Blonien charges late, edges Gregory for WOGA Junior title

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By Ken MacLeod

The family and friends that followed the final pairing in the Women’s Golf Association Girls Junior Championship Tuesday at Rose Creek Golf Club in Oklahoma City were treated to one of the most riveting duels in the 74-year history of the event.

In the end, Natalie Blonien of Altus made consecutive clutch birdie putts on the 17th and 18th holes to defend her title and equal the feat of older sister Megan, who won the event in 2010 and 2011. But she was pushed to the absolute limit by rising star Harlow Gregory of Norman.

The 14-year-old Gregory, who will be a freshman at Community Christian School this fall, demonstrated why she has reached the finals of the national Drive, Chip and Putt contest. This girl can chip and this girl can putt. Playing the much-improved Rose Creek at close to 6,300 yards, Gregory hit just two greens in regulation on the back nine, but shot 2-under! She got up-and-down for par seven times and made her only two birdie putts, taking a total of nine putts in nine holes. That is correct, she did not miss a putt on the back nine. And that was after cruising around the front nine in 3-under with a total of 12 putts.

That added up to a personal best 5-under 67 and a 6-under total of 138 for the 36-hole event. Astonishingly good, but not quite enough to keep Blonien from concluding her WOGA junior career with a title she desperately wanted before beginning her collegiate career at Arkansas in the fall.

The final threesome also included the state’s other 14-year-old phenom in Evyn Cannon of Edmond, who faded to a 79 in the final round to finish fourth while Jaci Hartman of Burneyville, who will play at Colorado State in the fall, came in third after rounds of 72-74. Blonien overpowered her much younger competitors off the tee and exhibited precise ball striking all afternoon. Still a couple of crucial mistakes opened the door for the tenacious Gregory.

After chipping in for birdie on the par-3 13th hole, Blonien reached the par-5 14th in two shots and had 16 feet for eagle. Gregory was short of the green in two and pitched on to about 8 feet. Blonien rolled her eagle putt 5 feet past the hole and missed it coming back to settle for par, while Gregory rolled her birdie putt in to forge a tie at 5-under. Both players then made birdie on the par-3 15th hole.

On the par-4 16th, Blonien made what could have been a crushing error, pulling her second shot left into a pond left of the green. She hit her fourth shot about 7 feet past the hole but made the clutch bogey putt to stay within a shot of Harlow, who again was getting up-and-down to stay at 6-under.

Blonien then put her second shot on the par-4 17th 18 feet above the hole and coolly rolled that in for a birdie to tie Gregory. On the par-5 18th, her tee shot left her about 180 yards over water from a downhill lie in the rough. She hit a 4-iron over the green onto the surrounding mounds, then had a difficult pitch back that went past the cup and left her 17 feet coming back. Gregory had hit into a bunker with her second shot, then the third shot came out soft and she pitched to about 10 feet with her fourth. She then watched as Blonien rolled in the birdie to cap a round of 6-under 66 and put her at 7-under overall. Gregory of course then made her putt, but it was one shot short.

“I really, really wanted that one to go in,” Blonien said. “To cap this off and match what Megan did. It took me a couple of holes to get over what I did on the par-5 and then to put it in the water on 16, which is the same thing I did yesterday. Harlow is a really fine player and she gave me all I wanted out there but I’m glad I was able to pull it off.”

Blonien has mentored Harlow when the two practice and play together at Belmar Country Club in Norman, and Harlow has also looked up to the exploits on a regional level that Cannon, just six months older, has accomplished. But she announced in no uncertain terms that she is going to be a force to be reckoned with over the next four years on the junior circuit.

“I’ve been working hard on my short game and really on everything,” she said. “I’ve learned from Natalie and I respect what Evyn has done. But I think I’m going to be right there.”

Blonien now has two chances to qualify for the upcoming U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship to be held Aug. 5-11 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, first at a qualifier in Texas. She could also get in by winning the WOGA State Amateur Championship July 22-25 at Stillwater Country Club.

“That’s the goal,” she said. “I would definitely love to play at Southern Hills.”

 

Left to right, Natalie Blonien and Harlow Gregory.

WOGA Girls’ Junior Championship
at Rose Creek Golf Club
Championship Flight

1-7
71
66
137
2-6
71
67
138
3+2
72
74
146
4+7
72
79
151
5+12
76
80
156
6+12
82
74
156
7+13
78
79
157
8+14
82
76
158
9+14
81
77
158
10+14
77
81
158
11+18
83
79
162
12+19
83
80
163
13+19
84
79
163
14+20
84
80
164
15+21
84
81
165
16+22
85
81
166
17+22
81
85
166
18+23
87
80
167
19+23
80
87
167
20+25
89
80
169
21+28
87
85
172
22+28
88
84
172
23+31
85
90
175
24+33
97
80
177
25+36
93
87
180
26+37
88
93
181
27+39
95
88
183
28+43
95
92
187
29+46
100
90
190
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