A friendship forged in childhood manifested itself into a national championship on Wednesday at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club.
Alice Chen and Taylor Totland, who have been friends since each were about 10 years old growing up in New Jersey, smiled and giggled their way to the championship in the third U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
The duo, whose friendship has strengthened through three years playing college golf together at Furman University, defeated recent University of Georgia graduates Sammie Lee and Mary Ellen Shuman 4 and 3 in Wednesday afternoon’s championship match.
“It was so much fun. We had a ball out there,” Totland said. “We were skipping down fairways.”
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Chen, 21, of Princeton, N.J., and Totland, 22, of Tinton Falls, N.J., entered the tournament with credentials, as each have been the Southern Conference Player of the Year – Chen shared the honor in 2016 and Totland earned it in 2015.
“When we play together we raise the level of each other’s game,” said Chen, who said Totland already being at Furman factored into her decision to attend the Greenville school.
“We’re very different in some aspects and super similar in others,” Chen added. “Just knowing each other so well and knowing to make each other smile and laugh along the way was really great.”
We’re very different in some aspects and super similar in others. Just knowing each other so well and knowing to make each other smile and laugh along the way was really great.
Chen is a rising senior but Totland recently graduated and is turning pro in the coming days. She is entered in qualifying on Tuesday for the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I couldn’t really think of a better ending,” Totland said. “I wouldn’t want to spend it any other way. Having Alice as a teammate and friend has been such a blessing, and to have the honor of being her partner this week is unimaginable. It was really a perfect ending.
“That’s something you dream of forever is to have your name as a USGA champion so it’s really cool.”
Chen and Totland, whose fathers caddied for them all week, comprised one of three co-medalist teams in 36 holes of stroke play qualifying Saturday and Sunday with a 12-under 66-66–132, while Lee and Shuman tied for 19th with a 4-under 71-69–140.
Both teams won four matches in the 64-team event to reach the championship match, and Chen and Totland trailed for only two holes throughout the entire match play competition.
In the final, Chen won the first three holes singlehandedly with birdies on the first two holes and a par on the third.
“She balled out. Her game was perfect today,” Totland said. “She was a total rock star.”
The lead fluctuated between two and three holes over the next eight holes before Chen and Totland took full command of the match with a pair of improbable birdies for wins on the 11th and 12th holes.
Lee and Shuman cut the deficit to two holes with a birdie on the par-4 10th before Totland holed a shot for a birdie from deep inside a greenside bunker on the par-4 11th, the shot hitting the flag and dropping in.
“That was pretty cool,” Totland said. “Normally I don’t really look at my shots, especially in a bunker, but I peaked up and was like, ‘oh.’ ”
That was followed by a 25-foot birdie putt by Chen that broke about a foot to her left on the par-3 12th hole.
“Every time we thought we kind of had a glimpse of hope there was something like the shot from the bunker,” Shuman said. “They played great.”
After Lee missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 12th the advantage was pushed to four holes, which it remained until Chen rolled in a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-5 15th hole to end the match.
Both Lee and Shuman, who are Georgia natives and were roommates as freshmen, graduated with Finance degrees in early May. Lee is going to work for Barclays in equities in New York City, and Shuman has applied for Law School at Georgia and wants to be involved in sports law.
“This is probably our last time around for awhile. It turned out awesome,” Lee said. “For both of us, we’ll still play golf for fun, but this kind of caps off our four years and I can’t think of a more perfect way to end it.”
Chen and Totland defeated 17-year-old North Carolina high school standouts Jennifer Chang of Cary and Gina Kim of Chapel Hill 3 and 2 in a semifinal match Wednesday morning, while Lee and Shuman defeated LSU golfer Kathleen Gallagher and LSU commitment Kendall Griffin 2 and 1 in the other semifinal.
“It’s disappointing to get this far and come up short but we didn’t even know if we’d make it to match play,” Shuman said. “It was all we could ask for. It was lots of fun. We had fun all week.”
The champions found The Dunes Club to be a fitting host to the tournament. “The course is amazing, the people are amazing, it’s a perfect place for a USGA event,” Totland said.
Chen and Totland joined the likes of Betsy King (1989 and 1990 U.S. Women’s Open), Beth Daniel (1975 and 1977 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Todd White (2015 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball) as USGA champions from Furman.
With Totland turning pro and the tournament being played in April next year during Chen’s senior season, the Women’s Four-Ball will have two different champions in 2018 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif.