STRATFORD, Conn – The highly notable difficulty of the Oronoque Country Club course in Stratford certainly lived up to expectations in the 54th Connecticut Women’s Amateur Championship.
Known for narrow fairways, lots of out of bounds, numerous doglegs that force players to pick the correct angles off the tee and severely undulating and fast hogback greens that are the teeth of course, the Desmond Muirfield-designed Oronoque layout once made a list of the Top 50 toughest in the country by Golf Digest thanks in part to some out-of-the-box features such as bunkers shaped like a shark’s teeth.
In the first 36-hole event in State Women’s Amateur history, only five players broke 80 in the two rounds, and the defending champion Kyra Cox shot a stunning 19-over-par 91 in the final 18 holes Thursday on the way to blowing a four-stroke lead.
Meghan Mitchell of the Connecticut State Golf Association Club For Schools was the No. 1 survivor of the carnage on her home course and biggest beneficiary of Cox’s collapse, carding a 4-over 76, the low score of the day by three strokes, for a 36-hole total of 13-over 157 and a two-stroke victory over Alexandra Fox.
“It’s like a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Mitchell, whose father Steve is a Stratford firefighter and a “calming” caddy in the tournament. “I’m so happy I got to do it before I head off to Appalachian State (as a freshman) in the fall. Playing at Oronoque was a big advantage because I know the course really well. I knew the shots I needed to hit and knew where I couldn’t hit it. This is my biggest win.”
Cox, an eight-stroke winner at 5 under par last year from South Salem, N.Y., slumped to a tie for sixth at 167 with Gia Watkins of Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, who closed with 79, one of four sub-80 scores on Thursday. Cox, 18, plays out of Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, N.Y., and is headed to her sophomore year at Furman University but had nothing going for her in the final round.
Mitchell, 18, a recent New Canaan High School graduate who led her team to three consecutive state and FCIAC titles, began the day five strokes behind in a tie for third and birdied the second and seventh holes in overtaking Cox, who opened with a triple-bogey 7 and had four bogeys and a birdie in a front-nine 42. She had an 8 and two 7s in a back-nine 49 that sent her plummeting down the leaderboard.
“I had a really hard time with my swing and with my game, and this was all the frustration with it,” Cox said. “I’m not seeing the results I normally see. I haven’t been in a situation where I can’t fix anything. That was frustrating.”
Mitchell said she was “surprised” by Cox’s collapse.
“I know she’s a great player, but golf’s a game and it happens to everyone,” Mitchell said. “Still, she’s amazing.”
Mitchell, a member of the Connecticut Section PGA Junior Golf Association, an eClub for junior players, tied for 10th in the Section Girls’ Junior Championship and tied for 19th and was fifth among junior girls in the Hartford Women’s Open. After shooting an even-par 36 on the front nine, she moved one ahead of Fox, whose 80 put her in second place after the first round. Mitchell struggled a bit with two bogeys and a double bogey in a back-nine 40, but it was still good enough for the win as Fox had two bogeys and a triple bogey in a back-nine 42 for 82.
“I’ve never been so anxious in my life,” Mitchell said of the final five holes after she had re-gained the lead on No. 13. “I came in today just wanting to stay steady. Yesterday I had a rough round and I was a little upset, but I knew today I was going to come out and play better and that’s what I did and I’m really happy.”
Practice sessions on the putting green Wednesday night and Thursday morning proved beneficial to Mitchell, who’ll study business at Appalachian State. She had four three-putts in the round but putted “much better” on Thursday, when her mantra was to stay steady.
“I was really comfortable with the speed of the greens,” Mitchell said. “I thought they were the perfect pace, not too fast, not too slow.”
Mitchell said she wasn’t expecting to win but definitely wanted to finish in the Top 10. She certainly achieved that goal.
“I didn’t want to play it safe,” Mitchell said. “I had a lot of confidence in my driver and my hybrid, and the confidence was able to get me where I needed to be. I wasn’t doubting anything, and I was able to make the shots the I needed.”
Fox, 15, of Ellington and Ellington High School, finished eighth in the CIAC Girls State Championships in 2018. She chose to play on the boys’ team in the states this year because Ellington had a chance at the title and finished with the second-best score on her team.
Fox will be a junior in the fall and didn’t check the electronic scoring or ask about the lead because she didn’t want to get more nervous. She figured she was close while wearing strips of kinesiogy tape on her shins because she sometimes has discomfort when she walks a golf course.
“You don’t want to get into your own head,” Fox said. “It’s nice when you can just focus on playing.”
Mitchell and Fox were tied through the 12th hole, but Mitchell managed a bogey on the difficult dogleg par-4 13th while Fox was making a three-putt triple bogey. The quick-playing, long-hitting duo each made three pars and two bogeys the rest of the way, enabling one teenager to hold off another.
“Not every shot’s going to go the way you wanted,” Fox said, “so you got to just deal with what you get, I guess.”
Jen Holland of Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, the 2018 CSGA Player of the Year, shot 81 to finish third at 165, one ahead of Mia Scarpati of Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury (82) and Emily Cohen of the Country Club of Darien (83), who won the Connecticut Section PGA Girls Junior Championship in June. Mitchell won the overall and Junior Division (under 18), Holland won the Senior Division (50-59) and Watkins won the Super Senior Division (60 and older).