Schuster rebounds, wins Dixie Women’s Amateur in back nine charge

The final day at the Dixie Women’s Amateur was book-ended by two scores of 69 resulting in a scoring tie between Mychael O’Berry (Hoover, Ala.) and Katherine Schuster (Kill Devil Hills, N.C.). However, the two leaders never saw each other on Friday — O’Berry teed off in the first round of the day while Schuster teed off in the traditional leaders group, because O’Berry was on a plane by the time the tournament was over.

O’Berry, who shot 75-68-68 was unable to change her flight to a later time, so she petitioned the tournament committee to play earlier in the day. Her petition was granted, and early this morning, she went out and played flawless golf.

A junior at Auburn, O’Berry played her final 36 holes bogey free and at -7. This morning, she executed with surgical precision splitting fairways and attacking greens.

“I wanted to go as low as possible,” she says of her mindset going into the final round. She knew the other players in this stacked field could catch her, and she needed to post a score if she wanted to win. At the same time she said “I am playing my own game. At the end of the day, we are all playing against the course.”

The early morning conditions were a continuation of the challenging weather the players experienced over the previous two days. It was cool, rainy, and blustery. But O’Berry executed every shot she wanted except one that was hung into the wind on hole 13. Her standard draw held up, and the ball fell to the middle of the green instead of closer to the hole like she had planned. She settled for a par.

Locked in, O’Berry stuffed her next tee shot to six inches on the par-3 14th. Breaking her competitive focus, she looked back and in a moment of self aware disbelief she shrugged at her college coach, then spectator, Melissa Luellen.

That was her final birdie of the day, though she burned three more edges, including a ticklish 11-footer on 18 before the round was complete.

Her score of 8 under posted, she then had to wait for the final group to finish to find out her fate.

Schuster, a calm if bubbly 16-year-old from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, carded the same final round and tournament score as O’Berry, but she did so in a much more dramatic fashion, making six birdies and three bogeys on the day. On the back nine, trailing by three shots, she went on to birdie holes 11 and 12, bogeyed 13, then birdied 15 and 16 before parring out.

The bogey on 13 didn’t bother her, though, because as she said of an earlier round, “I shot 73 [in the round that] I parred the hole so I knew that I was still playing well and it didn’t matter.”

On the final hole, a small crowd had gathered as word had traveled to the clubhouse via the gusts blowing off the Atlantic that Schuster had a chance to post a 68 and win the tournament outright. She smashed driver down the heart of the fairway, and then she played a mid-trajectory short iron 12 feet short of the pin, giving her a right-to-left putt for the championship.

Her putt, like all her putts today, rolled patiently towards the hole, kissing the front of the cup as it drifted just under.

After she turned her card in, the tie was confirmed, but since O’Berry was unable to play in the playoff, Schuster was crowned champion of the 2019 Dixie Women’s Amateur.

Interestingly enough, both golfers said they had trouble sleeping last night. O’Berry because she was worked up over trying to negotiate all the travel plans late into the night, and Schuster who was looking ahead to the final round. “I knew I could win this tournament, and I wanted to,” she said. “I had a five-shot lead after the second round, and then I shot 73. I didn’t want to let it get away.”

Nerves or not, sleep or not, Schuster trusted her process and went out and won it on the back nine. It was the next step up the ladder for the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt champion, who went on the win the North Carolina high school and junior championships earlier this year and now adds her first major amateur title.