Never underestimate the value of a championship pedigree.
Three former winners, Peggy Freeman, Kristine Rohrbaugh and Joanne Kitusky, on Monday snarled back at the fierce Country of Virginia Tuckahoe Creek course to share the Richmond Women’s Golf Association City Amateur qualifying medal with scores of 7-over-par 79.
On most days, those numbers would have been regarded as ordinary. But not on Monday. Wind, heat and greens as hard and swift as sheets of polished marble enabled the 5,186-yard Tuckahoe Creek layout to greet the qualifying field of 73 with claws and fangs bared. The greens were as treacherous as any on which the City Amateur has been played in recent memory.
“Usually you hit a good [approach] shot and put yourself on the green and you think, ‘OK — now I can relax a little bit,’” Freeman said. “Not today, you couldn’t. Those greens were so fast and so challenging.”
The greens “were like lightning,” Kitusky said. “If you put yourself above the pin and missed the hole” with your downhill putt, “basically you could kiss your ball goodbye.”
Freeman’s appearance atop the qualifying standings might have been the day’s biggest surprise. The 61-year-old from Stonehenge won three City Amateur titles in a four-year span in the late 1980s. She had made very little noise since. But she played Monday’s front nine in 1-over 37.
“I’m not working any more,” she said. “Probably you could say golf is my job now.”
She said the acquisition of a new instructor, Stonehenge teaching pro Rick Schuller, has helped immensely.
“As good a [PGA] player as he was, he’s every bit as good a teacher,” Freeman said. “Every time I see him, I think he sees something or mentions something that helps me a little bit more,”
Rohrbaugh hasn’t competed in the City Amateur since winning in 2008 on CCV’s James River Course. She began Monday’s round in pedestrian fashion but played the back side in par 36.
Early tribulations notwithstanding, she said, “I tried to stay calm and keep myself focused. I knew I was hitting it well and putting pretty decently. I just tried to hang in there. I felt like: ‘If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, sooner or later things are going to fall into place.’”
The conditions, she said, tested her composure.
“I hit a lot of good shots,” she said. “Some were rewarded and some weren’t. It was just a matter of sticking with it and waiting until the good shots were rewarded.”
Rohrbaugh’s patience paid off on the formidable par-5 18th. She hit a splendid second shot, chipped to within 2 feet and tapped in for birdie.
“I’ll take a lot of confidence into [Tuesday’s first round of match play],” she said. “I had a lot of good two-putts. If I can keep in mind how I was putting [Monday] on really tricky greens, I think I’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Kitusky, who won in 2012 at Jefferson Lakeside, encountered immediate adversity. She made double bogey at the par 4 second hole after finding a fairway bunker with her first shot and water with her third. She made amends by making birdie at the par-4 4th and the par-5 5th.
“All in all, I’m very pleased,” she said. “Would I like to have done a little better [than a 5-over 41] on the back side? Sure. Certainly. But it is what it is, you know? It’s a tough course and it was a long, hard day. I think maybe I lost a little focus.”
The format of the five-day tournament shifts Tuesday to match play. Reigning champion Nevia Cashwell, exempt from qualifying, will be seeded first in the Championship Flight when play resumes. Rohrbaugh, Kitusky and Freeman will be seeded second, third and fourth, respectively.
Qualifying Day ended with a three-way playoff for the final two slots in the 16-member Championship Flight. Deb Kelo and Pam Luse, both of whom shot 89 on Monday, survived the playoff. Their reward was daunting. Luse will face Cashwell in the first round. Kelo will be matched against Rohrbaugh.