BOSTON, Mass. – Shannon Johnson, the 2018 medalist and a runner-up in 2016, birdied the par-5 18th hole at Norwood Hills Country Club on Thursday to edge defending champion Kelsey Chugg, 1 up, in a riveting, back-and-forth U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur final that featured 10 birdies between the two competitors.
Johnson, 35, of Norton, Mass., is a member at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, Mass., is also the home course of Matt Parziale, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. She is the reigning Women’s Mass Amateur and Women’s New England Amateur champion.
She took a 2-up lead on Chugg, 26, of Salt Lake City, Utah, on two occasions in the match, but both times, Chugg rallied to win the next three holes, edging ahead of Johnson for the final time when she made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 15th. Johnson answered Chugg with her own 25-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th, and after both players parred No. 17, Johnson reached the green in two on the 474-yard, par-5 18th.
Chugg laid up to 60 yards on No. 18 and hit a wedge to within 10 feet for birdie. Her putt slid past the left edge of the hole, and Johnson tapped in from 1½ feet to capture the championship that had eluded her in 2016, when she lost, 2 and 1, to Julia Potter-Bobb, and last year, when she lost in the semifinals. Chugg’s bid to become the fourth player to capture back-to-back titles, and only the second to do so in her first two attempts (Meghan Stasi, 2006-07) fell just short.
“It was just an incredible match,” said Chugg, who serves as the membership director for the Utah Golf Association. “I felt like I played as well as I could have. I would have loved the putt to go in on the last hole, but I really feel like I did a great job of hanging on, and she’s just an incredible player. Just rock solid, and I played the best golf I could today to try and keep up.”
Johnson hit a 220-yard 7-wood onto the 18th green to leave herself 20 feet for an eagle, but it turned out that a birdie was enough to make her the 32nd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion.
“I was surprisingly really calm, even on the 18th tee,” said Johnson, who played three years of college golf at the University of New Mexico and her final year at Indiana University. “I hit a great drive on 18. I didn’t think I could get on in two as we were walking up, but then the yardage that we had, we just had to cover 200 to the front. I couldn’t have hit it any better. It was unbelievable.
“Kelsey really didn’t miss too many putts all day, and I thought for sure we were going to go to extra holes. I was very surprised when she missed it.”
Johnson, the No. 1 seed after shooting 1-under 143 in two rounds of stroke play, jumped ahead with a 9-foot birdie putt on the par-5 second and a conceded birdie on the 310-yard, par-4 third. But after both players missed the green on the 173-yard, par-3 third, Chugg, the No. 11 seed, got up and down for a winning par, and she squared the match with a birdie on the par-4 fifth.
Johnson assumed a 2-up lead for the last time with a curling, 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 12th, but for the second time, Chugg reeled off three wins in a row, including birdies on Nos. 14 and 15.
Chugg hit 14 greens in regulation to 12 for Johnson, and the defending champion’s steady play – she made four birdies against Johnson’s six – nearly was enough to keep the trophy. Having fallen 1 down for the second time on No. 15, Johnson made a crucial birdie on the 16th from 25 feet, outside where Chugg hit her approach shot.
“That was an incredible putt – she did that on 12, as well,” said Chugg. “I’m sitting there thinking I’ve got a good chance of making this, and then all of a sudden I’m having to change my game plan up. Her making that was definitely a momentum changer. But I think – gosh, she’s just an amazing putter.”
Shannon Johnson, on the roller-coaster match, with its five lead changes:
“After that long putt on 12, I just got a little quick on all my swings, really, on 13 and 14. I was just kind of getting ahead of myself. Kudos to [caddie] Matt [Johnson, no relation] to just kind of help slow things down. He said, swings are just quick, good tempo, so that helped big-time.”
Johnson, on the 25-foot birdie putt on the 381-yard, par-4 16th that squared the match:
“I thought I hit a really good shot into 16, and it just kept going, like it always does, so it was turning a little more right to left than I wanted, but it probably actually left me the straighter putt between Kelsey and I. I was like, please turn, please turn, and then it caught the last second, which was awesome.”
Johnson, on the support from friends who flew in from Massachusetts for the final:
“I think the first time I saw them was on 8 green as we were walking up. I don’t know how much sooner they got there, but a couple times a plane flew over, I’m like, that could be them. I knew they were coming, which was good. Better to know than not know.”
Kelsey Chugg, on her match-play consistency:
“My game plan going into today was what I’ve been doing all week and what I do most of the time, just try and hit fairways and greens and be consistent and make pars because especially out here, pars win, but not against her. I had to grind for everything today.”
Chugg, on her putt for birdie on No. 18 that would have extended the match:
“I think I did lose a little focus there, just maybe should have taken a second to regroup. But I hit it right on the line I was looking, just a little firm.”
Chugg, on her year as champion, which included a berth in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open:
“It’s been an unbelievable year, so much fun traveling, meeting so many different people. Playing in the Women’s Open has always been a dream of mine, obviously, but just getting there, being around some of my idols was incredible. But really, this week and having a chance to defend has been the most fun for me.”
Johnson earns an exemption into the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). It’s an exemption that was first awarded to Chugg in 2017. Both players receive exemptions into the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur, and Johnson the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur. Johnson also earned a 10-year exemption into this championship, which Chugg earned in 2017. The 2019 championship is scheduled for Sept. 14-19 at Forest Highlands Country Club in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Dave Hanten, Johnson’s coach since she was 13 years old in Sioux Falls, S.D., drove from South Dakota to be there for the championship match. “This is unbelievable for him to be here to see it because he’s wanted to come the last couple years, and they’ve just been too far away,” said Johnson. “I think he got hopped in the car before that first match was done yesterday, and I was like, that’s pretty bold there. He’s got a herniated disc and he walked all 18. He couldn’t stay away.”
Johnson is a member at Thorny Lea Golf Club in Brockton, Mass., a course designed by Wayne Stiles, who also designed Norwood Hills Country Club’s West Course. Thorny Lea is also the home course of Matt Parziale, the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.
Chugg’s match-play record in this championship fell to 11-1 with the loss. Johnson improved to 17-4 in her five starts.
WHAT THE WINNER RECEIVES:
Custody of the Mildred Prunaret Trophy for one year
A gold medal
10-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship
Exemption into the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston
Exemptions into the 2019 and 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club and Woodmont Country Club.
Sept. 22-27, 2018 | Norwood Hills Country Club | St. Louis, Mo.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018
What: 32nd U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship
Where: Norwood Hills Country Club, St. Louis, Mo.
Par and Yardage: Par 72 – 6,109 yards