Every summer for five days, the state’s elite female
amateurs gather at one of the top courses to vie for the Women’s Texas Amateur
Championship title. It’s always a stellar field. The best collegiate players in
Texas, the most skilled juniors and decorated mid-amateurs and seniors all put
themselves to the test at the most prominent championship in the state.
The talented fields attracted annually by the event are
undoubtedly a big part of what makes the Women’s Texas Amateur so significant.
But it’s not the only reason. A portion of the championship’s beauty lies in
its unique format. It opens with an 18-hole, stroke play round. The 32 players with
the lowest scores qualify for the Championship Match Play Bracket. The rest of
the field is divided into match play flights.
From there, the tournament takes on a virtual March
Madness-like feel. In match play, it’s one-on-one competition. Golfers play the
person across from them and no one else. It’s pure, head-to-head competition. And,
just like the NCAA Tournament, success in the Women’s Texas Amateur carries the
same “survive and advance” mentality. It doesn’t matter how a player wins or
what total score she shoots. The only thing that counts is beating her opponent
and moving on to the next round.
It takes five match play victories in three days to win the state’s
long-running women’s amateur championship.
Perhaps more than most, two players in this year’s 98th
Women’s Texas Amateur, set for July 16-18 at Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas,
have unique perspectives on what it takes to grind through the match play
Runner-up Julia Gregg from Carrollton and semifinalist Jenna
Phillips from Leander combined to win eight matches last summer at San Antonio
Country Club. They both fell short of winning the championship; Allen’s Amber
Park defeated Gregg, 4&3, in the Championship Match. Gregg dispatched
Phillips, 2&1, in the semifinals.
Bent Tree always has had a championship pedigree. It hosted the LPGA Mary Kay Classic from 1979-82. Among the winners during that stretch were World Golf Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez (1979) and Jan Stephenson (1982).
Phillips, a three-time collegiate winner at Sam Houston
State before recently graduating, shot an even-par 72 in the qualifying round
last year. She scored the No. 2 overall seed in the Championship Match Play
Bracket. Phillips then won her first three matches in dominating fashion; none of
them reached the 15th hole.
In the semifinals, Phillips dropped two of the first three
holes to Gregg. Phillips was four down with four holes to play, but she drained
a 20-foot putt on No. 15 to extend the match. She then willed in a slippery
5-footer on No. 16 to push Gregg to the 17th hole, where Gregg closed out the
Phillips said the loss to Gregg motivates her to at least
reach the finals this year.
did push the match against Julia further and took it to the last couple holes,
so that motivates me,” Phillips said. “I know if I start stronger in the match,
I can win. I remember losing a couple of the first few holes, which made me
have some distrust in my swing. After another year of competitive golf, I now
know how to better react to a slower start and adjust more efficiently.”
As for the match play format, Phillips loves it.
“You can have a bad hole, and you’re only down by one,” she
said. “It’s a different mindset for me. One mistake doesn’t cost you too much.
You just have to stay patient.”
Last year’s 97th Women’s Texas Amateur was the first time
Gregg ever played match play. The recent high school graduate from Prestonwood
Christian Academy earned the No. 11 seed in the Championship Match Play Bracket
after her 2-over 74 in qualifying.
Gregg promptly went out and defeated four of the best
amateurs in the state, including Phillips.
“I definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Gregg, a 2016
Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist, a two-time TAPPS high school
individual state champion who has four top-10 finishes on the Legends Junior
Tour. “I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to see how I played and matched
up. And I was really happy with how everything turned out.”
In several of her matches, Gregg lost the first hole. She
said she quickly figured out how to put bad holes behind her and plod forward.
“I just had to take it one shot, one hole at a time and
fight as hard as I could to get it back,” she said. “Some matches I was able to
put the blinders on and just go play golf. I could do that in the morning
matches. The afternoon matches, after I’d already played 18 or sometimes 19
holes, I was a little tired. I had to focus harder on my routines and think
about every shot.”
Gregg may have an advantage over the field this year. Her high
school team routinely practiced at Bent Tree, so she has intimate knowledge of
the sublime tree-lined course.
“It’s a good driving golf course,” Gregg said. “It sets up
well for me. It’s a good fit for my game. The greens are pretty big, and it’s
always in really good condition. It’ll be a really fun course for match play.”
Since it opened for play in 1974, Bent Tree always has had a
championship pedigree. The north Dallas club hosted the LPGA Mary Kay Classic
from 1979-82. Among the winners during that stretch were World Golf Hall of
Famers Nancy Lopez (1979) and Jan Stephenson (1982). Bent Tree in 1999-2000 also
hosted the Bank One Championship, which at the time was a flagship event on the
PGA Senior Tour (now PGA Tour Champions). Two more World Golf Hall of Fame
inductees, Tom Watson and Larry Nelson, respectively, captured titles at Bent
Championship golf and champion golfers go hand-in-hand at
Bent Tree, and that applies to the elite amateur class as well. Over the years,
Bent Tree has welcomed some of the highest profile events on the TGA annual
schedule. Most recently, the club hosted the 93rd Women’s Texas Amateur in 2014
and the 106th Texas Amateur in 2015. It was only the 11th time in more than a
century, and the first time in 40 years, that a club staged back-to-back men’s
and women’s state amateur championships in consecutive years.
For Gregg, Phillips and the rest of the gifted hopefuls in
the field this July, Bent Tree undoubtedly will supply the canvas for another
memorable championship. For more on the 98th Women’s Texas Amateur, click here.