Crucial birdies help Shon keep lead at Sally

Princeton's Kelly Shon

ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – Kelly Shon’s third round at the South Atlantic Amateur boils down to two holes: the eighth and the 17th at Oceanside Country Club.

At the par-4 eighth, Shon made the most of a mediocre tee shot and a weak-right 5-iron by rolling a delicate chip down a steep green and into the hole for birdie. By the watery, par-4 17th, when she felt her game slipping, she made another birdie. A bogey at No. 18 left her with 74 for the day and a 54-hole total of 6-under 210.

Shon, a New Yorker using the Sally to dust off her game before she heads back to Princeton for the spring, needed the heroics at both of those holes. Her two-shot lead from the previous day had turned into a single-stroke advantage by the end of Friday. Kelsey MacDonald is right behind her, and Shannon Aubert and Alex Stewart are tied for third, two shots behind McDonald.

This is Shon’s first go at the Sally, and she entered at the last minute. Her impression of the course Thursday evening was that though short, it could play tough if the wind were to pick up. On Friday, it blew steadily from the east and brought a chill from the nearby Atlantic Ocean. It didn’t bother Shon as much as the pace of play.

“I was just not swinging well today, and then couldn’t get into a rhythm,” she said. “Play was quite slow. I felt like we were stopping and waiting like five minutes on every shot. When I have a good hole like eight or 17, I just want to keep going.”

Being in contention doesn’t mean playing any differently than she has been, Shon reasoned Friday evening. It just means she’s in contention. With three Princeton victories under her belt, most recently in October at the Lehigh Invitational, which her team also won, Shon is used to this drill.

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The other St. John’s player: Ever since the 2011 PGA Championship, the most famous St. John’s golfer has, without a doubt, been Keegan Bradley. In fact, St. John’s junior Harin Lee can’t name an LPGA player from her school. Perhaps she’ll be the first.

Lee, from Bayside, N.Y., is another Northerner using the Sally for a winter tuneup. This is the third consecutive year Lee has entered, but generally her winter competition schedule is hit or miss. She had been out for most of the winter with a back injury.

“I just came out to practice, but I played pretty well, considering,” she said.

Lee has been prolific in a short amount of time at St. John’s. She has won seven times, including at the 2011 Big East Conference Championship. Through all that, Lee guesses she has changed putters almost as many times as she has won.

Lee’s strength is in her accuracy – she normally hits 14 or 15 greens in regulation – but putting used to be her favorite part of the game.

“I just couldn’t stick to a putter,” she said. She has an Odyssey Metal X D.A.R.T in her hands at the Sally, and so far it’s working well.

Lee enters the final round 14 shots behind Shon, a childhood friend. The two grew up about 30 miles apart back in New York, and played many a junior tournament together. It’s likely that on Saturday, Lee will be rooting for Shon.

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Next best thing to a local: The crowds were larger than normal for the third round of the Sally, and much of that had to do with the weather. Semi-local player Ericka Schneider has played this tournament for the past five years. This year will go down as one of the most pleasant, weather-wise.

“It definitely plays tougher when it’s windy,” she said. “I can go at more pins when it’s not windy, especially ones that are tucked.”

Schneider, a former Daytona State player who now is a senior at Ole Miss, didn’t expect to get a tan this week. Normally she would be bundled up for a tournament noted for its fickle weather. After a third-round 75, Schneider stands solo 15th. Her best finish in all of those Sally starts was a T-3 in 2011.

The Sally is one of two annual trips Schneider makes back to the Daytona Beach area to visit friends. The Bradenton native is staying with one this week.

If there’s local knowledge to be had, then Schneider is the one to consult. As for strategy, she offers this: “This course is one you can score on if you play it the way it wants to be played.”

That means fighting the wind and keeping it in the fairway.

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Short shots: The only mid-amateur who made the championship flight was Martha Leach, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion. Leach, 51, is the younger sister of Hollis Stacy, a World Golf Hall of Fame member. Through three rounds, Leach is T-26 at 11-over 227. . . . Yueer "Cindy" Feng, who held a share of the first-round lead, birdied seven of her first 13 holes in Round 3 before going 5 over in the next four. A par at No. 18 left her with a third-round 70. She is solo sixth.

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