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Texas player on top in qualifier at Oaks Course

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Staff photo: Manny Fils UGA golfer Emilie Burger shows her frustration after bogeying the par 3, 16th hole in the US Women’s Amateur Public Links qualifier at the Oaks Course on Thursday.

COVINGTON -- University of Texas golfer Haley Stephens thought that her 1-under-par 70 was good enough to get her one of the six qualifying spots for the United States Golf Association (USGA) Women's Amateur Public Links Championship. But she never thought it would be good enough to win qualifying round at The Oaks Course on Thursday.

Stephens played most of the front nine after bogeying the third hole. She was able to turn things around, birdieing the seventh and eighth hole to go 1-under par. After getting a birdie on the hardest hole at the Oaks Course, the par-4 17th, to go 2-under par, she dropped a stroke on one of the easiest holes on the course.

"I was on 18 and I hooked it left and made bogey," Stephens said. "I thought I had made it in the top six but I didn't think I'd win with 1-under."

The Texas rising senior and Greer, S.C., native had to wait until she was eligible before playing in her first public links qualifying round. Because of USGA rules, a player has to wait for over a year before playing in a qualifier if they had been a member of a private country club.

Although she is used to playing in highly competitive golf, playing as an individual is something that she has not done in quite a while.

"It's a little different, it's kind of like when I was playing junior golf, which was three years ago for me. I'm used to having that team atmosphere so it's something that's totally different than playing at the collegiate level. But it's fun all the same," said Stephens.

She will be joined at Neshamic Valley Golf Club in Neshamic Station, N.J., for the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championship with last year's qualifying champion UGA golfer Emilie Burger (37-35 -- 72), Duke golfer and St. Augustine, Fla., native August Kim (36-35 -- 71), University of Michigan golfer and Athens native Yugene Lee (36-35 -- 71), Mobile, Ala.'s Gabi Oubre' (35-38 -- 73) and Milledgeville's Ashlan Ramsey (35-38 -- 73).

The championship will be held five miles from the USGA headquarters. When the players are not on the course, they will tour the headquarters and will get a chance to see the Iron Bryon in action.

"Any USGA event, they pull out the red carpet," Stephens said. "I'm really looking forward to it and I'll still have my caddie on my bag."

Even though Stephens won her first qualifying round, it could be her last. It all depends on whether she gives up her amateur status and turns professional after her senior year at college.

"I don't know if I'll turn pro," Stephens said. "If so, I can't play because of the (amateur) aspect of it. I'd like to give it a try. I've spent a lot of time and effort doing it (golfing)."