CHARLESTON, S.C. – Every year there’s one, and in Charleston, it’s Alison Lee. She’s playing her 15th U.S. Golf Association event this week at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and is the familiar face around Country Club of Charleston.
On Thursday, Lee faced another familiar player in local favorite Katelyn Dambaugh, a South Carolina product who will become a Gamecock in the fall. Both Lee (2012) and Dambaugh (’10) have finished runner-up at the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
Lee, bound for UCLA later this month, thinks that experience might have helped her close out Dambaugh in 19 holes. Lee birdied the first extra hole as Dambaugh bogeyed.
“It was tough playing against the local favorite,” said Lee, who usually is pretty well known herself. This is her sixth U.S. Women’s Amateur, which goes along with six U.S. Girls’ Juniors and three U.S. Women’s Opens.
From those tournaments, especially the match-play ones, Lee learned two valuable lessons: that you can never make a check in the win column until the match is over, and how to play under pressure.
“I get a little upset and I get a little fired up and that’s when I play better,” Lee said.
• • •
Tide turned: It’s time to get to know Cammie Gray, one of only two Alabama players left at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Gray made it to the third round of match play by beating Arkansas’ Emily Tubert in 19 holes.
Gray, a 20-year-old who didn’t pick up a club until she was 14, redshirted at Alabama last year as a freshman. So far this summer has won two state titles in her native Alabama – the Women’s Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play. Alabama head coach Mic Potter calls her an extremely athletic player while teammate Emma Talley, also into the third round, says Gray is among the hardest workers she knows.
“I worked on a lot of mental stuff last year and it just kind of clicked,” Gray said of her good play this summer.
Gray didn’t have a lead for the entire match against Tubert. In fact, she spent 14 of the 19 holes 1 down. She parred the long par-4 18th to force sudden death, and called the end of the match one of the biggest golf pressure situations she’s faced. After back-to-back three-putts near the end of the match, Gray fought back.
“Those two holes kind of got me and I just kind of had to forget about it and move on,” she said.
As she hurried to change clothes and grab a bite to eat in between matches on Thursday (she drew World No. 2 amateur Su-Hyun Oh for the afternoon), Gray was wide-eyed in excitement about advancing.
“This was definitely the one round that I’ve had some up and downs with my game and I felt like I handled myself well and stayed with it,” she said.
• • •
NEAR UPSET: Pepperdine senior Grace Na bowed out of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the hand of World No. 2 Su-Hyun Oh on Thursday morning, but not before giving the Australian a scare. Na took a lead at No. 6 and kept it until No. 14.
The match ultimately came down to putting. Na had three 3-putts coming in to lose, 2 and 1.
“Match play, you can’t really do that,” Na said.
Na finished her junior year of college ranked among the top 10 players in the nation by Golfweek, and has a few areas of her game pegged for additional work. As she walked into the clubhouse Thursday with head coach Laurie Gibbs, the two talked short game.
At Gibbs’ suggestion, Na plans to park herself on the putting green and concentrate on making 4-footers. Na’s dad mostly works with her swing, but calls Gibbs the “manager” of her game. Since arriving at Pepperdine, Na’s stroke average has dropped more than a stroke and a half, to 72.17 in 10 events last season
“I have a lot more maturing to do,” Na said. “On and off the golf course.”