Ball Shines at U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship
Aug. 10, 2017
CHULA VISTA, Calif. – It’s still a few days before the Ole Miss women’s golf team reports to campus for the fall semester, but incoming freshman Conner Beth Ball has already shown that she belongs among the very best at the collegiate level.
The Madison, Mississippi native wrapped up play Wednesday at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship after advancing through 36 holes of stroke play to the match play tournament. Ball fell in the Round of 64 to No. 19 seed Yuka Saso of the Philippines, a semifinalist at the tournament a year ago.
However, despite the early exit in match play, the Jackson Academy product is proud of the way she fit in amongst a talented group at San Diego Country Club.
“The experience was overall a phenomenal one. USGA does it right every time,” Ball said. “I’m really proud and excited but not satisfied.”
Even making the 64-person match play component is a major accomplishment at this USGA event. The field of 156 included some of the world’s top junior players, as well as many of the top contenders in college golf.
In the Round of 64 alone, Ball was joined by 17 golfers who competed in last year’s NCAA Championship. The full 156-player field included 10 players from last year’s SEC Championship, and Ball finished ahead of four of them, including Jillian Hollis of Georgia and Alana Uriell of Arkansas, who tied for seventh in Birmingham, Alabama this past May.
“It was so much fun to play with girls who I've looked up to as a junior golfer, girls who play in the SEC and contend for national championships every year and to know that I belong there and that I can hang with them,” Ball said.
Early in the tournament, Ball was not just hanging with the field—she was leading it. She stacked up three consecutive birdies to close out her front nine in Round 1 to move to 3-under and sole possession of first place. She closed the first day tied for 14th. Ball fought through tough windy conditions on the second day but did enough to advance as the No. 46 seed. In match play, she drew a tough matchup in Saso, the No. 54 ranked amateur player in the world.
Saso took the first hole to open the back-and-forth. She then stuck her drive just two feet from the cup on the Par 3 third hole, but Ball came through with an enormous 12-foot birdie putt to remain 1 down. Saso came back with another birdie on the 4th to go 2 up, but Ball won the fifth and seventh holes to get back to all square.
But then, Saso caught fire, winning four of the next five holes. The only one she didn’t win in that span was an incredible 10th hole, where Ball chipped in from the bunker for birdie, only to see Saso hole a 23-foot birdie putt.
“She was playing so well,” Ball said. “I just felt like every time I got something going she answered it. I just had a hard time gaining momentum because she was so solid. I played a little too aggressive trying to gain holes back but in match play you really have to be that way.”
That aggression nearly paid off late. Down 4 with five holes to go, the Rebel mounted a furious charge, sinking a birdie on the 14th for the first of two straight hole wins. But once again, Saso came right back and logged her fifth birdie of the day win 3 and 2. Saso went on to fall in the Round of 32 against fellow top-100 golfer Isabella Fierro.
Despite the tough finish to her U.S. Women’s Amateur run, the week imbued Ball with confidence. She’ll report to Oxford next week, and she’s ready to get to work under coaches Kory Henkes and Drew Belt.
“It's amazing that I was able to see that I can jump right in and compete with a collegiate level, but also to know that I have so much to improve upon when I work with Coach Kory and Coach Drew,” Ball said. “I know what I need to work on and am ready to hit the course again soon for the Rebs.”
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