The top four players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking won’t play the U.S. Women’s Amateur. In fact, only three of the top seven are playing. Only one of those women has something other than an American flag next to her name.
This field was supposed to be the strongest we’d ever seen, remember? The sheer number of top-ranked players exempted into the field when the USGA turned to a system other than qualifying would have made it so. What went overlooked, perhaps, was the effect that international travel bans and mandatory quarantine periods would have on the championship.
Earlier this week, the USGA released a preliminary field list of 126 players. Six spots remain and are earmarked for the winner and runner-up at three more summer amateur events. Otherwise, the USGA will return to the WAGR to fill the remaining spots. Among the current 126 players, 48 already gained entry through the WAGR after all the other exemptions categories were filled.
The top 75 women in the ranking were guaranteed a spot, but only 36 of those women appear in the field. Of the 39 top-ranked players who aren’t on the current field list, 38 are international players. Florida State graduate Amanda Doherty is the only American missing, and that’s because she has already turned professional.
If the make-up of the field is any indication, then college golf coaches should be worried for what’s ahead. If top players can’t get to Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, for the U.S. Women’s Amateur next month, what does that say about the likelihood they can get here in time for the fall college season? Tournaments begin in earnest less than a month after the Women’s Am.
Weighing the odds
College golf talk didn’t use to include so much geography. Arizona State head coach Missy Farr-Kaye finds herself constantly checking various news and government sites these days. Five players on her roster are from the Schengen region, a group of 26 European nations whose residents are currently unable to enter the U.S. by presidential proclamation, and her sixth player hails from Ireland.
“I don’t think we understood all the intricacies of international players right now and how difficult it is,” Farr-Kaye said.
Most notably, Farr-Kaye’s roster includes two women near the top of the WAGR in Swede Linn Grant (10) and Irishwoman Olivia Mehaffey (17). Both will miss the Women’s Am.
It stings, but it’s getting back to campus, Farr-Kaye said, that’s really occupying her players’ thoughts.
“That’s a high level of stress for them,” she said. “This is a team that was moving in a great direction and we still hadn’t accomplished everything we wanted to. They feel that they have things they want to prove.”
Top-ranked Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, a rising sophomore at South Carolina and a native of France, would absolutely have teed it up at the Women’s Amateur in a normal year. The logistics just didn’t make sense amid COVID, from uncertainty getting here to the sheer number of days eaten up by quarantine.
“I would have loved to play,” Roussin-Bouchard said, “but it was too complicated.”
Ultimately, the World No. 1 is able to fill her schedule with three major tournaments in Europe that make for a much better use of her summer than a quarantine period. It offered something concrete, at least.
South Carolina head coach Kalen Anderson has been in constant communication with her international players, like Roussin-Bouchard.
“That’s the issue that we’re all having with our seasons right now, getting our players back,” Anderson said of the college coach’s plight. “There are certain areas where our players can’t even get back, at this point, into the States.”
Anderson’s roster includes four players from the Schengen region, including incoming freshman Paula Kirner from Germany (though she currently appears on the Women’s Am field list).
Three players from Taiwan on the Arizona roster – sisters Vivian Hou and Yu-Sang Hou, ranked No. 2 and 35, respectively, and No. 134 Ya Chun Chang – are also among the big names missing from the Women’s Am field. Their absence has a lot to do with uncertainty surrounding the fall college season.
“The risk of coming back just to play one tournament for them is just not worth it,” Arizona coach Laura Ianello said of the communication she’s had with those three players. “There’s a bunch of tournaments in Taiwan for them to be competing in. In Taiwan, COVID cases are very minimal so that’s another reason to stay home just to be safe.”
Ianello’s message to her players has been to keep in mind that the situation is fluid. Little is concrete right now, even what the season would look like if it happens. The Pac-12, along with the Big Ten, are two conferences that have already limited fall sports to inner-conference competition. That’s easier said than done in college golf, where fields often include 15 or 16 teams from many different conferences.
“I just told the ladies, we’re playing things as usual,” she said. “In your minds, think that we’re coming back, and it might be a little different.”
Can’t play if you don’t enter
Under normal circumstances, a Women’s Am field filled predominantly by the WAGR would have given the field an international bias. International players account for more than 70 percent of the top 100 in that ranking. Over the past four years, the championship has averaged two international players among the eight quarterfinalists.
These aren’t normal circumstances, of course, precisely because of the way the fields are being filled – with an emphasis on rankings as opposed to local qualifying.
Siarra Stout, a rising senior at Charlotte, stands as the last player to get in based on her world ranking. The world’s No. 251-ranked female amateur (according to the June 24 WAGR) gets a gold star just for having the good sense to fill out an application to play. That appeared to be an overlooked part of the USGA’s new selection method: If a player didn’t fill out an application by the entry deadline of July 8, she wasn’t eligible to play even if her number was called. Few probably thought the USGA would get as far down the list as it did.
It’s just another surprise in a year full of them.