Laura Shanahan blossoms at Mid-Amateur

New Hampshire resident Laura Shanahan cannot imagine a state worse than her own for someone who is trying to play competitive golf. If the weather and work dictate, the season can be as short as 41⁄2 months, barely enough time to shake off the dust before it’s time to put the sticks back in storage.

“It’s a hard place to be a golfer,” said Shanahan, 42, from Bedford, N.H. “You have to push it to the limit, play extreme golf, practice indoors or hitch a plane ride to Florida.”

Unfortunately, she is unable to take advantage of off-season opportunities. Shanahan is an artist for a company called Wee Forest Folks where she hand paints small collectible figurines. Her schedule is flexible enough to be free during the height of the amateur season, but it means she must cram her work into the winter months.

This year, however, Shanahan chose to extend her golf season as long as possible and headed to Eureka for her third U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship. She captured her first national title Oct. 11 at Fox Run Golf Club, site of the LPGA’s Michelob Light Classic, beating Mexico native Mina Hardin, 4 and 3, in the 18-hole final.

“I’m absolutely amazed I accomplished it,” she said. “I hung tough every day, every match. . . . I came here with a lot of confidence. I knew I would go far, I just wasn’t sure how far.”

Shanahan’s astonishment is even more understandable considering she didn’t start playing golf until she was 20. As a young girl, she believed she would grow up to play baseball for the Boston Red Sox and was stunningly disappointed to learn it was for men only. In golf, Shanahan found an arena where she could finally “compete with the boys.” She played her first tournament at age 34.

In 1999, Shanahan lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Alissa Herron. Last year, she failed to make the cut.

Last week, Shanahan, who qualified 16th, breezed through the first two rounds of match play, but faced a formidable foe in defending champion Ellen Port in the third round. Port was medalist and a Fox Run member, but Shanahan sailed past her, 5 and 4.

The victory over Port was especially satisfying for Shanahan, who had lost her last two state amateur championships to players who were members at the tournament sites. Port has been an honorary member at Fox Run since its opening in 1993.

“I knew I couldn’t make any errors,” she said. “I knew she’d be comfortable. I’ve seen that on previous golf courses, playing someone who was a member. They know the course so well – all the breaks in the greens. I expected to see her roll in everything. But she didn’t do that. She got into a few tough spots, and it really took the pressure off.”

Shanahan then took out Taffy Brower (who defeated two-time Mid-Am champion Carol Semple Thompson the previous round) in the quarterfinals, 3 and 2. She secured her place in the finals with a 2-and-1 victory over Sherry Herman, a semifinalist in this year’s Women’s Trans National Amateur and individual runner-up at last month’s USGA State Team Championship.

Light but steady rains plagued the championship match, often making par the winning score on the 6,191-yard course. Shanahan took the early lead when Hardin made bogey on 1, then extended her advantage on 3 when Hardin carded a double bogey. Hardin missed a 2-footer for par at No. 9 to square the match at the turn, leaving Shanahan with a 1-up edge heading to the back nine.

“It was definitely the turning point,” said Hardin of the missed opportunity. She said she was “shocked” when the putt horseshoed around the cup and failed to go in. “I hit it the right speed, right line.”

Shanahan increased her lead to 2 up when Hardin made bogey at the par-3 11th, then moved to 3 up at No. 13 when Hardin carded her second double bogey. It was the fourth hole Shanahan won with a par.

The New Englander went dormie at No. 14 with yet another par as Hardin bogeyed the par 4. The match ended at No. 15 when both players halved the hole with pars.

“She was very steady,” said Hardin. “She didn’t miss many fairways or greens, which is the key on this golf course, especially today. She played beautifully.”

Hardin, who resides in Ft. Worth, Texas, was thrilled to be in the finals after a close call in the semis. Heavy rains delayed play Wednesday and the semifinalists were unable to finish their matches. When play was suspended, things were looking grim for Hardin. She had been as much as 4 down to last year’s runner-up, Anna Schultz, during the match and was 3 down through 13 holes when play stopped that evening. She made a remarkable comeback Thursday morning, however, winning No. 15 with a par and No. 16 with a birdie. Hardin squared the match at No. 18 with par and won on the first extra hole when Schultz carded another bogey.

In qualifying earlier in the week, Port shot 73-74 to secure medalist honors for the second year in a row. The Missouri native, who also won the championship in 1995 and ’96, broke her own record for largest margin of victory during the first round when she defeated Sue Churchich, 9 and 8.

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