole for the third time to win the three-person playoff on the first hole of sudden death. She reached the 501-yard hole in two shots and calmly two-putted for birdie to earn a trip to the Open — just 23 hours before she’s supposed to walk across a stage and receive her high school diploma in Murietta, Calif.
“I’m supposed to get to the airport by 11 a.m., and graduation is at 5,” she said. “I hope I make it.”
She made it into the Open after a tense tap-in birdie.
“Oh my gosh, my hands were shaking so much,” Albrecht said. “I had so much adrenaline. I birdied the 18th twice before, but both times I was short of the green. I don’t know how I made it in two.”
If Albrecht had trouble handling the wide range of emotions on the inside, 13-time LPGA Tour winner Jones was the perfect picture of calm. She opened with a morning round of 2-under 70 after a rocky start, then came in with an afternoon round of 73 for a 1-under 143.
Jones was one of the first players to finish and seemed to have more trouble deciding what to do about dinner than whether her score would be good enough.
Of course, that was on the outside.
“I was pretty nervous to start — for about the first four or five holes,” said Jones, who retired from the Tour in 2006. “But I made a few putts and I was able to settle down.
“I haven’t had to qualify for anything for a long time. I think the last time I was at a sectional for the Open was when I was 22 years old. And 27 years later, I just thought, what the heck, I’ll try it one more time.”
Jones has never won a major, and retired from the LPGA Tour in 2006. She has finished as the runner-up in four majors, including the 1984 Open and the 2005 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“I don’t really have a lot of high expectations going in,” Jones said. “If I can keep my ball in the fairways and it’s dry, then maybe you’ll see me somewhere in the middle of the pack. If everything’s not perfect, if my starts aren’t aligned just right, it could be a tough go for me. But my objective was just to get there, and now I am.”
Young up-and-coming players, though, ruled the day. Katherine Perry, 17, of Cary and a student at Precision Golf School in Greensboro, was the sectional’s medalist with a 3-under 141 after rounds of 71 and 70. Perry was as low as 5 under during her round.
“I was hitting it so well today,” she said.
Kathleen Ekey, 22, of Sharon, Ohio, shot 2-under 142 to also qualify for a spot in the Open, which will be held on July 8-12. North Carolina freshman golfer Allie White, of Lancaster, Ohio, rallied her way into the Open field after rounds of 77 and 68 to qualify with a 1-over 145.
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