BARRINGTON, R.I. – If the U.S. Women’s Amateur were a series of six written exams, Brooke Pancake would be seeded No 1. The Alabama senior carries a 4.0-plus GPA. (Apparently some professors in Tuscaloosa award an A+.) She and a gymnast boast the highest GPAs in the athletic department, and Pancake has never made less than an A.
“I’m a secret bookworm,” said Pancake, who won the Edith Cummings Golf Award, given to the NCAA upperclassman with the highest GPA who also is an NGCA All-American. Pancake, 21, was a first-team All-American last year and holds a school-record 73.27 career scoring average.
Alas, Pancake’s two-part test on Thursday required more than a stubby pencil. She ousted Elyse Smidinger, 2 and 1, in the morning session and dusted Nicole Morales, 4 and 3, in the afternoon.
Pancake, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., learned the game from her grandfather, Jimbo Eakin. He tried to get each one of the four Pancake girls interested in golf, but Brooke was the only taker. She’s already a member of the Tennessee Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
“No one plays sports in my (immediate) family but me,” said Pancake, whose father, Bruce, died when she was a senior in high school. Alabama coach Mic Potter has been a major influence in Pancake’s life, and she credits him with helping every part of her game improve during the college.
Most of the Alabama team calls Pancake “Cakes” for short, though her nicknames include “IHOP,” “Waffles” and “Brooklyn.” Pancake feels comfortable at Rhode Island Country Club because she grew up on a Donald Ross design. On Friday, she’ll face incoming UCLA freshman Erynne Lee.
“It’s thankfully getting better each day,” Pancake said.
She’s now had plenty of time to study.
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Gift exchange: Stephanie Kono must have thought today was her birthday, because her teammate gave so much away.
“My speed was disgusting on the first three holes,” UCLA teammate Tiffany Lua said. “I gave a lot of presents.”
Lua switched the number of the Titleist ProV1 ball she was playing in the hope that something would change after she three-putted the first three holes.
Kono beat Lua, 3 and 2, giving her an overall 3-0 record in their USGA meetings. Twice before, Kono had beaten Lua at the Women’s Amateur Public Links.
“Match play is such a funky game,” said Kono, who can’t put her finger on why she has an edge on Lua in this format. “We have such a great team; this is going to happen.”
UCLA represented one quarter of the Round of 16, with Lee Lopez and incoming freshman Erynne Lee rounding out the foursome. Lee and Kono are the only ones who remain.
Kono said this will be her final U.S. Women’s Amateur. She plans to turn professional after the Curtis Cup next June, should she make the team.
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Geaux big or go home: No one will ever accuse Austin Ernst of lacking confidence. She’s a direct, often amusing interview, and she finally has cracked the match-play code.
“It’s rare that I’m down on myself,” Ernst said.
In four previous USGA championship appearances, Ernst failed to win a match. Her father, Mark, encouraged her to treat each match like a stroke-play event and concentrate on her own game. Ernst, the 2011 NCAA champion as an LSU freshman, put that advice into practice and has rolled into the quarterfinals with good friend Emily Tubert on the bag.
Ernst put her signature shades – the $5 pair she bought in Clemson, S.C. – on top of her hat and got down to business. The neon yellow sunglasses were a fixture her freshman year, and she has a handful of friends sporting the same look back in Baton Rouge, La.
“It kind of sets me apart,” Ernst said. “It’s a fashion statement.”
Bold, if not beautiful.