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Above the field
Grantham, Clanton prevail in amateur qualifier

COVINGTON - Finding the two low medalists for the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship qualifying round at The Oaks Course was easy.

The problem was finding the other three to complete the group and two alternates.

Sara Grantham of Wilsonville, Ala., and Cydney Clanton of Rockwell, N.C., each posted low scores of 71 to secure their position to play for the championship starting June 22 at Red Tail Golf Club in Devens, Mass.

On the way to her 71, Grantham had 11 straight pars before bogeying No. 12. She quickly recovered with a birdie on 15 before finishing the final two holes with a bogey and birdie.

Clanton, on the other hand, played most of the front nine a stroke down after getting a bogey on the second hole. She closed the front nine with a birdie on eight.

She dropped back to 1 over with a bogey on the 12th hole but went 1 under after getting back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14.

However, she finished the round even after posting a bogey on the 15th.

The four players tied at 74 and three players tied at 75 were forced into a playoff to determine the three golfers for the five-player group and two alternates.

Tied at 74 were Alexandria Buelow (Palm City, Fla.), Katie Burnett (Brunswick), Ashley Cox (Oxford, Ala.) and Ashley Medders (Alma).

Tied at 75 were Mallory Baston (Gadsden, Ala.), Lauren Darnell (Gainesville) and Jamila Jaxaliyeva (Kazakhstan).

Those tied at 74 were playing for the three spots and first alternate, while the three tied at 75 were playing for the second alternate position.

Buelow bogeyed the first playoff hole to become first alternate while Baston sunk a 3-foot putt for a birdie after hitting her approach shot from 100 yards out.

"I'm thrilled for them," said Kathy Heriford of the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links committee. "There are some great scores, and the high scores are not that high. It's a good group. As far as their handicap indexes, they're the strongest ever. Every year it seems to get better and better; I love that. There seem to be some real competitors in this group out of the five players that make it into match play at nationals."

The player that probably had to overcome the most was Jaxaliyeva.

After breaking her driver on the second hole, she was forced to play with a brand new driver that she never had a chance to hit before.

"I'm sure that probably cost her a couple of stokes. She seems to be doing really well with that new driver. It's unfortunate, but things happen," said Heriford.

In general, the scores shot by this year's competitors are the lowest overall scores Heriford has seen.

The highest score posted on the 6,179 yard, par-71 course was an 86.

"Our higher score is in the mid-80s, and there are only a few of those," Heriford said. "It's one of those where it was one hole that did them in, unfortunately. The scorers were a stroke or two better last year but it wasn't as wet. The greens were a little bit slower this year. They stimpped at about nine, they're normally about an 11. They're having a more difficult time putting."

The other player Heriford said to watch out for in the future is 13-year-old Kayla Jones of Alpharetta. Jones astonished Heriford by shooting a 79.

"She just turned 13," Heriford said. "I thought for a while she had a shot at maybe being in a playoff for alternate. She should be really proud of what she did. She said 'I played a lot better than I thought I would.'"

There were a total of 31 players registered at The Oaks for this year's event with the majority, 18, being from out of state.

"We only have four qualifying sites in the Southeast, where like the state of Michigan has three sites," Heriford said. "With a limited number of sites we tend to pull players from all over the Southeast. We have two in Florida, one in Raleigh, N.C., and this one in the Atlanta area. It depends on scheduling because each of these four events are different days."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.