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U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, a tale of two nines for Kelsey Chugg

It was a tale of two nines at Stonewall for the championship match of the 36th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, as Kimberly Dinh, of Midland, Mich., overcame a 3-down deficit to stun 2017 champion Kelsey Chugg and earn her first USGA title.

“In college, I never really played in any USGA events, mostly because by the time the summer came around, I was burned out and I didn’t want to travel. So having an opportunity to compete in a USGA championship after grad school, after college, has been awesome, and to win it, just incredible.”

The victory also earns Dinh a place in the 2024 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club.

Kimberly Dinh, right, hands a ball marker back to Kelsey Chugg after Dinh conceded hole four during the final round at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Stonewall (North Course) in Elverson, Pa. on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

Chugg, who was playing in her third U.S. Women’s Mid-Am championship match in the last six iterations, looked like she would become the first since 2016 to earn multiple titles, jumping out to a 3-up advantage through the first seven holes.

Everything was looking relatively easy for the 32-year-old from Salt Lake City, hitting fairways and positioning herself well on Stonewall North Course’s tricky greens. She would win four holes on the front side, two with birdies, and lose only one, when Dinh hit her approach shot on the 319-yard, par-4 fourth hole to just three feet. The result? A 3-up lead for the former champion through seven holes, and after tying the next four holes with her opponent, a 3-up lead through 11, with just seven holes to play.

Kelsey Chugg hits her tee shot on hole 15 during the final round at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Stonewall (North Course). (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

But that’s when things would take a turn. The two competitors would not tie a hole the rest of the way, with Dinh remarkably winning six of the last seven (Chugg would momentarily stop the bleeding by taking the 15th hole), ultimately resulting in a Dinh 2-up victory. It was the first time a competitor came back from a deficit as large as 3 in the championship match since 2003.

“I’m disappointed,” said Chugg. “It was a good battle. I think I lost it — like the ball striking just left me the last two matches, so I didn’t have my best stuff. Yesterday I got it in the hole a little bit better than I did the back nine today, but I’m proud of myself for making it this far.”

For Chugg, the tale of two nines were really a tale of putting. After playing steady for the first part of the match, her putter betrayed her starting on the 11th hole, and while she was able to tie the hole and keep her 3-up lead, she missed a six-footer for birdie that would have pushed the lead to 4. Dinh, on the other hand, drained a ten-footer for par that seemed to shift the momentum.

Kelsey Chugg and her caddie Lynsey Myers line up their putt on hole eight during the final round at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

“To lose a couple holes pretty quickly was a little bit frustrating, but I just kind of dug deep and never really panicked,” said Dinh. “Kelsey was playing great golf, but both of us were going to make mistakes at some point, so I just kind of had to weather that and keep playing. I said to myself, ‘I’ll keep putting one good swing on the ball after another and see where it takes me.’”

On the next two holes, Chugg would miss three to four footers for par on both, giving Dinh her first hole wins since the fourth. Dinh would make a 15-footer for birdie on the 14th hole to tie the match, and after Chugg regained the lead with a par on 15 (Dinh would have her own putting woes with a short miss), the 31-year-old University of Wisconsin grad would win the last three holes with a bogey, and two finishing birdies, to seal the win.

Kelsey Chugg plays an approach shot on hole three during the final round at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

“I have learned something every time I’ve gotten to match play, just every time I’ve played it, I’ve gotten more comfortable with it. I’ve learned that even if you get down to not panic. At [the Michigan Amateur] this past year, I had a couple matches that went to extra holes and I had to make putts to get to extra holes, so I’ve been in high-pressure situations and have gotten used to it.”

For Dinh, it’s the icing on an incredible mid-amateur career that has included a win at the Michigan Women’s Amateur (as the oldest player in the field), as well as two wins at the Michigan Women’s Mid-Amateur. Earlier this year, Dinh played in her first ever LPGA event, the Dow Great Lakes Invitational, sponsored by her employer, Dow, where she works as a senior research specialist.

*Note* Runner-up Kelsey Chugg receives a silver medal, an exemption into the 2024 U.S. Women’s Amateur and exemptions into the next three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships. 

U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship recap story by USGA/Joey Geske. Photos by USGA/Jeff Haynes.