Holly Aitchison, Maria Balikoeva, Heather MacRae, Lauren Taylor and Kylie Walker earned their place in the 2015 US Women’s Open Championship after the second European Sectional Qualifier was played at Buckinghamshire Golf Club near London on Monday.
Russian Maria Balikoeva set the 36-hole clubhouse target with a total of 140, four under par, before England’s Holly Aitchison returned matching scores of 72 and 68. Heather MacRae of Scotland, who started with a 75 in the morning, then bettered that score by ten strokes in the afternoon with a second round of seven under par 65 to join the pair in qualifying for their first US Women’s Open, which will be played at Lancaster Country Club on July 9-12.
Five competitors tied on three under par and went to a sudden death play-off on the par-3 ninth hole to determine the final two spots in the championship.
Beth Allen of the USA, England’s Georgia Hall and Patricia Sanz Barrio from Spain joined Lauren Taylor and Kylie Walker in returning to the ninth tee. Sanz Barrio was eliminated with a bogey on the first extra hole, before Taylor secured her place with a birdie. Playing under intense pressure, Taylor hit a pure 5-iron from 179 yards and made a putt of four feet to secure her first appearance in the US Women’s Open.
“It couldn’t have gone better,” said Taylor, 21, from Woburn Golf Club. “I finished birdie, birdie and then to go into a play-off and birdie the hole was really fun.
“I tried to control my nerves and the tee shot was fine but when I realised this was to make the US Women’s Open I tried to get that shot out of my mind. It was a nice fist pump at the end and all of the adrenaline went out of my mind.”
On the second extra hole of sudden death, Allen hit her tee shot into the bunker behind the green and took a two-putt bogey while Walker and Hall both made threes.
At the third extra hole, Walker almost holed in one but her perfectly judged 5-iron tee shot ended a foot past the hole and she tapped-in for birdie, while Hall three putted. Walker seems to be somewhat of an expert in play-offs, having won both of her Ladies European Tour titles last year in similar circumstances.
“I’m really delighted to get through and excited about heading to America,” said the 28-year-old from Mar Hall Golf Club. “I actually birdied my last two holes in regulation play to get back to three under so I was really happy with that and even getting into the play-off. In the play-off I went par, par, birdie at the end. I hit a 5-iron and from back there you couldn’t really see the ball finish because we were losing daylight but the crowd roared and then I just tapped in.”
All five players will be heading for their first US Women’s Open, having had sensational finishes. Aitchison birdied the last three holes and commented: “Everyone wants to play in a major and this is going to be my first major outside of Britain, because I’ve only played in the British Open before. It’s going to be a really, really good experience and I’m very much looking forward to it.”
MacRae was six under par on the back nine, with five birdies in six holes from the 10th and another on the 18th. The tearful 31-year-old from Archerfield Links said: “It’s unbelievable. I’m so happy. I thought three under was going to be okay and when I got to 18 and saw that I needed to be four otherwise it was a play-off and I needed my putt to go in. Once I hit it from eight feet short of the hole I knew that it was in. It was one of those afternoons where I stood on the tee and knew that I was going to hit the fairway. I stood on the fairway and knew that I was going to hit the ball close on the green and I knew that I was going to make the putt.
“The last major I played in was when I was an amateur in 2005 and I’ve not played a tournament in the States since I was at university over there so I’m really excited to see what it’s like and I’m looking forward to playing here again in the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters in July, because I’ve not played in that either.”
Balikoeva said that she felt at home on the golf course where she spent a lot of time practising in 2014. She said:
“The first 18 I really struggled with my short putting and I missed four little putts so I knew I was playing good but I relaxed on the second round and played a little better and holed more putts. This is the first step to something bigger.”
The third of the five women’s major championships gets under way in Pennsylvania in seven weeks’ time.