Amanda Doherty defends Sally title with back-nine birdie run

Golfweek/Julie Williams

Amanda Doherty defends Sally title with back-nine birdie run

Amateur

Amanda Doherty defends Sally title with back-nine birdie run

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ORMOND BEACH, Fla. – No lead is safe in a three-club wind. Even as the birdies piled up for Amanda Doherty on the back nine at Oceanside Country Club, she never fell into that trap.

The weather is never predictable at the South Atlantic Amateur, nicknamed the Sally Amateur. If it was 80 degrees in the parking lot on Saturday, it felt 15 degrees cooler standing on exposed fairways in a stiff Atlantic breeze.

Doherty, a senior at Florida State, can’t remember a time she played in the kind of sustained winds she experienced on Saturday. She and her mother Laura, who manned her daughter’s push cart for 72 holes this week, talked through most shots in the final round, adding or taking away yardage as appropriate.

“It felt like I was on the ocean, in a boat, driving fast,” Laura said in describing the conditions.

The Doherty family hails from Brookhaven, Georgia, but Amanda knows what to expect when you come to the coast – after all, she won this title last year.

Doherty trailed 15-year-old Alexa Pano by four shots entering the final round. Those two, plus 2018 Sally champion Emilia Migliaccio, made up the final pairing. Migliaccio made a7 on the opening hole, thanks in part to misjudging a distance right out of the gate and spent the rest of the day trailing.

Doherty did the opposite. She went out in even-par 36 and made up four shots on Pano. The two were tied starting the back nine.

Doherty proceeded to hole birdie putts of no less than 10 feet on each of the next four holes and stood on the 14th tee leading by five shots. She concedes she might have taken a breath at that point, because she promptly bogeyed No. 14 then dunked her drive in a pond on the left side of No. 15 on the way to a double.

“You gotta keep doing what you’re doing,” she said. “As soon as you change it up thinking you’re good, you’re really not.”

Three solid pars wrapped up a closing 71, which left her 2 under and four shots clear of Pano.

Amanda Doherty signs a hat for a Sally fan. (Golfweek/Julie Williams)

Doherty never stepped up to a shot before she was ready on Saturday, working not only to quiet her brain and focus on the shot, but to gauge the wind.

“I play this tournament to get back into the swing of things,” said Doherty, who last competed at the Landfall Tradition, a college event, at the end of October.

During exam time at Florida State, she thinks a combination of sitting too long studying then attempting to work out resulted in a strained hip. It turned out to be a blessing, forcing more work on her short game and a little offseason break.

“I’m not going to miss a chance to defend,” she told herself as she rested, then built back up for the Sally.

For her part, Migliaccio had three birdies on the back plus a clutch par on No. 18 – a hole that played dead into the wind – to secure solo third. She was 3 over after the opening hole but only 6 over at the end of a day where players struggled to take even pull the putter back on the green.

Migliaccio and Pano, being top-50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, were invited to participate last month in a Curtis Cup practice session for the 2020 matches hosted by Great Britain and Ireland.

“After today, if we go to Wales, we’ll be fine,” Migliaccio said with a laugh.

By that time, Doherty likely will be off and running in professional golf. The 22-year-old played the first and second stages of LPGA Q-School this fall, securing Symetra Tour status for this season. Leaving college early to chase that dream was never in the cards.

A year ago, Doherty picked up her phone mid-Sally week to a number she didn’t recognize. It turned out to be Augusta calling to offer her a spot in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. This time, she’ll likely receive her invitation by mail considering she started the year among the top 30 Americans in the WAGR.

Doherty made the 30-woman cut at the ANWA last year, thus earning a chance to actually compete on Augusta National. She finished T-21 overall. All three women in the final group, in fact, should have invitations waiting for them upon returning home from Ormond Beach.

As has often been the case at the Sally, tomorrow’s talent stands out once again.

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