Eleven months ago, Rachel Kuehn was riding the bench as the Wake Forest women’s golf team made its 2019-20 debut. The freshman from Asheville, North Carolina, didn’t qualify for the event.
“She came into my office and asked ‘What do I need to do, coach?’” said head coach Kim Lewellen. “I said, ‘You’ve got to make it where I can’t not take you.’”
Kuehn did just that, winning her college debut wire-to-wire at the 2019 ANNIKA Intercollegiate – arguably the most competitive regular-season tournament in women’s college golf – and has since made a name for herself as one of the nation’s best amateur players.
U.S. Women’s Amateur: Tee times and TV info
“It showed me I can compete on a national stage and that I can compete with the best players in the country. It was more of a confidence thing than anything,” said Kuehn of her debut victory. “Now that I’ve been able to put myself in that situation a couple times in the past year, it’s done wonders for my confidence and game.”
This week, just outside the Washington, D.C., she’ll have a chance to officially claim the title of nation’s best as Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, plays host to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Aug. 3-9, with Kuehn and defending champion Gabi Ruffels highlighting the loaded field. Kuehn enters the week in impressive form, winning her last two events: the prestigious North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst and the Ladies National Golf Association Amateur.
Kuehn’s pandemic-shortened freshman campaign featured the win at the ANNIKA and two more top-10s in just five events. She didn’t finish worse than 17th and led the Demon Deacons with a 71.23 scoring average.
“We have a really competitive team. Any five of us can travel on any day and we can have a chance to compete for a win,” said Kuehn. “So it’s definitely motivating to know I have to be able to go out there and play my best just to even qualify, let alone play well in the tournaments.”
On the bag this week will be her older brother, Corrie, who played golf at Rhodes College in Memphis and previously caddied for his sister at the U.S. Girls’ Junior three years ago.
“He keeps me really loose on the course,” said Rachel. “He keeps my mind off golf when I’m walking between shots and when I get to my ball he’s like, ‘Alright time to buckle down and focus.’ And he is really good at helping that transition and keeping me loose and not so nervous.”
“Goofy 1 and Goofy 2 when they’re together,” chimed in their mother, Brenda, an All-American golfer and five-time winner as a senior for the Demon Deacons in the 1980s.
The Siblings Kuehn will have their work cut out for them this week. Here’s everything you need to know – including a few more players to watch – for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Fourth time’s a charm?
Marissa Wenzler is about to tee it up for the fourth consecutive week. The Kentucky sophomore’s past month was dotted with close calls and finally, at last week’s Ladies National Golf Association Amateur, a breakthrough.
It all started with the North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst. Wenzler played all the way to the Round of 16. It was the same story the next week at the Women’s Western Amateur.
There was extra incentive to make a deep run at those events this year, considering the USGA reserved spots in the Women’s Amateur for the top two finishers. By the time the LNGA Amateur rolled around, she had forgotten that exemption even existed. A friend reminded her by text.
“You might be in it,” she said, “you might be in contention.”
Indeed, Wenzler rose from outside the top 10 after 36 holes to a tie for second, earning one of the final two spots in the championship along with Kennedy Pedigo.
In her freshman season at Kentucky, Wenzler had three top-20 finishes in six starts. The Wildcats won two of their first three events. I
Wenzler attributes part of her recent success, however, to the late-spring quarantine period that followed. Among other things, older brother Ryan Wenzler – who has played on the Mackenzie and Latinoamerica tours – gave her a putting tip that helped her putt more freely. Ryan will be on the bag for her at Woodmont.
The recent success is more mental than physical, Marissa Wenzler says, but the physical counts for something too.
“I already kind of know what the ball is doing,” she said. “I know what needed work, I know what’s going well. That’s been a huge advantage. I feel like the more I play, the better I get.”
A legend returns
A USGA amateur championship field can be sorted in many ways. Ellen Port’s name falls into a number of categories: oldest competitors, Curtis Cup participants (or in her case, captain), most U.S. Women’s Amateur appearances and perhaps most impressively, past USGA champions. Port has won seven of these things – three U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs and four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and she keeps showing up.
Port, who captained the U.S. Curtis Cup team to victory in her native St. Louis in 2014, earned an exemption into this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur courtesy of her 2016 U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur win. It will be her 23rd start in the event, and while that sounds like record-breaking stuff, the 58-year-old would have a long way to go to catch legends like Carole Semple Thompson with 41 appearances and Anne Sandor with 37.
But Port’s name is worth watching because she very likely could make it past the stroke-play threshold on Tuesday and show up on the match-play bracket. She did in 2018 at the Golf Club of Tennessee, becoming the oldest player to make match play at the Women’s Amateur since Sandor did it in 1994. Port was only 22 days younger than Sandor was when she made the bracket.
She lost in the first round that year to Dylan Kim.
The average age of the field at Woodmont Country Club is 20.5 years old. Port is one of two players, along with four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, over 40.
In total, there are 132 players in this year’s field.
Average age: 20.5
States represented: 30
California (19), Texas (14), Florida (8) and North Carolina (7) lead the way.
Countries represented: 20
Unites States (92); Spain (4); Canada, Paraguay and Thailand (3); Australia, Columbia, Denmark, Germany, Guatemala, Mexico, People’s Republic of China and South Africa (2); Argentina, Finland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Norway and the Philippines each have one.
Top 50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking: 20
Emilia Migliaccio (3), Rose Zhang (8), Gabriela Ruffels (9), Kaitlyn Papp (12), Sofia Garcia (15), Auston Kim (20), Siyun Liu (22), Kiira Riihijarvi (23), Allisen Corpuz (24), Alexa Pano (27), Pimnipa Panthong (28), Megan Schofill (29), Lei Ye (30), Gina Kim (33), Alyaa Abdulghany (34), Aneka Seumanutafa (35), Amanda Sambach (45), Carla Tejedo (47), Kaleigh Telfer (48), Lauren Hartlage (49).
Colleges with most active players: Duke (6); USC (6); Stanford (5); Arkansas and Wake Forest (4); Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Michigan State and Texas (3).