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Sport: Putter Boy trophy in hand, Amanda Sambach embarks on another week at Pinehurst

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Early this week at Pinehurst, Amanda Sambach will get a window into what it’s like to play at the University of Virginia. The 17-year-old is playing a practice round for the North & South Women’s Amateur with some of her future Hoos teammates: current junior Riley Smyth, incoming freshman Jennifer Cleary and fellow commit Megan Propeck.

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Not that Sambach, a high school junior from Davidson, North Carolina, doesn’t have anything to offer in that group. After all, she’s just a few days removed from claiming the North & South Girls’ Junior title on July 8.

The Sambachs rent a home off Pinehurst No. 3 so she’s familiar with the place, but this summer marked her first time playing the North & South Junior. She had played Pinehurst No. 2 in the World Van Horn Cup, a one-day best-ball tournament for top U.S. Kids Golf competitors. That seems like forever ago to Sambach. She was 11 then.

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Sambach won the North & South Junior with deep breaths and strong wedge play.

Scores: North & South Junior

“My first round wasn’t that solid on No. 2. I wasn’t hitting my driver very well for a stretch of holes,” she said of consecutive bogeys at Nos. 11-13. “I was getting a little anxious at that point but I managed to bring it back together and obviously I shot a pretty good score for the first day so I didn’t completely shoot out of it.”

She followed that 74 with rounds of 69-68 on No. 6 and at 5 under, had a four-shot cushion on runner-up Sydney Yermish.

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Amanda Sambach at Pinehurst. (Photo submitted)

Sambach felt confident in her wedges going into the tournament, but she still realized she had to keep it in the fairway. She tried to keep her coaches’ voices in her head as she played.

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Over the past year and a half, Sambach has won the Peggy Kirk Bell Junior Tour Invitational, AJGA Girls Championship, Callaway Golf Ollie Schniederjans Junior Classic and the Rolex Tournament of Champions. The iconic Putter Boy trophy she took home from the North & South Junior is in good company.

It’s true that the majority of Sambach’s resume consists of junior golf highlights. And even from here, her late-summer season includes includes two more major AJGA starts – the Rolex Girls and the AJGA Girls.

Sandwiched amid all the junior titles, however, is an 11th-place finish on the Symetra Tour. Sambach gained an exemption to last year’s Symetra Classic at River Run Country Club in Davidson, her home course. She fired rounds of 67-74-74 and nearly earned a top 10.

“My main takeaway was just the fact that I could hang in there with them,” she said.

Cydney Clanton, a former Auburn standout who earned her first LPGA victory in 2019 at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, was another hometown player in the field. People tell Sambach her game is similar to Clanton’s in that her ballstriking is so strong.

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“She gave me the advice to just focus on a lot of short game,” Sambach said of getting to know the LPGA player.

The next natural progression for Sambach’s game is to step on up to amateur events. If not for the pandemic, she would have played the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April. She was initially crushed over that event being canceled, but the silver lining is in the fact that the invitation is still on the table for 2021.

“I’m very, very happy to hear about that,” Sambach said with audible relief in her voice. It will be her first time to Augusta.

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Amanda Sambach during the North & South Junior. (Photo submitted)

At No. 28 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Sambach easily earned an exemption into next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. The USGA made room for the top 75 in that ranking. This will be her first time playing the event. She’d never even tried to qualify for it.

Even as she crosses the threshold from junior golf into something bigger, Sambach’s goals for the next year are less about results and more about other aspects of this game. Each year, the AJGA selects one male and one female player to serve as player representatives. She and Jackson Van Paris are serving in those roles in 2020.

Beth Bauer Grace, former junior star, back at Pinehurst as a golf parent

  Beth Bauer Grace, former junior star, back at Pinehurst as a golf parent Beth Bauer Grace had trouble getting her 8-year-old daughter Courtney off the Thistle Dhu putting course at Pinehurst. Courtney, we have to each lunch. Courtney, don’t you want to swim? “She’d stay out there for two to three hours,” said Grace of the fam iliar scene. Courtney was at Pinehurst to compete in a U.S. Kids regional event. While there she met Alex Pano, star of the Netflix film “The Short Game,” and asked for her autograph. Pano was in town prepping for this week’s North & South Women’s Amateur. Inside the clubhouse, Courtney got to look at the list of past champions of the North & South and read a familiar name.

It’s a way to enjoy the journey and expand her golf circle.

“Going to these tournaments and meeting people is one of my favorite things,” she said.

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