Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Another ‘hot’ August: Charleston, Beth Daniel await 113th U.S. Women’s Amateur in Lowcountry

Posted 6/21/2013 2:30:00 PM

Beth Daniel understands better than almost anyone the impact of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the nation’s third-oldest golf championship and a breeding ground for future LPGA stars. It was, after all, the tournament that nearly 40 years ago launched the Charleston native on her path to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

So Daniel, who retired from women’s professional golf with 33 LPGA victories including the 1990 LPGA Championship, is experiencing feelings she probably hasn’t felt since 1977, when she won the second of her two U.S. Women’s Amateur titles, a precursor to the start of her fabled professional career two years later.

This Aug. 5-11, the Women’s Amateur, which debuted in 1895, will be staged at the Country Club of Charleston, where Daniel first began playing golf with her father, Bob. The club, a classic Seth Raynor design built in 1925, will welcome a field of 156 amateurs, who will compete in two rounds of stroke play, with the low 64 scorers advancing to the first of six rounds of match play.

Admission to the tournament is free and open to the public. Golf Channel will televise the event starting Aug. 6 (3-5 p.m.) and continuing through Aug. 11 (4-6 p.m. daily).

It’s the second major championship in roughly a year for the Charleston area. Last August, Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course was site of the PGA Championship, the first men’s major held in South Carolina, won by Rory McElroy, then the world’s top-ranked male professional.

Similarly, the Women’s Amateur is the first U.S. Golf Association championship to be played at CC of Charleston, but hardly the only major women’s event held in South Carolina. The state’s first USGA championship was the 1962 U.S. Women’s Open, played at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach.

For Daniel, serving as unofficial host for Charleston’s tournament week is doubly meaningful. Her first Women’s Am title in 1975, at age 17, “opened all sorts of doors for me,” she said via Skype from an LPGA tournament, speaking to the Women’s Amateur media day at her home club.

“Before that, I’d played local and state events, but now I was able to play in anything I wanted.”

Daniel – whose early instructors at the club included Henry Picard, winner of the 1938 Masters and 1939 PGA Championship – went on to compete on two U.S. Curtis Cup teams vs. Great Britain & Ireland (women’s amateurs) and win the 1977 Women’s Amateur before turning pro in 1979, when she was LPGA Rookie of the Year. She also was named LPGA Player of the Year in 1980, 1990 and 1994 – the last American to be so honored until Stacy Lewis in 2012.

“The (Women’s Amateur) win in 1977 meant more to me because I knew what was going on,” Daniel said. “The first time, I had no clue.”

That’s a far different scenario from what spectators will see at this year’s Women’s Amateur. A year ago, 15-year-old Lydia Ko won the tournament, held at the Country Club in Cleveland, and a month after, Ko – the top-ranked amateur in the Women’s World Golf Ranking – won the LPGA’s CN Canadian Women’s Open. She won again on the professional circuit earlier this year.

“Women’s golf is in pretty good shape right now,” said Daniel, who has worked since retirement as a TV golf analyst. “I host a junior event (the Beth Daniel Junior Azalea at CCC), and when I look at how advanced (girls) players are early, it’s amazing.

“It’s also amazing how far they’re hitting the ball. Women are starting to catch up with the men. On the LPGA now, some are hitting it 280 (yards off the tee), and if you don’t see that from some of the women’s amateurs, I’ll be totally amazed.”

For those reasons – and also as a product of the club and Charleston – Daniel encourages golf fans to turn out to watch the event. While no one expects crowds to match last year’s PGA Championship, USGA officials said several hundred spectators were on hand to follow last year’s championship match on Sunday.

“It is (a big deal) for Charleston to host, any time you have a national event,” Daniel said. “Having the USGA flag flying (in front of the CC of Charleston clubhouse) is a cool thing.

“I’m excited to see the best women’s amateur players on the Country Club. It’s a great course for the women amateurs, and a lot of fun for the city.”

A lot of fun, and great memories, for a certain interested Hall of Famer, too.