ORANGE, Conn. – After making a 4-foot, par-saving putt on the final hole to clinch a second Connecticut Women’s Amateur Golf Championship title in four years and shaking hands with the others in her threesome, Kyra Cox made a beeline to her mother, Jasmine.
“I’m SOOOO happy that she was here,” Cox said after giving mom a lengthy and emotional bearhug. “It’s the first time that she’s ever seen me win, so it’s really special.”
Some putting problems down the stretch caused Cox to make it a bit nerve-wracking for her and mom, who was watching her daughter play for only the fifth time thanks to other chores like working and caring for three girls, including one with autism. But Jasmine made the trip from Ridgefield to Race Brook Country Club and was outwardly delighted she did, especially after an 85-minute storm delay that started as Kyra’s group was on the 14th tee.
“I’m very thrilled and as happy as can be,” Jasmine said with a wide smile.
After an opening, 3-under-par 68, the only sub-par round of the tournament, Cox had a three-stroke lead and was five ahead of Kaitlyn Lee after nine holes Wednesday despite a front-nine, 2-over 38. But Cox missed a 2-foot par putt at the 10th hole while Lee was making a 15-footer for birdie and then three-putted from 70 feet at No. 11, slicing her lead to two. Each player parred the next three holes and bogeyed No. 15, with Cox catching a major break at the latter when her chip from left the green hit the flag and dropped 15 feet from the cup instead of going into a bunker.
“The flag really saved,” Cox said.
When Cox lipped out another 2-foot par putt at the 16th hole, her lead was down to one, but Lee sliced her drive into trees and made bogey at No. 17. Cox assured her victory with an up-and-down from a bunker at No. 18 for a closing 6-over 77 and a 36-hole total of 3-over 145.
“It means a lot to win this a second time especially after the year that we had last year (with COVID-19), and to do it again feels really good,” said Cox, 20, who plays out of the EClub of Connecticut in Stamford. “I knew where I stood all the way, and when I got 5 up, I just said to play your game, don’t try to make anything happen, you know how to golf.
“Even when I missed some shots, I didn’t get discouraged. I knew Kaitlyn is a good player because I’ve played against her a lot, so I didn’t want to try to do anything fancy. Today was tough. I didn’t play very good golf. Off the tee, I was lot better (Tuesday), and especially on this course, you have to stay in the fairway, and to not have that today made me lose some strokes. But I tried to just stay calm and stay positive and keep a good head on my shoulders.”
In 2018, Cox shot 5-under 211 for 54 holes to win by eight strokes at Hartford Golf Club and become the first African-American champion in the tournament’s 59-year history. In her title defense in 2019, Cox took a four-stroke lead after an opening 4-over 76 at Oronoque Country Club in Stratford but soared to a 91 in the second round to finish in tie for sixth. She didn’t play in the tournament last year.
“Two years ago was really, really rough,” Cox said. “I had some personal things, and then there was COVID-19. This year had been tough, too, because I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted.”
But that changed two weeks ago when Cox won the New York State Women’s Amateur at Teugega Country Club in Rome, N.Y.
“That definitely set things up for this week.” Cox said.
Cox also won that event before her CSWAC victory three years ago.
“It’s really special to win the same two events in the same year for a second time,” Cox said.
So Cox will head back to Furman University for her senior year on Aug. 19 with another title to her credit. She began playing golf at 9, had a small practice area in her basement and typically got up before 6 a.m. to practice for an hour or more before school. She almost immediately started competing in tournament because her father/coach Keith coach thought she was good because she “made good impact right away.”
Cox, who graduated from John Jay High School in Lewisboro, N.Y., played in 25 American Junior Golf Association tournaments in five years, winning and finished second twice each. It was during the AJGA Girls Championship at Furman in 2015 that she first saw the campus in Greenville, S.C. Besides golf victories, she earned a berth in the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club, where she finished third in her age group and met, among others, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, two-time Masters and three-time Travelers Championship winner Bubba Watson and Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods; qualified for her first U.S. Golf Association championship, the 2016 U.S. Girls’ Junior, where she reached match play before losing to U.S. Curtis Cup player and eventual finalist Andrea Lee; attracted a lot of interest from college golf programs, including some Ivy League schools, before committing to Furman University for the fall of 2018.
“Golf has taught me a lot about management and about responsibility,” Cox told the USGA in 2017. “I take that into my school day, and I seem to have gotten better at that, too. It has been such a positive influence on me.”
Keith Cox said, “I often tell people that Kyra was an average student, but the more she did in golf, the better she got in school. She’s a lot more structured; she articulates herself well. She has taken it from the course into the classroom.”
Cox needed plenty of tenacity and perseverance to hold off Lee, a junior-to-be at Yale University who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y., and is a member at Westchester Country Club in Rye, the longtime home of a PGA Tour event. Lee began the day in a tie for third, six strokes behind Cox, and got within three when she birdied the third hole and Cox bogeyed Nos. 2 and 4.
Lee appeared as if she was out of it after she made double-bogey 5 at the eighth hole, but ignorance proved to be bliss for the 19-year-old making her tournament debut after finishing second in the Metropolitan (N.Y.) Open at The Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y.
“I didn’t know how I stood all day and didn’t want to be thinking about it because I wanted to keep an open mind,” said Lee, who tied for fifth in the Connecticut Women’s Open in June. “I’m pretty happy with how I played, but I left every putt short and didn’t really give myself a chance for birdie. I had a lot of those opportunities but didn’t really take advantage of them. But other than that, I am really happy with my game right now and excited to see how it goes for the rest of the summer.”
Tracy Lee (EClub of Connecticut) shot 74 to finish third at 149, one ahead of Mia Grzywinski (CC of Farmington), who won the Hartford Women’s Open in June and finished second in the New England Women’s Amateur last month. Charlotte Wagner (CC of Fairfield), who was second after an opening 71, shot 82 to fall into a tie for fifth at 153 with Liz Garfield (Tashua Knolls GC-Trumbull). Defending champion Sophia Sarrazin (The Patterson Club-Fairfield) finished seventh at 157.
Wagner won the Junior Division (18 and under), Cox the Mid-Amateur Division (19-49), 2008 champion and 2020 runner-up Jen Holland (Lyman Orchards GC-Middlefield) the Senior Division (50-59) and Jo Rasmussen (Great River GC-Milford) the Super Senior Division (60+)
The tournament was played for the first time at the home of the late Pat O’Sullivan Lucey, a member of the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame who won dozens of local, state and national events from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Lucey, elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 1967, won the first three Women’s Amateurs in 1966-68 and a record-tying 10 Connecticut Women’s Golf Association Championships, starting in 1947 through 1968. During that stretch, she also won three Women’s North and South Championships and New England Women’s Amateurs and the Endicott Cup five times.
Lucey’s biggest victory came in 1951 when she captured the Titleholders Championship, joining Babe Zaharias as two of only five amateurs to win a professional event. Lucey is also one of only two Connecticut natives to win on the LPGA Tour, joining fellow Connecticut Hall of Famer Heather Daly-Donofrio, who played on the tour for 12 years and is now the organization’s chief tour operations officer. In 1952, Lucey was a member of the United States Curtis Cup team that lost 5-4 to Great Britain & Ireland at Muirfield in Scotland. Following her success as an amateur, Lucey briefly attempted to play professionally from 1954-1955 before regaining her amateur status.
Lucey concluded her championship career with four wins in the CWGA Championship from 1977 to 1982. Though she died in 2019 at the age of 93, her legacy remains as the inner nine holes at Race Brook CC is named the O’Sullivan. It’s a fitting tribute to a player who won the women’s club championship 26 of the 28 times she entered and is one of the best to ever come out of Connecticut.