Louise Stahle’s successful defense of her Ladies’ British Amateur Championship came with an air of inevitability. The 20-year-old Swede arrived at Littlestone Golf Club as the clear favorite, and she didn’t disappoint.
Stahle showed up in England fresh from completing her first, and last, year in college golf. She ended her freshman year at Arizona State University as Player of the Year and No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
She was medalist at Littlestone, which seeded her No. 1 in match play. Then she breezed to become the first back-to-back winner since Mickey Walker in 1971-72.
Stahle’s 3-and-2 victory over Claire Coughlan in the final ended in emotional scenes. Stahle broke down in tears after Coughlan missed a 3-foot birdie on No. 16.
“I usually don’t get that nervous, but I wanted to do the double and when you want something so bad it’s difficult not to get nervous,” Stahle said.
Stahle will remain an amateur until after next month’s Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale, her reward for winning this title. She then plans to turn professional immediately afterward.
“This is a great way to end my amateur career,” she said. “I still have the European Team Championships, but winning this is the perfect way to go out.”
Stahle’s ball-striking advantage, always a constant, was enhanced at Littlestone. On the sun-baked fairways of one of England’s unheralded links gems, Stahle was afforded the luxury of leaving her driver in the bag. She hit her driver an average of three times a match, preferring instead to use her 2-iron to keep the ball in play.
The strategy worked. Stahle had no problem keeping up with most opponents off the tee, or reaching most greens. She went to the 18th green only once in six matches, when she defeated Spain’s Maria Hernandez in the semifinals.
If any player could have denied Stahle the title, it was Coughlan. Although she stands only 5-foot-2, she packs a powerful punch. Coughlan, 25, was Great Britain & Ireland’s best player in a losing Curtis Cup effort at Formby last year. She won all three matches she played, including a final-day singles victory over Brittany Lang.
Coughlan, who won the 2003 Irish Ladies Amateur Stroke Play and the 1999 Irish Ladies Amateur Championship, was attempting to become the first Irish player to win the title since Lillian Behan in 1985. Coughlan downed Holland’s Christel Boeljon, 17, in the semifinals with a decisive 5-and-4 victory. However, she was always going to have to play her best to defeat Stahle.
The turning point came at the par-3 ninth when Coughlan bunkered her tee shot and took four more strokes to finish. Coughlan fell 3 down through 13 holes. It was too large a deficit from which to recover against a player of Stahle’s caliber.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed, but I’m honored to get this far,” Coughlan said. “I had a very good week. I exceeded my expectations and I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of because she is a very good player.”
Good enough to make some noise on the LPGA later this year.