Last year, Samantha Gotcher’s summer got really interesting. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links tournament throwing her on a course few teenage golfers in Montgomery County have experienced.
This summer Gotcher has embarked on a similar path, and now with even more success.
For the second time this month, Clarksville High’s golf star has qualified for a USGA event after Gotcher fired a 77 Tuesday to qualify for the U.S. Girls Junior Championships. The tournament will be played July 16-21 at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif.
“It wasn’t my best round but I’m so thrilled to have qualified,” Gotcher said. “I didn’t even think, after my round was over, that I had qualified. I would have never guessed shooting 5-over would qualify me for a USGA event, but I’m really excited about another opportunity.”
Gotcher admitted that she was exhausted after she competed in the Public Links event for the second straight year. She fell one stroke short of making the cut after two days of play in Neshanic Valley, N.J. two weeks ago and entering the qualifying round for the Junior Championship, Gotcher wasn’t sure if she would hold up.
“I wasn’t as tired as I thought I’d be when play started Tuesday,” Gotcher said. “I was a little tired and I thought it may affect me later in the round but I had to push myself because I really wanted to qualify for this event and this was really my last chance.”
Five golfers are selected for the Junior Championship which includes some of the top 17 and under players in the country. Through the first nine holes at the Old Fort Golf Course in Murfreesboro Tuesday, Gotcher found herself even. But her game began to slide on the back side.
“I hit one bad drive and I hit one bad iron shot that basically cost me five shots,” Gotcher said. “I was striking the ball well but what would I have shot if I could have had those five strokes back? Then I fell apart on Nos. 17 and 18.”
Gotcher double bogeyed 17 and finished her round with bogey on 18. She was so convinced that she had missed her opportunity to qualify that she admitted to the USGA official in the clubhouse that a 77 wasn’t going to get it done.
“But she said, ‘Samantha, your sitting in second place right now. No one is playing well’,” Gotcher said. “After that, I said ‘thank you’.”
Gotcher said the wind wasn’t strong but often changed directions suddenly. It played with her ball and forced her to improvise several shot selections.
When the final golfers finished, Gotcher found herself in a four-man playoff with the top three finishers earning the final three Junior Championship spots. Gotcher calmly made par to be included in that group.
“There were 36 girls out there,” she said. “I think it was the eighth largest USGA qualifier for the Junior Championship in the nation.”
It also included Gotcher’s CHS teammate Riley Cooper.
“The entire day was so stressful because I left so many shots out there and was sure I hadn’t done enough to qualify,” Gotcher added. “But then to be told you’re still in contention and then to secure a spot, it was so exciting.”
This is the first year that Gotcher hasn’t played in Clarksville Junior Tour events and she skipped Schooldays in Nashville. She said she’s been criticized for those decisions. But the lure of competing in USGA events took precedent this summer.
“This is a whole new world for me,” Gotcher said. “Last year I wouldn’t have been able to compete in these qualifiers. I didn’t have the shots. I didn’t have the shot quality. But this year, I’ve grown and I feel like I’ve improved and it’s the USGA. I mean this is a whole new level and I wanted to push myself.”
It’ll also help Gotcher as she prepares for the high school season as her Lady Wildcats look to defend last year’s Class AAA team title. The USGA events will also help Gotcher prepare for collegiate golf on the Southeastern Conference level. Gotcher says that where she wants to play.