Royal County Down and Tandragee amateur Olivia Mehaffey finished in a tie for sixth after an incredibly encouraging week at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic.
It might not have been the win the world amateur number 20 would’ve been eyeing entering the final round at Longbow just two strokes off the lead but it’s a performance sure to stand to Mehaffey when she turns to the pro ranks later this year.
Mehaffey, who had great friend and experienced caddie Davy Jones on the bag, signed off with a one-over par round of 73 for her tied sixth finish. It started off great with a birdie at the first as Mehaffey moved to 13-under par but experience may have counted against Olivia on Sunday with four bogeys and a double on her card as she reached the 15th tee four-over for her day and fading.
It would’ve been easy at that point to throw in the towel but Mehaffey is made of sterner stuff and whatever about the belief winning this golf tournament would’ve brought, eagling the 15th, dropping one on 16 and bouncing back with two birdies on 17 and 18 should inject the amateur with confidence and experience, proof that she can roll with the punches and come out the other side amongst the pros, even at this early stage of her career.
A top-10, an 11-under par tally, two rounds in the 60’s to add to her 62 at the same course for ASU at the recent Clover Cup, the future is bright for the now fifth year Sun Devil who’s game is trending in the right direction at the right time ahead of turning pro ahead of summer.
As for the winning of this tournament, after 72-holes, Ruixin Liu and Rose Zhang both finished 17-under par. The first playoff-hole both would make par. Back to the tee, Liu and Zhang found the fairway again. But Zhang’s second shot found the desert left of the fairway and she would have to take an unplayable, while Liu found herself on the green in three and sunk her birdie putt.
“Obviously she is well known and a really good player so there was definitely pressure,” said Liu. “It was also my first time ever playing in a playoff, which is a lot of pressure in itself too. I am just glad I was able to pull it off with a birdie on the second playoff hole.”
Thanks to the $30,000 payday, Liu climbs to No. 1 in the Race for the Card. In 2018, she claimed three wins and ended the season at the top of the money list. Liu hopes to build off what she learned from that experience, as well as the 2019 LPGA Tour season, to find her way back to a full LPGA Card.
“This is a really good start to the season for me. I am just trying to do my thing, keep my pace, and be patient,” said Liu. “If I could get my full LGPA card back that will be the second time I play on the Tour. I really just want to see improvement in myself and I feel like I have seen that over the last few years.”
Like Mehaffey, defending U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Zhang had a weekend to remember in Mesa. The 17-year-old Zhang, from Irvine, California also played in the Symetra Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption and fired back-to-back rounds of 66 on Saturday and Sunday at the Longbow Golf Club to finish the week at 17-under par.
Despite still being in high school, Zhang is no stranger to the big stage. In 2020, she faced off in the U.S. Women’s Amateur final against 2019 champion Gabi Ruffels. That event also went to extra into overtime. Zhang won with a par on the 38th hole in what was the second-longest final in U.S. Women’s Amateur history. A month later, Zhang was low amateur in the ANA Inspiration, finishing tied for 11th in the LPGA Tour major championship. That finish moved Zhang into the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and earned her the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the top amateur of 2020.
Despite her youth, Zhang’s experience showed. After opening with rounds of 70 and 69, she fired a seven-birdie one-bogey 66 on Saturday. On Sunday, Zhang opened with a bogey on the par-5 first hole she reeled off seven birdies in the next 17 holes. But she failed to capitalise on the par-5s, playing them one-over par on Sunday and then making two pars on the par-5 18th in the playoff.
“I think that this counts as a great debut for the Symetra Tour. I am super proud of myself for how I carried myself throughout the four days. Just being here with the pros and learning so much has really given me motivation to keep playing well,” Zhang said. “Rachel played amazing so congrats to her and I am super happy for her. It’s a good step towards the right direction for me.
“I think my biggest take away was being able to stay composed throughout the four days and watching everyone play. Everyone has an amazing game and it shows me that I can continue working hard and keep in my stride.
“This course was not a very long course, especially in Arizona the ball tends to go a bit further. Even though there is a slight amount of wind in air it still carries a lot. I was able to hit a lot of wedges which helps my game a lot and I was able to convert some putts throughout the week. I think it I was able to make a few more putts it would have been a little different.”
- Full scoring HERE