By Steve Hanf
Lori Beth Adams goofed when it came time to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
“I was supposed to play at the Governors Club site (in Chapel Hill), but I signed up too late and I had to go up to Pennsylvania,” Adams said. “I had never been up to Pennsylvania.”
Well, she’s going back.
The Burlington native fought through a playoff at Butler Country Club north of Pittsburgh on May 18 and will be part of the U.S. Open at Lancaster Country Club in central Pennsylvania from July 9-12.
Despite missing out on the qualifier in the Triangle area, Adams made her way out of one of the USGA’s 25 qualifiers that featured a record 1,873 entries. She shot a 76 in the first round and was considering going home before discovering that the low score for the day was a 74.
“Me and my dad were like, ‘Well, let’s go play this round,’” Adams said. “I hadn’t played in a tournament since January. I didn’t know where my game was but I’d been working hard on it.”
At the end of the second round, Adams said her dad – Steve – knew where she stood but she didn’t want to know. Adams hit her approach shot on the 18th to within 30 feet and drained that putt for birdie to finish with a 72, then waited around to learn she was in a three-way playoff for two spots.
In the playoff, the 23-year-old survived the nerves after pulling her drive into the rough and having to punch out. One of the players missed her bogey putt, while Adams drained hers.
“There was a lot of pressure. It was an emotional hole,” Adams said. “This is one of my dreams that have come true.”
Adams arrived home from Pennsylvania at 4:30 in the morning and left her house at 6:30 to play in the Carolinas Women’s Amateur. She finished third there despite an opening round in which she laughed about being “delusional” from lack of sleep. More recently, Adams finished sixth at the Women’s Eastern Amateur.
She’s been playing and practicing and working at Indian Valley Golf Course in Burlington. Adams plans to remain an amateur until the LPGA Tour’s Qualifying School tournament in August.
Adams credited her strong irons play and short game with helping her on the wet 6,700-yard qualifying course. Lancaster Country Club, measuring 6,850 yards on the par-70 layout, will offer similar challenges.
Since starring at Western Alamance High School and UNC Wilmington, Adams has been working with swing coach Jason Widener at Duke. Widener said Adams has been focusing on the same swing mechanics for six years and has reached a point where she can comfortably repeat her swing on every shot. Her driving, iron play and short game are strong.
“She doesn’t have many weaknesses in her game right now,” Widener said. “She’s been playing at a high level for quite a while now. It’s not surprising at all that she qualified.”
Widener plans to attend a practice round at Lancaster to help Adams get comfortable with any and all shots she’ll need against the world’s best golfers in a high-pressure environment.
“For her, it’s about gaining more experience, so this is a terrific opportunity,” Widener said. “From a golf game standpoint, she’s definitely ready. She’s taking her game to some special places.”
Adams feels ready. She’s attempted to qualify for the Open every year since she was a sophomore in high school. As a prep junior at Western Alamance, she missed it by just two shots. Memories of past Opens viewed on television – and watching in person last year at Pinehurst – now can be replaced by actually competing for the biggest prize in women’s golf.
“That has been my dream ever since I started playing the game,” Adams said. “It’s weird. I was a spectator last year at Pinehurst and this year I’m going to be inside the ropes. All the hard work is paying off.”