Shirley Joins Elite Company With Finals Berth
Margaret Shirley, completely oblivious to the enormity of her accomplishment, stepped into USGA history early Wednesday evening.
Shirley, 29, of Roswell, Ga., became the eighth female and 12th player overall to reach at least three consecutive match-play finals in the same USGA event when she defeated Christina Proteau, 32, of Canada, 2 and 1, at Squire Creek Country Club.
“I had no idea,” she said. “There is so much luck involved in doing that. But that’s … I don’t know how to put that into words, to be quite honest.”
The players Shirley joined are among American golf royalty.
The women’s list includes Beatrix Hoyt (U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1896-1898); Alexa Stirling (U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1916 and 1919-21 as there was no championship for two years due to World War I); Glenna Collett Vare (U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1928-1932); Virginia Van Wie (U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1932-1934), Hollis Stacy (U.S. Girls’ Junior, 1969-1971); Juli Inkster (U.S. Women’s Amateur, 1980-1982); and Carol Semple Thompson (U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, 1999-2002).
“That’s pretty elite company,” she said. “Honestly, I have no words. I never would have dreamed of myself being up there with a Tiger Woods or Juli Inkster or Carol Semple Thompson, the best women’s amateur. Hollis Stacy? I mean, that’s an incredible list, and to add my name to it is really special.”
Of course, Woods reached three successive U.S. Junior Amateur Championship finals, followed by three U.S. Amateur finals, a span that ran from 1991-1996. Findlay S. Douglas (U.S. Amateur, 1898-1900), Jerome D. Travers (U.S. Amateur, 1912-1914) and Bob Jones (U.S. Amateur, 1924-1928) also accomplished the feat.
Foremost on Shirley’s mind, though, is a different place in U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur history. The reigning champion, who lost to Julia Potter in her first championship final appearance two years ago, could join Sarah LeBrun Ingram (1993-1994), Ellen Port (1995-1996) and Meghan Stasi (2006-2007) as repeat winners.
Standing in Shirley’s way is 25-year-old Lauren Greenlief, of Oakton, Va., who has quietly made her way through the bracket after posting the second-best score in stroke play. Greenlief raised eyebrows with an 8-and-6 semifinal victory over Whitney Britton, 25, of Laguna Niguel, Calif. “It’s not going to affect what I do,” said Shirley. “I can only control myself. If someone gets a hot putter, I can’t control that. All I can control is what I do and my mindset.”
A day after feeling fatigued with a headache, Shirley showed a bit more spunk on Wednesday.
“My mom said when I woke up this morning that I was much more sarcastic, so she knew I was back to normal,” said Shirley. “That was her giveaway.”
Shirley, executive director for Atlanta Junior Golf, may have been an easy mark for her mother, Leslie, but she was not about to let this championship get away.
She fought back and forth with Louisiana native Ashley Tonore before winning, 3 and 2, in the morning’s quarterfinal match. Against Proteau, Shirley was 2 down after the fourth hole, but won three of four holes around the turn to take a 1-up lead she never relinquished.
Having been in this position the past two years, Shirley appears nearly nonplussed by it all.
“The first year, I think I went extra holes in a couple of my matches,” said Shirley, who lost to Potter in 19 holes at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, N.C., two years ago before turning the tables on Potter with a 5-and-3 victory at Harbour Tree Golf Club in Noblesville, Ind. “I think I had a couple bigger wins last year. And then this year I just feel really calm out there.”
Shirley believes the calm emanates from having already won before.
“I think now that I have won, it’s just if I win, great; if I don’t, doesn’t matter because I have won,” she said. “That’s something really neat that no one can take away.”
Nor can anyone take away her place in history.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.