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A first for a pro in the UGA’s Mary Lou Baker Open

Kerstin Ngakuru gave herself a scare and then introduced a new phrase to the Utah Golf Association’s Mary Lou Baker Open: “low amateur.”

Faith Vui, the reigning New Zealand Women’s Amateur champion, added that title Wednesday at Glenmoor Golf Club in South Jordan by finishing second overall to Ngakuru, the first pro winner of the MLB Open.

Kerstin Ngakuru won her second Mary Lou Baker Open championship, this time as a professional. (Photo: Fairways Media/Garrit Johnson)

Ngakuru (70-72) posted a 2-under-par total, winning by three strokes over the 19-year-old Vui, who’s from Samoa and has spent recent summers in Saratoga Springs. Vui (73-72) and recent Nevada high school graduate Ali Mulhall (73-73) challenged Ngakuru on the back nine before running into various troubles while playing together in the second-to-last group. Mulhall ended up tied for third with Utah Valley University’s Millie Terrion (72-74), who grew up near Glenmoor. Mia Cesarek (74-73), a Utah Tech golfer from Arizona, finished fifth.

Back in Utah for the summer golf season, Faith Vui, the New Zealand Women’s Amateur Champion, finished as runner-up. (Photo: Fairways Media/Garrit Johsnon)

Ngakuru, a BYU graduate who won this event in 2018, almost lost her comfortable lead in a hurry on the par-4 No. 17. The provisional ball she hit off the tee went out of bounds to the right. Fortunately, her original drive stayed in bounds by a yard after ping-ponging off two trees on the left side of the dogleg-left hole.

As she said, “So that was kind of crazy.” So was the hypothetical math: Ngakuru could have been hitting her fifth shot off the tee, if the first ball had gone out of bounds. She ended up salvaging a 4 by punching out and then hitting a wedge from 108 yards to within 3 feet.

The rest of her day was far less adventurous, and Ngakuru was happy to maintain her overnight lead. Before turning pro last August, she had finished second in her last three appearances in UGA stroke-play events, including the 2023 MLB Open at Hobble Creek GC.

I’ve been second a lot,” said Ngakuru, the 2019 Women’s State Amateur champion. “It’s good to come through and finally get that win again.”

This year’s field of three professionals (Sarah Salvo, who tied for eighth, and Hannah Gleason joined Ngakuru) topped the previous total of pro entrants since the UGA launched the event in 2007. The former Kerstin Fotu, who earned $350 for the victory after paying $150 to enter, didn’t hesitate to choose a check over golf shop credit. That’s the perk of being a pro, and she may owe lunch to Haley Sturgeon. Looking for places to play as she prepares for the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in August, Ngakuru remembered once being paired with Sturgeon in the MLB Open. That was in 2019, when Sturgeon finished fifth in her only pro appearance in the tournament.

Ngakuru spoke of “a different life as a pro, trying to find events to play in.” Outside of PGA membership, she said, “There’s just not a lot for women pros to play in, in Utah.”

She’ll look forward to next month’s Siegfried & Jensen Utah Women’s Open in Provo. Meanwhile, even as a stroke-play competition, this tournament otherwise offered a partial glimpse of the Women’s State Amateur, scheduled July 24-27 at TalonsCove Golf Club in Saratoga Springs.

That’s the summertime home course of Vui, who made last summer’s quarterfinals at Jeremy Ranch. Mulhall is sure to be a factor, even after her ball-striking became a bit erratic Wednesday. Cesarek also is entered, a year after Utah Tech teammates Jane Olson and Grace Williams reached the semifinals.

Low senior finisher, Roberta Scott. (Photo: Fairways Media/Garrit Johnson)

Roberta Scott, last year’s Senior Women’s State Amateur runner-up, was the MLB Open’s low senior by eight strokes. In the year of her 75th birthday, Scott shot 77-79. She also won Flight 3’s gross title; Terrion claimed Flight 2.

Net winners were Hazel Peters (73-69) in Flight 1, Ellie Jo Olsen (67-71) in Flight 2 and Kindra Hirasuna (67-65) in Flight 3.

The Mary Lou Baker Open honors a six-time winner of the Women’s State Amateur and Utah Golf Hall of Fame member. The tournament was named for Baker, even before her passing in 2017 at age 96.

Editor’s note: The historic Women’s City Parks Open, which ended in 2000 and then was revived as the Mountain Dell Ladies Classic, is considered a forerunner of the Mary Lou Baker Open, because it also involved a limited number of professionals. Sue Nyhus and Nancy Callan were among the City Parks winners as pros. As an amateur, Nyhus won the first two Mary Lou Baker Open titles in 2007 and ’08.  

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2024 Mary Lou Baker Open tournament recap written by Fairways Media senior writer, Kurt Kragthorpe.