Content & Photo Courtesy of usga.org
No. 5 seeds Megan Furtney and Erica Shepherd made 11 birdies overall as they won two 18-hole matches on Wednesday to capture the 5th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Timuquana Country Club.
Furtney and Shepherd, both 18, and both headed to Duke University in the fall, defeated No. 8 seeds Amari Avery and Alexa Pano, 4 and 3, in the morning semifinals, then outlasted No. 27 seeds Jillian Bourdage and Casey Weidenfeld, 2 and 1, in the 18-hole final.
Shepherd captured the 2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo., and she drew from that experience, while also counseling her partner on what it would take to win five matches in three days.
“This is Megan’s first time making it all the way through something this big, and I think she handled it great,” said Shepherd. “She looks like she’s won a USGA championship before.”
Furtney certainly looked like she was ready to win one, making back-to-back birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 of the final to give her side a lead that never dipped below 2 up from the fifth hole on.
“On 2 and 3, the pin placements fit my ball flight really well,” said Furtney, who reached the semifinals with Shepherd in this event last year at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif. “I like to hit a high draw into greens, and both of those were tucked left. The first birdie on No. 2, I was in the fairway bunker. I went up one club, and I knew if I just got it up high it would be tight. That’s what I was able to do.”
On No. 3, Furtney knocked a wedge inside of 10 feet and converted again.
After they traded birdie wins with Bourdage and Weidenfeld on Nos. 4 and 5, Furtney and Shepherd went 3 up with another birdie on the par-4 seventh. Their opponents were unable to dent the lead as five consecutive holes were halved, although there were chances.
“I had a good amount of putts drop for me earlier in the day, and then just I was skimming the rim all afternoon, just so close,” said Weidenfeld, 16, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., who will attend Auburn starting in 2021. “None of them dropped, but that’s golf.”
After Weidenfeld knocked it close on No. 10 for a conceded birdie, Furtney made a 10-footer to maintain the three-hole advantage. On the next hole, Bourdage had an opportunity to chip away at the lead when she knocked her approach to about 6 feet, but her effort slipped past the left edge.
“I knew the break and I got over it and I just think something went a little wrong in my stroke there,” said Bourdage, 17, of Tamarac, Fla., who will attend Ohio State in 2020. “I think the grain really changed throughout the day, so that definitely changed how we were reading the putts.”
Weidenfeld broke through with a winning par save on the difficult par-3 13th, but the next four holes were halved in pars. Furtney put the finishing touch on the victory, making a 7-footer that canceled out her opponents’ par on the long par-4 17th.
“They both played so amazing today,” said Bourdage of their foes. “Their putting was on fire and they were just dropping birdies.”
“Yeah, we tried our best to keep up,” said Weidenfeld, who has already written two books. “I mean, we got all the way to 17, so I guess we did pretty well.”
No. 27-seeded Bourdage and Weidenfeld knocked off the No. 2 seeds, Sadie Englemann and Rachel Heck, in Wednesday’s morning semifinals, outlasting them in 20 holes. Their opponents rallied from a two-hole deficit to square the match on No. 15, and after four holes halved in pars, Weidenfeld made a demanding two-putt par to advance.
Shepherd tried to temper Furtney’s expectations as they awaited the winner of the extra-hole match, although she admitted that she also had a brief nap.
“I talked to Megan about some things I learned through my experience,” said Shepherd. “Somebody told me before my final match [at Boone Valley] that you want to play your best golf because it’s the biggest stage, but that’s just not going to happen. You just have to mentally accept that and have lower expectations.”
So much for that advice, as they made five birdies on top of the six they made in their semifinal win. Furtney raved about the rapport with her future Blue Devil teammate.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a hundred more times,” said Furtney, of South Elgin, Ill. “We know each other’s games so well and we’re so good about communicating with each other on the golf course. I think we’re one of the few teams who didn’t use caddies this week. I like to say that we caddie for each other in a sense. Being able to talk shots through and have a lot of options open is really important for us as a team.”
The duo shot 68-67 in weekend stroke play for a 9-under-par total of 135, five strokes behind record-setting medalists Faith Choi and Aneka Seumanutafa, who shot 12-under 60 in Round 1 and a 36-hole total of 14-under 130, both championship records. The champions’ longest match this week was a quarterfinal battle against Caroline Curtis and Ashley Gilliam that went 19 holes, with Shepherd making a birdie that advanced them into Wednesday’s semifinals.