DEDHAM, Mass. – This time Virginia senior Rebecca Skoler isn’t leaving the Massachusetts Women’s Amateur Championship disappointed or empty-handed. One year after a final-match loss that went the distance, the Needham, Mass., native came all the way back this year and finished the job she has set out for since she was a teenager.
With a short game that was dialed in from start to finish, Skoler never trailed against UCF freshman Molly Smith on Friday, and with a pair of clutch par puts on holes 16 and 17 hoisted the trophy for the first time.
“It’s awesome, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” said Skoler, after her thrilling 2&1 victory at Dedham Country & Polo Club. “It was special being so close to home. I came into the week with little expectations. I didn’t know where my game was in tournament play.”
Skoler jumped on the lead from the beginning. She made birdie on the first hole and held on until the fifth when she was stuck short-sided in a bunker. The match was tied through six holes when players were called off the course for inclement weather.
The delay didn’t seem to bother Skoler as she retook the lead on the eighth hole by sinking a 40-foot putt reminiscent of her winning put in the quarterfinals.
“I knew Molly wasn’t going to put up an easy fight,” Skoler said. “Even when I won the first hole I was like ‘This is a long day, so you can never get ahead of yourself, and I think that’s what kept me mentally there.”
Smith pumped her first when she made a long birdie putt on the 10th after both players hit their approach shots to the front of the green, with the flagstick resting in the back.
Tied on the 12th, the sun began to emerge and heat the course, just in time for Skoler to do the same with her short game.
After hitting into the left rough on the downhill par-3 12th, Skoler hit a nice chip to about six feet and buried it to keep it tied. Skoler’s execution on the next two holes helped turn the tide.
Despite hitting into the fairway bunker, which forced her to lay up short of the green, Skoler hit her wedge inside five feet to a middle pin guarded by a large greenside bunker. On the 14th, with its Biarritz green, Skoler hit her drive pin high left and made birdie to regain the lead.
“I really struggled with my ball striking the last few years, so I had to rely on my putting and short game,” Skoler said. “I practice it a lot because I know that’s going to be the difference in me playing well or not, so I felt comfortable over those [shots.]”
Smith rallied back by crushing her tee shot down the middle of the 15th and made a birdie to bring the match back to even. But it wouldn’t stick for long. Though both were in the fairway on the 16th, Skoler’s shot rolled off the front left but rested on the fringe. Hitting second, Smith missed the green entirely to the left and couldn’t get up-and-down to save par. Skoler, meanwhile had a kick-in par putt to bring it to 1-up heading to the par-3 17th.
“That was the best iron I hit all day,” Skoler said, talking about her approach into the 16th. “A two-putt there was probably going to be good there for the push. A birdie would’ve been nice, but I was trying to get that one as close as possible.”
Once again, Skoler found herself in an unfavorable position as her ball kicked down into the greenside bunker. Smith flushed an iron shot that took an unlucky bounce over the green. Trusting herself and her practice, Skoler left her bunker shot within makable distance, and once Smith was unable to save par, Skoler stepped up and sank the biggest putt of her life and was greeted with a bearhug from her father and caddy, Mike Skoler.
“I felt comfortable with my reads this week,” Skoler said when discussing the 17th hole. “The last bunker shot, I was hoping that it would release a bit, but I had been putting great all day, so I had a lot of confidence there, and I just kind of blacked out there.”
Skolar’s Road to the Title
Stroke Play: 79-75–154 (T9)
R32: Def. Jillian Barend, 2&1
R16: Def. Clara Chae, 3&2
Quarterfinals: Def. Mya Murphy 3&2
Semifinals: Def. Morgan Smith 2-up
Final: Def. Molly Smith, 2&1
Note: Recap reporting from MassGolf.com