Anika Varma makes a gritty start in US Women’s Amateur

Anika Varma made a spirited effort in the first round of the US Women's Amateur. Rachel Kuehn and Riley Smyth took centrestage with a 68

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Anika Varma watching her tee shot at the third hole during the first round of stroke play at the 2020 U.S. Women's Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

The first Indian to play in the US Women’s Amateur, Anika Varma, made a gritty start to one of the most significant international events of her blossoming career. Anika began her round on a positive note, smiling ruefully as her birdie putt stalled inches short on the very first hole. In the end, she made a spirited 75 containing two birdies. Rachel Kuehn and Riley Smyth took charge of the leaderboard with a 68 in the opening round.

Ela Anacona, Valery Plata, Raquel Olmos Ros, Aneka Seumanutafa and Megha Ganne are all in the clubhouse at 1-under 71, three strokes adrift of the leaders.

19-year-old Kuehn has been a terrific run. She claimed victories in the North & South Women’s Amateur in Pinehurst on July 18 and the Ladies National Golf Association Amateur Championship on July 29. Kuehn is a sophomore at Wake Forest. Her mother Brenda played in 13 US Women’s Amateurs and nine US Women’s Open tournaments, the last of which was when she was eight months pregnant with Rachel. Her brother Corrie is on the bag this week, making it a memorable family affair.

“I feel in control over the golf ball,” said Kuehn. “It’s just a confidence thing, and I’m putting pretty well right now. I’ve been glad to be able to put myself in position to make some birdies and then being able to convert some of those.”

The highlight for 20-year-old Smyth was a 15-foot birdie putt at the fourth hole. She made five birdies and a bogey in her 68.

“That putt really got my day going,” Smyth said. “It built up a lot of confidence in my putting and most of my birdies came from some pretty good putts.”

Like Anika, Kuehn and Smyth are also playing their first US Women’s Amateur. There are 51 first timers in the field this week.

“It was definitely nerve-wracking at the beginning,” said Smyth. “I was trying to let the experience take over my mind and just let that be only thought.”

Anika shows plenty of belief

At the short par-3 second hole, Anika conceded a bogey. But the 16-year-old made amends immediately, producing a fine birdie on the 478 yard par-5 third hole to get even with the Woodmont Country Club course.

Anika Varma reacts to a putt that came so close to dropping into the cup during the first round of stroke play at the 2020 U.S. Women's Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)
Anika Varma reacts to a putt that came so close to dropping into the cup during the first round of stroke play at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

She kept her boat steady with three straight pars. But the challenging course in Rockville, Maryland dealt Varma a rough hand at the turn. The 7th and 9th holes were playing tough – averaging 4.225 and 4.400 on the day. Varma needed five strokes on both holes as she moved two-over as she sailed past the bend.

The young Indian has been sharpening her tools under the tutelage of Noah Montgomery, who also coaches Gaganjeet Bhullar. Varma has been playing events on the Cactus Tour in Arizona, having traveled out to the United States before the COVID-19 lock down was imposed.

Anika made her debut in the 11th event on the Cactus Tour, finishing 1-under for the 54-hole tournament at the Moon Valley Country Club in Arizona. She was T2 in the next event in March, played at the Sundance Golf Club in Buckeye. Anika has played ten events on the mini-tour, recording some impressive scores for a teenaged amateur on her first run of sustained golf overseas.

A string of good results on the Cactus Tour earned her an invitation to the 120th US Women’s Amateur Championship being played in Woodmont.

At 381 yard, par-4 12th, Anika conceded her fourth bogey, slipping to 3-over. Anika pinched one back when she secured a birdie on the par-5 15th hole, moving inside the top 30. But the course extracted the fifth bogey on the par-3 16th hole.

Megha Ganne continues her promising run

Megha Ganne - PGA - NJPGA Jr Tour Image
Megha Ganne – PGA – NJPGA Jr Tour Image

She is only 16, but pundits already consider her potentially one of the brightest stars on the golfing circuit in the USA. A first tee graduate with plenty of success on the junior circuit, Megha earned plaudits with her performance at the Augusta National Golf Club in 2019. She finished runner-up in the Drive Chip & Putt competition.

Megha, from New Jersey, was also a semifinalist at the US Women’s Amateur last year. On Monday, she struck a pair of sixes, conceding bogeys on the par-5 third and tenth holes. But she bounced back in spectacular style, collecting birdies at the 11th, 14th and the 18th holes for her 71.

Maria Fernanda Escauriza, in third, was the only golfer to post a bogey-free round. She shot an impressive 69 with birdies at the 8th, 9th and 13th holes. At just one behind the leaders, and a clean round in her bag, she will begin the second round seeking to get ahead and gain distance.