Five birdies. Two eagles. A double-bogey on the final hole to shoot 68 and, oh by the way, win one of the most prestigious women's golf tournaments on the Wisconsin summer amateur schedule for the third time in the last four years.
Five years ago, Bobbi Stricker dipped her toes in the competitive golf waters for the first time after a high school career devoted to tennis. It was the summer before earning a spot on the University of Wisconsin women's golf roster as a walk-on. There was no way back then that the Madison native could have imagined such a dynamic end to her participation in a golf tournament — any golf tournament, let alone one that has become as popular and competitive as the Badger Mutual Insurance Women's Amateur.
However, that was the blueprint for victory Tuesday at Brown Deer Park Golf Course in Milwaukee, where Stricker rallied past first-round leader Mandi Granato, a University of Nebraska-Omaha golfer from Plainfield, Ill. After watching a two-stroke deficit double to four shots just five holes into the final round, Stricker rattled off three birdies in a row to pull even with Granato, played the nine holes in the middle of her round in a mind-boggling 8-under-par and out-dueled Granato down the stretch, settling for a 5-under 68 after she double-bogeyed the final hole to close out her third victory in as many appearances in the 36-hole event. Granato finished two strokes behind Stricker after a closing-round 1-under 72.
"No, never!" Stricker wrote in a Twitter message when the picture painted above was offered up for her reflection. "If you were to tell me that I don't know if I could even imagine I could get to that point. I've let myself reflect recently on how I've progressed in the last years and it's been a sort of motivation as I start this next process of my golfing journey. I've just been really steady this summer and that has allowed me to sneak in those good rounds. (I) definitely still have things that need work, though."
Perhaps. But her ability to throw a 68 on the board despite two bogeys and that closing double shows how close Stricker's game is to being ready for her debut in the LPGA Tour Qualifying School next month in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Granato had a front-row seat to the way her playing partner bounced back from a sluggish start and flipped the script with her birdie run starting at No. 6, the same hole where Granato lipped out her birdie try. Looking back, however, Granato pointed to her three-putt bogey on No. 7 — where Stricker stuck her tee shot on the 174-yard par-3 to an inch — as the one hole that stung the most.
"I think those two holes she saw two putts fall and found a groove," Granato wrote in a text message to Wisconsin.Golf after recovering from that misstep with three consecutive birdies of her own starting on No. 12 amid Stricker's sizzling start to the back nine where she made eagles at Nos. 10 and 13 and matched Granato's birdie at No. 14 after Granato chipped in for hers.
"Looking back on the round and pretty much every round, there’s always shots you want to have back no matter what you shoot. For me (Tuesday), I think the one shot I wish I could have back would be a birdie putt I had on (No.) 15. Bobbi had putt (lip) out for a bogey and the door was open for me to cut her lead down to one. That was a putt I knew I needed so I gave it a run and, unfortunately, ended up with a three-putt bogey."
Still, it took an epic punch shot through the trees with a 7-iron after pushing her drive on No. 8 — "(It) might have been the shot of my life," wrote Stricker, who ran it up to 10 feet and made the birdie putt — to finally catch Granato. She knew it was going to take great focus down the stretch to put her away.
"She is such a great player," Stricker wrote of Granato, whose family tree of hockey success — her father, Rob, played college hockey at Colorado College and UW while her uncle, Tony, is currently the Badgers' coach — is clearly the 15th club in her bag. "(And) maybe some of the best ball-striking that I've seen from a college player in my college years. She definitely wasn't going to back down."
Granato added: "I think it turned into a little bit match play when we were tied going into the back nine, but then she made the eagle (on No. 10) and I had a par and was chasing the rest of the way in."
Indeed, after both golfers parred No. 16, Stricker birdied No. 17 to give herself a three-stroke cushion going to the 18th tee. Her double-bogey on the final hole, Stricker wrote, is symptomatic of struggles she had in the second round of tournaments as witnessed by her 66-74 showing at the recent Wisconsin State Women's Amateur, where she edged former Badgers teammate Emily Lauterbach of Hartland with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
"I feel like I was finally comfortable when I made the birdie on (No.) 17," Stricker wrote. "I could go down 18 with a 3 shot lead ... and I ended up needing it. There were a few times where I 'tried' to get comfortable, but Mandi kept hitting great shots."
In the end, both golfers were all the better for the experience.
"This was my last tournament of the summer," wrote Granato, whose junior season will begin Sept. 13 at the Jackrabbit Invitaitional in Brookings, S.D. "I have some momentum with my game right now, but there’s still some more things I would like to sharpen up before the college season gets going in full force. This entire summer has been great with gaining experience and I’m for sure going to carry all that I have learned over the past few months with me into the year."
Stricker's timeline for what's next is a bit more accelerated. The 72-hole first stage of LPGA Tour Q-School begins Aug. 19 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage with the opportunity to secure, at worst, conditional status on the developmental Symetra Tour for those completing 54 holes.
"In terms of Q-school and the opportunity there, I continue to learn a lot about myself and how I handle those pressure situations," Stricker wrote. "(This week) also highlights areas that I need to work on in my game, like my driver and my bunker play. ... (But) it's a dream to try and compete there and it's becoming a reality."
|T20||Susan Lee Kolbe||+19||F||+8||84||81||165|
|5||Karen L Schmid||+25||F||+13||84||85||169|
|T8||Mary Beth Buechel||+46||F||+22||96||94||190|
|11||Marie Thierfelder||+60||F *||+26||106||98||204|
|12||Angie Brindowski||+64||F *||+29||107||101||208|
|13||Kate Moody||+72||F *||+34||110||106||216|
|T1||Peggy Mead||+53||F *||+31||94||103||197|
|T1||Barbara Hussin||+53||F *||+30||95||102||197|
|T7||Christine Mortensen||+60||F *||+36||96||108||204|
|11||Patty Townsend||+65||F *||+40||97||112||209|
|T4||Chris Von Paumgartten||+69||F||+34||107||106||213|