In a week that witnessed one of the most dramatic finishes in golf history, allow the last day of the Virginias Women’s Stroke Play Championship have a share of the gut-wrenching fun.
Norfolk’s Kristen Simpson, 22, drained a 5-foot par putt on the second extra hole, the par-4 18th, to conclude a dramatic final day and outlast fellow-competitor Sara Hurwitch, 19, of Potomac Falls to capture the event, which is conducted by the Virginia State Golf Association and concluded Thursday at Mount Vernon Country Club.
A recent graduate of the University of Virginia, Simpson and Hurwitch, the defending champion, each shot a final round 1-over-par 72 and concluded the 54-hole championship at 7-over 220. Simpson claimed her first VSGA title.
“It means a lot. I’m excited to get my first win,” said Simpson, who took home the Sydney Elliott Trophy. “It’s always nice to see all of your hard work pay off.”
In a thee-way tie for the lead with Hurwitch and fellow northern Virginian Mimi Hoffman (a UVa graduate and former member of the women's basketball team) to start the day, Simpson got off to a strong start by birdieing the first hole and owned a three-shot lead over her playing partners after five holes.
Following consecutive bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4 Hurwitch, a rising junior at the University of Kentucky, kept grinding out pars on the first nine. Simpson, efficient for most of the outward half, knocked her tee shot out of bounds at the par-4 eighth and chipped in from in back of the green just to salvage bogey. One hole later, Simpson’s bogey putt horseshoed out and she was tied for Hurwitch headed to the back nine. Hoffman’s title hopes were derailed with a tripe-bogey at No. 9 and an ensuing bogey at 10.
For Simpson and Hurwitch, the inward nine was full of dramatics and was back-and-forth all the way. Hurwitch completed a four-shot swing in a three-hole stretch from Nos. 8-10, taking over the lead over Simpson at the par-4 10th, knocking in a 7-foot birdie putt.
With the championship seemingly taking on a match play aura, Simpson steadied herself at the par-5 12th, where she holed a breaking 12-foot birdie putt and then took a one-stroke lead with a par at No. 13.
Playing solidly the entire back nine, Hurwitch drilled a short iron close at No. 14 to tie things, but it would be short-lived as Simpson made her second birdie on a par 5 on the back nine at No. 15. There, Simpson encountered some danger, electing to play an aggressive 3-wood second out of rough to clear a crossing hazard short of the green. The thick grass grabbed the club and sent the ball way left into a partially buried lie, but Simpson dug out a nice third approach from 65 yards to below the cup and her birdie attempt slipped in the right edge.
After Simpson drove it right into a clump of trees at No. 17 and made bogey, the two players were tied again going to the last. Hurwitch hit all nine greens on the back nine and none were bigger than at No. 18, where her approach covered the flagstick and she had a 7-footer for birdie to win, but the putt lost its steam and went by the low side. First to play, Simpson’s try from 20 feet left of the cup went just by the edge.
With competitors and club members watching the exciting closing stages, Simpson’s birdie putt on the first extra hole, on nearly the same line as her putt at No. 18, came a rotation shy of dropping in the center. But Hurwitch missed her first green in more than two-and-a-half hours, with her approach finding the upslope of the fronting greenside bunker. With the green running away from her, she played a terrific shot to 8 feet right of the cup and knocked her par putt in the center to an expression of “Whew...”
Returning to play No. 18, both players found opposing fairway bunkers off the tee; Simpson escaped from a tough spot with her approach nestling in intermediate rough to the right of the green. Hurwitch, meanwhile, near the lip of the bunker on her second, blasted to 70 yards short of the putting surface and knocked her wedge approach to 10 feet left of the hole location.
Playing from a partially-blind spot, Simpson lofted her short pitch to underneath the cup, while Hurwitch’s par-saver came within an eyelash of falling as her knees buckled when the putt somehow went past. Facing an uphill putt to claim the title, Simpson’s straight-in putt dropped in for victory.
Championship-level experience, including finishing as the runner-up at the 2006 VSGA Women’s Amateur Championship, has admittedly helped to bolster Simpson’s game.
“That gave me so much confidence and I’ve played well ever since then,” says Simpson, a VSGA member at Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club. She has completed her undergraduate degree requirements and will go on to graduate school at U.Va.’s Curry School of Education. “Hopefully, this will just build on what’s been happening. Sara’s a talented player, so it’s good to get a win.”
The conclusion produced a loser in name only, with both winner and runner-up shooting one under on the back nine. Hurwitch, who has added some muscle to her game, hit the last 12 greens in regulation prior to the playoff and several of her birdie attempts went narrowly by the edge.
Hoffman shot a final-round 76 and finished four back at 11-over 224, but more importantly to Simpson, caddied for her during extra holes and offered encouraging words throughout the final day.Story courtesy Virgnia State Golf Association