PINEHURST, N.C. – When Katelyn Dambaugh and Doris Chen stepped to the tee on a muggy Saturday morning at the Country Club of North Carolina, the horde of baby-pink-shirted marshals far outnumbered the fans.
By the time the match entered the 10th hole, however, the Goose Creek, S.C., contingent was out in full force, lining the fairways and jockeying for position around the greens to cheer on Dambaugh.
Dambaugh, 15, might as well be a local here at the U.S. Girl’s Junior, considering the number of fans in her corner for the 36-hole final. The 15-year-old broke for lunch in good position to become the first left-handed female to win a USGA champion as she is 1 up on Doris Chen.
Playing in her first USGA championship, Dambaugh got off to a shaky start in Saturday’s match. She was 2 down after four holes after missing short putts at Nos. 2 and 4. Chen, meanwhile, continued the unwavering play she has become famous for this week.
Dambaugh, the shooting guard for her high school basketball team, found her comfort zone at the par-5 fifth hole when she hit the green in two, producing a level of noise yet unheard in this championship. She went on to make birdie at the par-5-turned-fieldhouse, winning her first hole from Chen.
The momentum was short-lived, however, as Chen answered on the next hole when she nonchalantly dropped a 45-foot birdie putt to return to 2 up. Consistent with her reserved style of play, Chen moved on to the next hole, and matched pars with Dambaugh to finish out the front nine.
Clearly non-plussed by the mass of spectators, Dambaugh spent a few minutes on the 10th tee catching grapes in her mouth tossed by her friend and caddie Derek Mills. When the flag went up, however, Dambaugh boomed yet another drive into the fairway, stuck her approach to 8 feet, and drained the birdie.
Chen would make an uncharacteristic bogey after missing the green at the par-3 13th, leaving the door open for Dambaugh. She parred to bring the match to all square for the first time since the first hole, and took her first lead when Chen bogeyed again at the par-4 15th after leaving her drive in a fairway bunker. It was the first time all day that a shout of “Get in the hole!” rang out following a shot by Dambaugh, but with a crowd this big it was only a matter of time.
Both players parred out – and Dambaugh got her first look at the 18th hole since Tuesday, the final day of stroke-play qualifying – as the North Carolina heat yet again came out in full force. With a rumor that even more Goose Creek fans are making their way to Pinehurst, it will be nothing compared to the heat of the final 18 holes.